Golf Scoring: The Complete Guide to Proper Scoring

If you’re unfamiliar with how scoring is done, you might find that it’s not exactly what you expect. To win in golf, the goal is to earn the lowest possible score.

There are 18 holes played, with each player attempting to get the ball in the hole in the least number of strokes.

Each hole on a course has a specific par score, which usually ranges from 3 to 5 depending on how far away the tee box is from the hole. Holes that are par 3 are generally shorter than a par five hole.

There are also different terms to describe how a player’s score compares to the course par. This article will be your beginner guide to golf scoring. Below is a list of some of the most common golf scoring terms.

Golf is a great game for any age, and anyone can learn to play it. Whether you’re new to golf or just want to understand how the scoring system works, let us teach you the basics of golf scoring.

Golf score card with pencil, shows each golfer's score, handicaps, and par for each hole

What Is a Stroke?

To start from the beginning, and to put it simply, a stroke is what it means to hit the golf ball into or towards the hole. This can also be referred to as a swing, depending on where you are in the game. Any time your golf club makes contact with the ball, that is considered a stroke.

Remember, more strokes equal more points in a traditional game, and the goal is to obtain a lower score than your opponent: the fewer strokes, the better when it comes to golf scores.

Stroke Play vs. Match Play

Match play is a different type of scoring that uses the number of holes to determine a player’s score, rather than the number of strokes. With stroke play, you count every time you swing the club, whether driving the ball down the fairway or putting it into the hole.

With match play, players score by competing against each other at each hole. The player with the lower score on the hole will win that hole. If players tie on the hole, the hole is cut in half, and neither player earns the victory.

At the end of the match, the player (or team) who won the most holes will be the one who wins the entire game.

Remember, at the very basic level even in match play, the final score that is the lowest on the hole, wins.

Stableford Scoring

This is another points-based system and Australia’s most common type of golf scoring. Instead of scoring based on the number of strokes or net score, points are awarded depending on how well a player scores.

For example:

  • Double-bogey or higher= No points (also known as a “wipe”)
  • Bogey= 1 point
  • Par= 2 points
  • Birdie= 3 points
  • Eagle=4 points
  • Albatross=5 points

How Does the Scoring System Work in Golf?

Golf scorecard attached to steering wheel of golf cart, gold equipment in background

Golf Scoring Terms


Par is the total strokes a player is expected to take to complete a hole. For example, on a par three hole, the player will typically take about two strokes to reach the green (the green being the location of the hole on the course) and then one additional stroke to put the ball into the hole.

Par Score

If a player ends the hole with a par score, they use the same number of strokes to complete the hole as the total par. For example, if a hole’s par is 3, and the golfer uses three strokes to complete the round, they would have an even or par score.


A score more often seen with a skillful golfer, a birdie, is when a player scores one stroke under the designated par. For example, that same par three hole, but this time the player completes the hole in two strokes. That’s one under par or a birdie!


What about scoring two under par? Yes, that’s right, it is possible, and it’s called an Eagle. Imagine the same par three holes, but the player gets a hole in one!

Hole In One

A hole in one is exactly what it sounds like! It takes one stroke to complete the hole and get the ball in the hole.


On the flip side of par eagle, there is a bogey. Bogey means that the player has scored one over the hole’s par. Back to that par three hole we talked about earlier, it would be using four strokes to complete the hole resulting in a score of 4 on a par three hole.

Double & Triple Bogey

Like Albatross & Condors, there are scores like a double and triple bogey. Earning a double bogey means that you’ve scored two strokes over par or a score of 5 on a par three hole. Triple bogey means you’ve scored over par by three strokes or earned a score of 6 on a par three hole.

What Is the Lowest Score in Golf?

Double Eagle (or Albatross)

Now that you know what an eagle is, you’ll likely understand what a Double Eagle is. Scoring a double eagle means that you’re three under par. The same goes for a Triple Eagle or Condor; that’s four under par.

