Scratch golfers and golfers with a plus handicap are hard to find. There aren't a lot of scratch golfers in the United States or anywhere in the world. More often than not, the only scratch-or-better golfers another golfer knows are the professionals they might watch on TV.
According the USGA, a scratch golfer is simply identified as "a player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses." A course handicap is how many strokes an individual player gets on a specific course based on their handicap index and the course rating. In other words, a scratch golfer is basically a golfer who is good enough to get zero handicap strokes on any golf course, from any set of tees in a net competition. In other words, these golfers almost never get strokes in a friendly game. That's pretty rare.
However, there may be more scratch golfers and plus handicaps than you think. We consulted with the USGA and the World Handicap Service to find out how many scratch golfers and plus handicaps there are in the United States.
How many scratch or better golfers are there in the United States?
According to USGA data at the end of 2020, there are approximately 40,000 golfers who have a handicap index of 0.0 or better. In total, there are approximately 2.4 million American golfers who carry a handicap index.
What percentage of golfers are scratch or better?
That means that the 40,000 golfers who are scratch are better make up 1.6 percent of handicap index-carrying golfers. However, only approximately 10 percent of American golfers have a recognized handicap index.
Since the distribution of active golfers with a handicap index likely skews better than the distribution of active golfers without a handicap index, it's fair to assume that scratch-or-better golfers actually make up closer to the top 1 percent of golfers than the top 2 percent. Approximately 1.85 percent of male golfers are scratch or better, while 0.69 percent of women are scratch or better.
However, lots of professional golfers don't enter their scores on the reg, either in recreational rounds or from competition. So, it's also safe to say that the scratch-or-better golfers are the 1 percent of the golf population, but within that 1 percent, the indices might not be properly skewed.
No matter how what their handicap index is, if you find yourself playing with a golfer whose index is 0.0 or better, then you know you're playing with one of the best golfers on the planet -- even if they're not playing professionally.