What Is the Meaning of a Scratch Golfer?

By Clint Hale
Scratch golfers meet high USGA handicap standards.
Scratch golfers meet high USGA handicap standards.

Among the many terms thrown around the golf lexicon is "scratch golfer." And while many veterans and longtime golfers are aware of this term's definition, those new to the sport--and even some of those who aren't--may have trouble understanding the term. Fortunately, the explanation is simple.

Definition

According to the USGA, a scratch golfer is defined 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."

Handicaps

Handicap is a number assigned to a golfer that indicates that player's aptitude on the course, typically dictated as the number of strokes over par during an average round of 18 holes. For instance, while a scratch golfer has a 0 handicap, golfers with 12 and 19 handicaps can expect to shoot 12 over par and 19 over par, respectively, during their average round.

Handicap Purposes

In addition to serving as a barometer of a golfer's progression or regression, handicaps also come into play during "scramble tournaments." These tournaments, most often played at corporate or charity outings, are a way for golfers of all skill levels to compete on an even plane. This is done by having golfer deduct his handicap from his final scores. For instance, a scratch golfer who shoots 72 on the round would list her score as 72, while a 14 handicapper who shoots 86 would deduct 14 strokes from her final scores, and also shoot 72 for the round, per scramble rules.

Course Rating

Course rating and slope also factor into the handicapping game. Course rating is a number assigned to a course that indicates its difficulty in relation to a scratch golfer. For instance, a scratch golfer can expect to shoot 72 on a course rated 72, 74 on a course rated 74, and so on.

Course Slope

Course slope is a number assigned to a golf course, indicating the difficulty for a "bogey golfer," typically someone with an 18 handicap. For instance, a course with a slope rating of 92 is what a bogey golfer can expect to shoot on that course, with even par being 74.

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