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Golfers are Getting Better, Handicaps are Dropping

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From 2009: http://www.golfdigest.com/story/hotlistevolution-0902

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The USGA is unequivocal about average golfers: Despite decades of naysayers and experts alike suggesting that the average handicap is not dropping, has not dropped and never will drop, the fact is, it has. Let's say that again: The average handicap of all golfers -- men, women and children -- has decreased consistently for the past 15 years. The average handicap today is two strokes better than it was in the early 1990s, according to research provided to Golf Digest by the USGA's Golf Handicap & Information Network (GHIN).

From 2015: http://www.myvirtualpaper.com/doc/Golfweek-Custom-Media/golfweek-5-18-15/2015051202/17.html#16

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Rugge focused on an observation that he considers to be "a factual error that refuses to die." Golfers hear it all the time: Handicaps have remained at the same level for decades - they do not go down because lower scores among existing golfers are offset by higher scores from new golfers.

"I've seen that or something like it written too many times to count," Rugge said. "It's one of those things that if you see it written often enough, you believe that it must be true. Except that it isn't true. And it hasn't been true for two decades. There has been a steady decline of average handicaps since 1994."

This is true for men and women, according to Rugge's figures. From 1994 through 2012, the average handicap for men dropped from 16.5 to 14.3. Women went from 29.9 to 26.5. This amounts to roughly a 12-percent reduction among the 5 million or so golfers who possess USGA handicaps."

This post links to an article from 2017:

Ignoring the fact that without a floor, you can't really calculate a percent improvement*… the fact remains: golfers are getting better. This seems to be true despite courses continuing to get more difficult, golfers playing longer tees than they often should, and anything else you can think of.

Golfers continue to get better, IMO, because:

  • Instruction is improving.
  • Launch monitors are more readily available to average golfers.
  • Some of the lousier golfers might have been squeezed out in the recent recession.
  • Equipment continues to improve.

So, there you have it. Regardless of the reasons - which I may or may not even have sniffed - golfers are getting better.


* I read a review of the iPhone once where they said the temperature increased from 30° C to 40° C and how that was a 33% increase. This kind of math doesn't work because it's not based on a scale that ends at true zero. Perhaps if the scale was to use the Kelvin scale, which has absolute zero… but 303.15 to 313.15 is only a 3.3% increase, which isn't quite the headline of "iPhone 33% hotter!". Anyway… the handicap scale is like that. There's no hard limit at "zero."

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Two strokes better since early 90's... I'd say 98% of that is 460cc drivers and lower spinning balls. I don't remember the exact stats but a very significant portion of golfers didn't use/didn't even bother to carry a driver. Now every high handicapper has a 460cc cannon because it's actually easier to hit than a 3W or 5W of the tee, no chance at whiffing the ball.

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What percent of golfers even keep a handicap?

That USGA statement only applies to those that have a handicap.  Most of the weaker players that I've played with don't keep a handicap, don't break 100, and don't follow the rules.  

Is the average golfer getting better?  Can't tell based on the data of golfers who have handicaps.

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Just now, No Mulligans said:

What percent of golfers even keep a handicap?

That USGA statement is flawed as written as their data only applies to those that have a handicap.  Most of the weaker players that I've played with don't keep a handicap, don't break 100, and don't follow the rules.

I believe the number of people with handicaps as a percentage has mostly stated the same or grown slightly.

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3 hours ago, mvmac said:

Yay! :banana:

Websites like TST don't hurt either.

Honestly, the fact that golf instruction had not evolved more quickly was very surprising to me. TST, LSW and related teaching methods are a good start. :-)

 

3 hours ago, SavvySwede said:

Two strokes better since early 90's... I'd say 98% of that is 460cc drivers and lower spinning balls. I don't remember the exact stats but a very significant portion of golfers didn't use/didn't even bother to carry a driver. Now every high handicapper has a 460cc cannon because it's actually easier to hit than a 3W or 5W of the tee, no chance at whiffing the ball.

I think it's more from better instruction and training along with the pervasiveness of training information available to the common golfer, and less the equipment and balls.

To be perfectly honest, I think I take the instruction and training for granted. I did not realize how much bad information there is out there until I read all the horror stories depicted on this site.

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I would say another big thing missed there is the talent pool getting bigger.  A lot more people can afford to play golf today and with it comes the talent that previously was forced out due to cost

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5 hours ago, Lihu said:

Honestly, the fact that golf instruction had not evolved more quickly was very surprising to me. TST, LSW and related teaching methods are a good start. :-)

 

I think it's more from better instruction and training along with the pervasiveness of training information available to the common golfer, and less the equipment and balls.

To be perfectly honest, I think I take the instruction and training for granted. I did not realize how much bad information there is out there until I read all the horror stories depicted on this site.

