How Do You Measure Up?
Apart from whatever fun the game of golf offers, are we all just wasting our time? Can the wisdom of age make us better golfers, or will father time catch up before we wise up? Is stagnation the only real certainty?
We crunched the data to find the answers to these and other age-related golf questions. What we discovered may surprise you.
As we did when we discussed Golfer Performance by Handicap, we leveraged data from TheGrint, a golf handicap and stat tracking service, to take a closer look at how age impacts performance. As you’ll see from the charts, the good news is that, while each of us will invariably reach a point of diminishing returns, our golf skills may not decline as early or as rapidly as you might think. The bad news is that regardless of how long we play, we might not actually get much better either.
Worth mentioning again, because of the online and app-based nature of TheGrint, it’s reasonable to assume that its userbase skews a bit younger and more tech-savvy than the golfing population as a whole.
Before we look at the really interesting stuff, let’s take a quick look at the breakdown of our demographics, sorted by age.
The highest percentage of golfers who track their scoring statistics via TheGrint are in the 30-40 year-old age group.
A comparatively small number of young golfers (under 20) and older golfers (over 70) golfers leverage TheGrint’s golf stat tracking capabilities.
While the comparative lack of participation among presumably tech-savvy teenagers is surprise (perhaps there just aren’t that many of them playing golf), it’s not surprising to see usage of a golf stat tracking service decline as age increases.
Average Scoring By Age
This graph shows the performance of golfers by age. For this chart we use both the score itself and handicap differential. The score is a good metric, and one that all golfers understand, but it doesn’t take into consideration which tees were used by the golfer. Handicap differential does exactly that, which makes it an excellent baseline for normalizing performance.
It’s noteworthy that the outliers are at the extremes.
The 20-30 year old group shows the best performance by more than a stroke. While the reasons aren’t immediately clear, some will no doubt guess that the younger demographic has more time to devote to golf. The cynics will likely assume the young guys cheat at a greater frequency than older golfers. It’s also entirely plausible that those playing with regularity at this age group are simply more likely to be accomplished golfers than the population as a whole.
It’s equally as interesting that other than the most senior golfers, the highest scores are reported by the 30-40 year olds. To a large extent, this demographic represents golf’s lost generation; an age range that often finds us in the most intense part of our professional careers. Look at most any club’s membership roster and you’ll discover that this is a demographic that doesn’t currently spend much time on the golf course
Par 3, 4, and 5 Scoring By Age
This graph illustrates scoring by age relative to par for par 3, 4, and 5 holes.
What’s interesting about this chart is that it shows no significant difference in scores from age 30 to age 70. While some of us will likely see our skills diminish, others will certainly improve. While that appears to be a recipe for stagnation of the average, it also offers a glimmer of hope that we can always get better.
Also noteworthy is that between the ages of 30 and 70, golfers are shown to be statistical equals. After age 70, however; scoring declines in general with Par 4 and Par 5 scoring increasing significantly. The logical assumption is that once we reach a certain age, hitting greens in regulation on longer holes becomes more difficult, if not impossible.
Average Putts By Age
This graph shows putts per round and GIR% performance of golfers by age.
First is important to understand the close relationship between Putts per Round and GIR% per round.
Missed greens lead to fewer putts.
Think about it. When you hit the Green in Regulation, your approach shot most likely comes from a longer distance than it does after you’ve missed the green. In most cases that GIR from distance will leave you farther from the hole than your wedge will after you’ve missed the green.
With that in mind, while this graph shows relatively consistent performance from age group to age group, what’s really interesting is that GIR% declines with age. Consequently, we would expect the older groups to have fewer putts per round.
The fact that the oldest golfers hit roughly the same number of putts as the younger groups runs counter to the idea that the short game is the biggest strength of the older generation. The data actually suggests that it’s strength in other areas of the game that allow seniors to keep pace with younger golfers.
Want to See More?
If you’ve enjoyed this series with TheGrint, and would like to see more, definitely let us know. We’re happy to do more digging. While you’re waiting, be sure to check out TheGrint, and start tracking your game today.
Earlyriser1 year ago
Really like the website, interesting statistics on age but would like to add the difference I’ve found coming from the northeast to the southeast (SC) and playing on Bermuda grass and extremely rolling terrain. After playing some 40 years in the NE and retiring in the SE, I feel there is no way I could have kept my 8 handicap from the north down here.
Jack8 years ago
Very thorough studies with many logical, and not so obvious variables considered. This allowed for to identifying anomalies and patterns within patterns.
Bill8 years ago
Much of a golfers success is determined by the segment in their life where they have the most time and money to practice and play. Playing smarter as you age is a factor. As mentioned before that’s why guys that can barely hit a drive 220 often beat the guys who hit it 280-300..
They keep it in play and they know that they need a superior short game to compete.
AWOL8 years ago
I think the scoring chart by age is interesting but not too surprising. In fact it validated what i had already believed. Other then looking at just age, one should consider the landmarks in ones life journey that happens typically at those ages and how it affects their time on the course. 20-30 people may just be getting out of college still living with parents and physcially well. Any short comings on the course can be compensated by ones health. And no career or family just yet so there is time to practice. 30-40 people start to settle in their career and become more career driven also family starts around then. Kids, wives, marriage all taking its share of your time leading to worse scores. 40-50 people are settled in their careers, kids are old enough to look after themselves freeing up some time on weekends, or even taking the kids to golf with you. Also debt is more controlled and financially stable. This allowing for more course time better scores. 50-60 again almost the same situation but maybe with even more time. Kids are now off to college or on their own leaving with all your free time. And of course 60-70 you are now retired with more time than you want, almost maybe even bored again more time, more golf, better scores. Than last of all over 70 now you may have time but your physical ailments are now taking their toll and your scores worsen, till you die on that last stroke (no pun intended), the sweetest iron shot of your life where you get your first hole in one and die a happy person………… Amen
Jon8 years ago
How many people here use TheGrint? All of the posts that ask about phone GPS and scoring apps I never see anyone mention TheGrint.
Lou8 years ago
For me, physically it’s understandable that you would lose some strength and ultimately distance but mentally, I am and will continue to develop my mental game to where I might not be able to physically beat you but beat you by playing smart.
Mike2 years ago
I just turned 73 . Playing smarter is what I always did. My index was 4 when I was 50 but now fter. Three year layoff
I am at 18 . The problem measures to the stats . I cannot hit the drive much further than the 196 yard average for my age . My chipping has gotten a bit worse. I think that is the yips from age as well . Putting is the same but I cannot get to the long par 4’s and par 5’ s in regulation . I am trying to get back my short game ( inside 100 yards ) to steal a few pars . My goal is to average 83 from the senior tees . Hard to swallow but no choice as I enjoy the game .
Jeff8 years ago
You can,t do a thing if you haven’t got that swing do wha do wha loll,!
ex0078 years ago
Wow, completely different experience than these results. After being a 20+ banana-slicing hack for 15 years, I decided to get take lessons and get serious. The result was a drop into single digits that I’ve maintained for almost 15 years. I’ve been as low as a 3 and am currently a 4. Based on my experience, those that don’t improve aren’t working on the right things – practice, fitted equipment, mental aspect – or they don’t care. Plenty of my fellow club members never practice or if they visit the range, simply hit balls without any plan. But there are those of us who consistently work on our games and have improved significantly. In my late 50s now and played some of the best golf of my life this past year, hitting the ball farther than even. Can’t wait for spring and the new season to begin.
Boss18 years ago
The reason why golfers rarely improve is that trying to get better at golf requires time and effort….and, it requires actually working on the right fundamentals. I see guys at the range who work at it nearly every day. Most of them never get better, even though they are at the range daily because they want to get better…
Most of these players are “casters”. They get the club behind them and cast over the top. You could hit balls for 1,000 years and never get better if you don’t start learning how to get to impact properly. Golf is never easy. But, with the understanding that you need the proper fundamentals to improve, you’ve at least got a chance. But, you also need to understand that you’re might as well forget improving if you’re not dedicated to swinging the club correctly.
Pascal R.8 years ago
I believe to really understand the numbers we would also need to know how long each has been playing. According the numbers not even 25% start to play golf below the age of 30.
Paul b8 years ago
nonsensical….in the last 5 years I played with about 50 strangers. Before starting out I asked
What they shot. All said low 80s- mid 80s- low 90s- mid 90s. 49 of the 50 never broke 100.
So I would bet that if I bet everyone who showed up at a golf course bet me they could break 100, I would come out way ahead.
revkev8 years ago
Paul – I would agree with your bet but if you were to read the upfront narrative to the data you would know that this data comes from golfers who are keeping handicaps. Those players are more serious about the game. I play in a league with lots of golfers like this, while very few are that good very few fail to break 100 on a regular basis and that’s playing stictly by the rules of golf, ball down, putt everything out sort of stuff. Lots of them shoot in the 90’s, some in the 80’s and a few in the 70’s on a regular basis – just what we’re seeing reported here.
If you are just going out as a single and getting hooked up with golfers willy nilly there’s little doubt that the average score shot (if a score is even being kept) will be well above the average handicap.
Golfer Burnz8 years ago
If the only thing that mattered in golf was score and improving, then golf wouldn’t be fun anymore. Try taking some hickory sticks to the most unkept, least popular public course in your area and see how golf was meant to be played. Be resigned to shoot 30 over par or more and enjoy reliving the past, preserving the history of the game, and trying to walk in Walter Hagens shoes.
