What Is A Scratch Golfer?

What Is A Scratch Golfer?

Recently, an acquaintance who is an occasional player asked me “what is a scratch golfer?”

I replied that it is a player who regularly shoots par, which is as much answer as he was looking for.

I told him I’d write up a longer answer on my blog — and here it is.

The complete answer as to what constitutes a “scratch golfer” is somewhat complicated.

The USGA defines a scratch golfer as

a player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses. 

A male scratch golfer, for rating purposes, can hit tee shots an average of 250 yards and can reach a 470-yard hole in two shots at sea level. A female scratch golfer , for rating purposes, can hit tee shots an average of 210 yards and can reach a 400-yard hole in two shots at sea level.


Similarly, a bogey golfer is

A player with a USGA Handicap Index of 17.5 to 22.4 strokes for men and 21.5 to 26.4 for women. Under normal situations the male bogey golfer can hit his tee shot 200 yards and can reach a 370-yard hole in two shots


A “plus” golfer is one who can regularly shoot below the course rating. A “plus” golfer’s handicap has a “plus” sign in front of it.

All the touring pros are plus-handicaps.

These factoids lead to a bit of an informational rabbit hole.

First, what is a golf handicap index?

A golfer’s handicap is a measure of potential. It is ideally based on the best eight scores of a golfer’s last twenty rounds. A handicap can range from +x to 54.

For most of us, getting a handicap is simply a matter of entering a score into an app along with the course and tees played. Under the hood, your handicap is based on a formula that factors in your adjusted gross score, course rating and slope.

The formula is complicated and the details are beyond the scope of this discourse. I teach social studies, not math.

What is a course rating, then?

A course’s rating is the score that a scratch player should be able to card in ordinary conditions. If the course rating is 68, that indicates a relatively easy course where a scratch player has a good chance of shooting a 68. A course with a rating of 75 is relatively difficult.

The rating is determined by a USGA or state golf association team that visits the course for measurements. Course rating teams spend the day at a course evaluating more than 400 different variables from each tee on each hole.

For what it is worth, I have taken the Golf Association of Michigan course raters training. It is a lot. There is a giant notebook, and rating a course takes all day and then some (at least in Michigan, someone will go out on one day and get measurements for distance, and the rating team will come on a different day).

A course’s Slope ranges between 55 and 155, reflecting the difficulty of a course to the Bogey Golfer.

The “Course Handicap” in the definition of a scratch golfer is a golfer’s Handicap Index multiplied by the Slope Rating of the tees played divided by 113.

Here is the USGA definition of a scratch golfer again: “A scratch golfer is a player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses.”

Finally, there is the question of what is a handicap good for, other than bragging rights.

The handicap system is designed to allow players of dissimilar skills to play a match on an even footing.

If an eighteen handicap is matched against a scratch golfer, the eighteen handicap will generally get one free shot per hole (generally, because you need to convert each player’s Handicap index into a course handicap; it might not work out quite that way).

If that scratch golfer is matched against a ten handicap, the ten handicap will generally get one shot on each of the ten hardest holes on the course (that’s why course scorecards show the difficulty of each hole, usually on the line designated “Handicap”).

For example, at Washtenaw Golf Club, the ten handicap would generally get a stroke on holes, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18. If both the scratch player and ten handicapper got pars on the second hole, the ten handicapper wins with a net 3 (they scored an actual 4, but because they get a shot on the second hole, it’s a 3).

Finally, I will add that it is my observation that the biggest difference between a a Scratch player and a mid-handicapper is consistency. I hit the ball far enough for a man of my age; I on occasion have a brilliant round. I just can’t do it consistently. I’ll hit a great drive and then flub the second shot. Or I’ll have two good holes only to blow up on the third. I am convinced that if I could hit consistently good shots with my irons — not great shots, but consistently good shots — with my putting I would be a single digit handicapper. I just leave too many shots on the fairways.

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