TST is only a sliver of the golfing community. Most golfers still don't bother to get lessons go pounding away at the range. But find any high handicapper today, take the 460cc driver out of his bag on the first tee, hand him a dozen wound balls, and watch him become unable to shoot his handicap.

2 hours ago, pganapathy said:

I would say another big thing missed there is the talent pool getting bigger.  A lot more people can afford to play golf today and with it comes the talent that previously was forced out due to cost

That just doesn't make any sense. Unless somehow you think people in lower income brackets are more talented. A general increase in the golfing population would bring in the same proportion of talented to untalented as before.

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44 minutes ago, SavvySwede said:

TST is only a sliver of the golfing community. Most golfers still don't bother to get lessons go pounding away at the range. But find any high handicapper today, take the 460cc driver out of his bag on the first tee, hand him a dozen wound balls, and watch him become unable to shoot his handicap.

Agreed. You still hear a lot of bad info if you walk around any range. Imho, I think the options for those who really want to improve are much better now. Social media has done a lot to "open the kimono" so to speak. You'll still hear plenty of, I'm gonna figure out how get Sergio Garcia lag, keep your head down, etc... but the means to go out and do a little research to figure things out is much better now.

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51 minutes ago, nevets88 said:

Agreed. You still hear a lot of bad info if you walk around any range. Imho, I think the options for those who really want to improve are much better now. Social media has done a lot to "open the kimono" so to speak. You'll still hear plenty of, I'm gonna figure out how get Sergio Garcia lag, keep your head down, etc... but the means to go out and do a little research to figure things out is much better now.

I don't understand where you agree? Do you agree that the reason for improvement is due mainly to the lower spin balls and 460cc drivers?

1 hour ago, SavvySwede said:

TST is only a sliver of the golfing community. Most golfers still don't bother to get lessons go pounding away at the range. But find any high handicapper today, take the 460cc driver out of his bag on the first tee, hand him a dozen wound balls, and watch him become unable to shoot his handicap.

Yes, I see what you mean about the fact that it's only a tiny sliver, but it seems like overall people are converging on better instruction through better communications through things like the internet. Basically, my assertion is that bad ideas are vetted out much more quickly.

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It's all about equipment in my opinion.  Not just drivers and balls but GI irons and the advent of hybrids.

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2 hours ago, Lihu said:

I don't understand where you agree? Do you agree that the reason for improvement is due mainly to the lower spin balls and 460cc drivers?

Just juxtaposing bad swings with bad info.

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Just now, nevets88 said:

Just juxtaposing bad swings with bad info.

Yeah, I see lots of that on the range as well, but I also see people discussing methods that are taught here as well. It's kind of nice, actually.

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Courses of course have gotten tougher, so golfers really have improved even more than what those number suggests. Especially green speeds.

However, just saying that " Golfers are getting better" is open to interpretation. There is obviously a nominal improvement, but is there a real improvement? I.e., if we take todays golfers and gave them the same courses and equipment as 20 yrs ago, would handicaps be the same?

So for me, handicaps are lower: fact; golfers are better: no evidence :-)

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23 minutes ago, Gunther said:

It's all about equipment in my opinion.  Not just drivers and balls but GI irons and the advent of hybrids.

I think equipment might be the bulk of it, but I don't think it's above 3/4 of the reason.

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3 minutes ago, rolopolo said:

Courses of course have gotten tougher, so golfers really have improved even more than what those number suggests. Especially green speeds.

However, just saying that " Golfers are getting better" is open to interpretation. There is obviously a nominal improvement, but is there a real improvement? I.e., if we take todays golfers and gave them the same courses and equipment as 20 yrs ago, would handicaps be the same?

So for me, handicaps are lower: fact; golfers are better: no evidence :-)

This is interesting. . .

It's possible to test out the equipment thing by playing 10 rounds with 24 year old equipment and 10 rounds with new equipment, but I don't really know how to quantify the difference?

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27 minutes ago, rolopolo said:

Courses of course have gotten tougher, so golfers really have improved even more than what those number suggests. Especially green speeds.

However, just saying that " Golfers are getting better" is open to interpretation. There is obviously a nominal improvement, but is there a real improvement? I.e., if we take todays golfers and gave them the same courses and equipment as 20 yrs ago, would handicaps be the same?

So for me, handicaps are lower: fact; golfers are better: no evidence :-)

Maybe some of the big resort courses and high end stuff but most of us are still playing munis and clubs that have been around much longer. I find very few courses that are 7000+ yards in my area and most people play the whites tees which are generally around 6000 yards anyway. I also believe the truer greens are helpful more than anything, it's not like you see a bunch of public courses rolling 11+. 

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58 minutes ago, rolopolo said:

Courses of course have gotten tougher, so golfers really have improved even more than what those number suggests. Especially green speeds.

The "tougher courses" is taken care of by course ratings and slope, though. That's not necessarily a valid argument.

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