Fascinating Data Reveals How To Get From A 5-Handicap To Scratch... And It Could Also Hold The Key To Improvement For All Amateur Golfers!

The latest Arccos data suggests how to get from a 5-handicap to scratch, but could the answer also point to progress for all golfers?

Golfer hitting a tee shot with a driver on the golf course and inset image of a data graph provided by Arccos
Could the correlation between a low-handicapper's pursuit for progress also hold the answers for the 'typical' golfer?
(Image credit: Getty Images/Arccos)

As many low-handicappers will know, the journey towards becoming a scratch golfer can be a daunting and arduous prospect. Despite the best tips and expert drills, finding those marginal gains can be very tricky if you don't know where to start.

It doesn't have to be this way, however, as the latest Arccos data highlights the key areas you should be focusing on in your pursuit of progress – and it could help all amateurs to get better at golf...

How Do I Get From A 5-Handicap To Scratch?

The first thing to mention is that getting from a 5-handicap to scratch is not a linear process, and is certainly not the same for everyone. That being said, there are plenty of things you can focus on that will help to maximise the peaks, and according to the latest Arccos data, cleaning up the bogeys could actually be more important than adding birdies to your game.

The average scratch golfer makes just 2.2 birdies per round, one better than a 5-handicapper's 1.2, but the disparity in scoring lies in the bogeys.

Scratch golfers make almost two less bogeys per round (4.6) than a 5-handicapper (6.4), which is the biggest difference across all four measured outcomes (birdie, par, bogey, double-bogey).

Graph showing the scoring difference between a scratch golfer and a 5-handicapper on average

(Image credit: Arccos)

The data provides further context to the differentiation when you focus less on 'averages' and more on real-world examples. To evidence this, Arccos took a sample of real golfers making the journey from 5-handicap to scratch, and plotted their progress.

The golfers were selected using the following criteria:


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From a database of almost 17 million rounds, just 14 golfers were left – providing some additional insight into just how hard it is to achieve scratch in golf.

The average time taken to get to scratch was 26 months, with an average of 66 rounds per year (143 total) to get to that target. The graph below tracks the annualised stroke improvement of the 14 golfers in each major statistical category.

Graph showing the annualised improvement for the sample of 14 golfers broken down by major statistical categories

(Image credit: Arccos)

When you dive deeper into the improvement of the 14 golfers, the key to progress becomes clearer. On average, the selected golfers improved by 2.5 strokes per year, with that improvement split into the areas highlighted in the graph below.

Graph showing the required improvement for 0 to 5-handicappers broken down by major statistical categories

(Image credit: Arccos)

Interestingly, this aligns somewhat to the 'typical golfer' based on data accumulated from over 870 million recorded shots. This indicates that, as well as a key focus area for low-handicap golfers, developing your long game (driving and approach) could be the most effective way to drive lasting improvement in your game.

Accounting for 69% of the required improvement for typical golfers, and 73% for the sample of 14, this shows a clear correlation with the importance of this key area for all ability levels.

Graph showing the required improvement for the sample of 14 golfers broken down by major statistical categories

(Image credit: Arccos)

So, contrary to the popular saying 'drive for show, putt for dough', it could really pay to spend some extra time and energy on driving the long game forwards.

Barry Plummer
Staff Writer

Barry Plummer is our Staff Writer, joining in January 2024 after seven years as a PE Teacher. He now writes about instruction, working closely with Golf Monthly's Top 50 Coaches to provide hints and tips about all aspects of the game. As someone who came into golf at a later age, Barry is very passionate about supporting the growth of the game and creating opportunities for everyone to access it. A member at Sand Moor Golf Club in Leeds, he looks forward to getting out on the course at least once a week and making up for lost time in the pursuit of a respectable handicap.

Barry is currently playing:

Driver: Ping G425

Hybrid: TaylorMade Stealth 4 Hybrid

Irons: Mizuno JPX 921 4-PW

Wedges: TaylorMade RAC 60, Callaway Jaws MD5 54

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour