Judge Smails: Ty, what did you shoot today?

Ty Webb: Oh… Judge, I don’t keep score.

Judge Smails: Then how do you measure yourself with other golfers?

Ty Webb: By height.

Unlike Chevy Chase’s character in Caddyshack, if you’re among those who post scores and maintain an official golf handicap, you’re probably pretty serious about your golf. You’re also decidedly in the minority in the United States. Just under 10 percent of golfers have an official handicap—or slightly more than 2.4 million of the 24.8 million Americans who played at least once on a golf course in 2020.

And even if you’re among those golfers who could spit out your GHIN number as quickly as your phone number, you might not have realized that golf’s new World Handicap System was rolled out last year after eight years of development. The global initiative between the USGA and the R&A unified six different handicapping systems from around the world, from Argentina to Australia. Today, the new system is in use in almost 90 countries.

In addition to modernizing the handicap system for more equitable play in global competitions or casual play with golfers who hail from other countries, one of the intents of the WHS was to make it easier for everyday golfers to establish a handicap index. So, what’s the response been in the U.S. after Year 1?

handicaps
(courtesy USGA)

We reached out to the USGA to get some facts and figures after an unprecedented year in which 60 million more rounds were played nationwide than in 2019, according to the National Golf Foundation.

In launching the new WHS last year, the USGA said approximately 2 million Americans carried an official handicap. Today, the 2,417,905 who have a handicap included 2,051,675 “active posters,” meaning they posted at least one score in 2020. However, the average number of posted scores was 38, almost double the average number of rounds played by golfers overall last year—so it’s pretty clear that those who get a handicap are among the game’s most engaged participants.

Almost 80 percent with an official golf handicap are men, a slightly higher proportion than in the overall golfer population, and the average index is a 16.4.

The average handicap index among the more than 1.9 million men in the system was a 13.7 last year. Among the almost 493,000 women who post scores, the average handicap in 2020 was 27.3.

Amid pandemic-fueled surges in play, 9-hole play was celebrated as a popular option for remote workers at the end of the day, for families looking to get out for a healthy escape, or for beginners or others seeking an alternative to playing a full 18. What’s notable is that even among the passionate posters, 9-hole rounds were popular, accounting for about 13 percent of scores. In total, 65.8 million 18-hole scores were posted in the U.S. in 2020 to almost 10.1 million 9-hole scores.

handicaps
(courtesy USGA)

So, what was the most rounds posted by a single golfer last year?

The USGA didn’t have that information to share, unfortunately, but we can tell you that it wasn’t 61-year-old Texas retiree Barry Gibbons even though he played more than 1,200 rounds. Yes, you read that right—an average of more than three rounds a day for an entire year.

You see, what hasn’t changed under the new World Handicap System is the prohibition on posting scores from rounds in which golfers are playing solo. Gibbons estimates he played well over 75 percent of his rounds last year as a single, so he gave up on posting early in the year even though he does have an official handicap. That’s probably good news for anyone he plays competitively in the near future, as he was more focused on quantity than quality during his quest, thus his scores generally were quite a bit higher than the 0.4 handicap index he currently carries.

Do you carry an official golf handicap? If so, does your index fall above or below the averages we saw in 2020? And where do you stand on posting scores that count toward your handicap when you play a round by yourself?

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