James Dalziel7 years ago
Well said, sport.
thomas8 years ago
Its interesting that many players don’t get better over time, I thought practice makes perfect, but not in this case, great write up.
John Marsh8 years ago
With the advancement in equipment from 17 to around age 60, my distance stayed the same
From 17 to around age 25 I improved to a low single digit handicap as I learned how to score
From 25 to 60 I maintained single digits I was able to play with some golf pros, they all said I wasn’t a golfer but a shot maker, thus being the reason I was good for 35 years
The last 5 years father time has eased me to a 9 handicap, I can’t bomb it like the young kids but I have my days to keep them on there toes
So basically the chart seems to follow the different stages of life on the golf course, some enjoy the stages and can handle the changes and pressures and some cannot
Jeff8 years ago
Very interesting .
Started playing @ 34 and by 42 down to a 1-3 hop and now am 70 and on a 10hcp and to be honest have not lost a lot of distance due to tha fact I am relatively fit and no health problems.
Also with better golf balls and shafts and still a swing speed @ 83-85mph and as always a great short game my scores are fairly good.All I need now is Concentration which at present is a pain .
The graphs thou do make great reading .
Regis8 years ago
These numbers generally reflect my 50 years of playing. I always played around 50 rounds a year, took it seriously, took lessons, posted a handicap and was careful in my equipment choices. I generally hovered in the 13-15 range and at 64 (with some health problems) I’m playing to a legitimate 19. My lowest hcp was when I was in my 40’s and I played to a 9. When we review the stats my observation is that advances in equipment (especially shaft diversity) have basically slowed what otherwise be be a much more dramatic drop off in handicap as golfers get older. Its hard to compensate for a 20mph drop off in swing speed over 20 years, but the putting and the short game stays relatively stable. Something I scoffed at when I was in my 40’s. I for one don’t enjoy it any less..
revkev8 years ago
I think there is some real truth to this comment. For those of us who began playing golf prior to the mid-80’s the equipment changes have made a huge difference. Up until this century I had a serious equipment choice to make in regards to balls – distance ball/performance ball – nothing in between. I generally opted for the distance ball because the performance ball was significantly shorter and not very durable – for me it was not a good value. Now I have the best of both worlds and if I play last year’s model I have them at a reasonable cost.
While I don’t drive the ball as far as I did when I was 25 the advances in driver technology keep me in the ball park and the jacked up iron lofts coupled with perimiter weighting enable me to often hit the same club or just one club more into the greens than when I was younger. Also the modern driver is far easier to hit than those wooden ones of yesteryear so that even though I was 15 yards longer flush hit to flush hit I’m more accurate and may well average the same distance off the tee because I will rarely misshit a 460 cc driver where as I had several misshits a round with the old ones. Throw in the fact that green conditions and course conditions overall are so much better now than they were in the 70’s and my handicap is half of what it was then 6 to 3. It should be noted that I took lessons for the first time in the 2000’s and got that handicap to go from 5 to 3. I also live in Florida now so that I may play year round. Regardless it’s quantifiable that I play better now than I did then.
Glenn F8 years ago
I was told by someone years ago that after 3 years of playing golf, you are as good as you ever will be. If you aren’t shooting scratch or close to it, you never will. You can take all the lessons and get fit for clubs all you want but you reach your level in that time frame, give or take a few strokes. I’ve been playing for over 40 years and I’ve found this to be true. My scoring average is around 80 for 18 and it’s been this way for a LONG time after lessons and fittings.
Duncan C8 years ago
Three years seems an arbitrary figure. Is that three years of playing once a week or three years of daily practice? The theory that high-level expertise requires 10,000 hours of purposeful practice makes far more sense to me and is supported by a good deal of data.
My own experience? There are pictures of me swinging plastic golf clubs in the back garden as a toddler and for reasons of geography, education, work or a focus on other sports I played only a few times a year from age 15 to 41. Throughout that period I would have been an 18-20 handicap if I was registered for one. The past 28 months I’ve been fortunate enough to have the time and opportunity to play on good courses and practise more and more regularly. I’ve been properly fitted for clubs, taken lessons for the first time and really focused on improving. My initial handicap was 19 and my target to get down to 10. I’m now at 4, have just managed my first level-par round, and aim to get down to 2 by the end of next year.
At some point improvement has to plateau, but I’m not sure three years is where it happens!
Dave S8 years ago
Honestly, I think that the reason scores stay about the same as you age is b/c whatever you lose in physical ability (power, flexibility, etc.), you end up compensating for by playing smarter. We all know that old golfer that you’ll out drive by 100 yards, but who will beat you by 2 strokes, b/c he “Doesn’t hit ’em long, but he hits ’em straight”. Once you realize that you physically cannot hit clubs that far anymore, you stop trying and instead focus on hitting straight, and end up scoring about the same, if not a little better (as the stats show).
Don Yarber8 years ago
I’ve read that only about 10% of all golfers EVER break 100. That tells me that your tracking data is for a VERY low number of golfers. As an over 75 golfer, I can say that my game has leveled off over the past 10 years but is better now than it was when I was in my late 40’s simply because work and family kept me away from the course a LOT more then. There was a time (years ago) when I shot in the low 80’s. I’ve finally got back to where I can shoot in the mid 80’s consistently. So I’d say my game has improved. Sorry to dispel your stats, but I think you’re barking up a whole bunch of different trees, and as they say, different strokes for different oaks.
Alf8 years ago
I find this very interesting. I am in my eightieth year and my club handicap hovers around 13.5 and in over 40 years playing has never been lower than 12. In inter club groups, where cutting is more severe, it is currently 9, 10 and 12. My scores fluctuate wildly at times but I have never really played better than at present. Hope for you oldies out there, as you get older shooting your age gets much easier and is very satisfying.
Liam Regis8 years ago
Stanley Barville, undertook a research project into the bio-mechanical aspects of the golf swing in order find the best swing for occaisional/low frequency golfers. By combining the best bits from the best books he has read on golf, he came up with a redefinition of the golf swing in his e-book called ‘The Flail Swing’. I tested it and it worked for me and has worked for others. One has to persevere and to be prepared to jetison what one already does in order to make progress with it. But when one does so, and follows his recommendations, then it produces magical results. These improvements would apply at all ages, and ensure an improved score tee to green with no decline as one gets older.
Justin8 years ago
I just picked that book up from the Play Store (is it still “picking a book up”, like going to the book store…? lol, but I digress). Sounds like it’s going to be an interesting read.
JP5 years ago
The study is very interesting with credible research. I am 70 and have been playing 60 years. My handicap is 5 from a best of scratch in my younger years. After age 55, I discovered that you hit a wall every 5 years on distance off the tee unless you work on stretching your muscles with discipline workouts. However, old age is undefeated and inevitably, you must offset distance loss with superior touch of your short game. I feel you have to be a good putter to keep the handicap low. With great equipment and iPhones you can keep your fundamentals sharp. During practice, I write down on the notes app in my iPhone those keys that keep my game as fundamentally strong as possible. I refer to them often and sometimes before I tee it up. Playing smart with good course management can never be underestimated. Still play the 6500 yard course with the younger players just to remain relevant. It’s difficult to compete off the tee at 70 but you can peck their eyes out in competition with soft hands in getting up and down from a trash can and putting consistently. Never give up! You never quit learning in this game.
Kenny B8 years ago
Why don’t players get better with age? I think your assumption is that the older golfers started out as young golfers. I would be willing to bet that is not the case. Like me, most golfers at my club took up golf late in life when we were looking for something to replace other sports that we were no longer capable of competing in. I never swung a club until my late 40’s.
The data also gets skewed for the older golfers because at some point there is no real reason to keep a HCP. Other than certain club events, older golfers aren’t going to enter tournaments, and a HCP is not needed. Everyone at the club knows how well others play, and it’s more just for fun.
Young golfers are just the opposite. The data for young golfers is skewed because only the skilled golfers keep HCP for competition. If they are just starting out, they will only keep an HCP if they enjoy the game and want to get better.
revkev8 years ago
These numbers might be viewed in a couple of different ways. On the one hand it may be sad that we don’t improve at Golf throughout our lifetime. On the other hand it is exciting to see that our skills don’t decline through life as they do in other sports. I’m sure if someone were clocking the average time for the 100 yard dash by age that it would changed markedly into the 30s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.
Within the numbers I’d love to know how many of those folks took lessons and at what stage of their golf developement.
For me I’ve actually had my lowest handicap index in my late 40’s and into my 50’s primarily because I’ve taken lessons and been far more intentional in working on my game rather than the banging balls and let natural ability take over approach of my younger days.
mygolfspy8 years ago
I like your glass is half full thinking.
Don8 years ago
So… screw the lessons then.
mygolfspy8 years ago
There are highs and lows to every curve. I would imagine the golfers who get lessons on average are the ones who do improve, the ones who don’t most likely make up the worst scores which leaves you with an average of the same scores over the decades.
Robeli8 years ago
I agree. We should move away from trying to play a lower score and concentrate on making golf more fun and FASTER. I would rather play a 90 week after week and have fun in 3 hours, than play 80 week after week in 5hours!