These shots are rarely seen, even rarer than a hole in one, as they only occur on higher par courses, which are generally more difficult.

What Does It Mean for a Player to Have Handicaps?


Every hole on a golf course is ranked by difficulty from 1-18, according to the World Handicap Index. This hole ranking is called a hole’s index and is also listed on the scorecard, sometimes called the Hole’s Handicap Index. One indicates the most challenging hole, while 18 is the easiest.

For example, the player approaches the first hole of the day and has a Golflink Handicap of 5. The scorecard indicates that this is a par four hole with a stroke index of 3 (meaning it is the third hardest hole on the course).

The player swings and ultimately takes five strokes to complete the hole. In stroke golf, this would result in a bogey. However, the player has a handicap on the hole, resulting in a stroke reduction, so their “net” score is par, or four. This would earn the player two points or a better score in Stableford.

Without the handicap, they would have bogied and only earned one point. In Stableford, the higher score is better, getting the player closer to a win. In both cases, Stableford and stroke golf, the handicap serves to help the player obtain the desired score.

On the scorecard, the player would mark a “5” for the score on that hole and a “2” in the points column.

What Does It Mean to Be a Scratch Golfer?

This term can be confusing to beginners; it helps first to understand what a handicap is.

As we discussed above, a handicap is a golfer’s strokes over par score

What Are Penalty Strokes?

Water hazards can be introduced to make the golf course more challenging and potentially add to the number of times a golfer hits the ball. If a player hits the ball out of bounds or into the water hazard, one stroke is additionally applied to their score each time.

In professional golf, various unusual rules can earn a player additional penalty strokes. Such as asking another player which type of club they used to hit the ball, accidentally causing their club to come in contact with the hazard or bunker, or even hitting their opponent’s ball can generate an additional number of strokes.

How to Read a Scorecard in 5 Easy Steps

Traditional golf scorecard

A golf scorecard can be pretty confusing the first time you look at it. We’ll start at the top of the card and move down to break it up. Most golf courses have a scorecard with similar information to the above, but it may vary slightly on the course difficulty.

Step 1

Beginning at the top, you see the row marked “Hole” from 1-18. These will be the holes played on the course. You’ll draw the player’s score in the box below for each golf hole.

Step 2

Identify the front nine and back 9. Traditional 18-hole golf courses are broken into the first nine holes and the back nine holes remaining. 

On the scorecard, you’ll see the column after the 9th hole reading “out.” because up until this hole, you’re playing away from the clubhouse. The column after the 18th hole is marked “in” because you’re playing back towards it.

Step 3

The column on the right. The columns at the top with color names indicate each hole’s distance.

  • Black or gold tees are the furthest from the hole. These tees are usually only played by professionals or very high-standard amateurs. Most courses do not have black or gold tees.
  • Blue markers reflect the tee boxes for local competitions and are normally used by very good amateur players. The blue tee boxes are the furthest from the hole if a course doesn’t have black or gold tees.
  • Recreational golfers often use white tees with middle to high handicaps.
  • Red tees are the shortest member’s tees. These tees are the closest to the fairway and make the course much shorter than the other tees.
  • Beginners or junior golfers use green tees.

Step 4

The Handicap Section. At the bottom, you see “HCDP,” which means handicap. These numbers label each hole from 1-18, with one being the most difficult and 18 being the easiest.

Some cards will also have a section for women’s handicaps, as some holes play differently for women than for men.

An example of handicaps: if Player A has a handicap of 2 and Player B has a handicap of 7, the difference is 5. Player B will then be allowed an extra shot on the five hardest holes or the five holes with the lowest index.

Therefore, if Player A gets a four on one of these five holes and Player B gets a 5, they tie because of Player B’s handicap.

Step 5

The Par Scores. The par information tells you how many strokes you should take on the hole. Par generally relates to the length of the hole, with par-3 being the shortest and par-5 being the longest hole.

The average golf course is a par 72, meaning that the par for each 9-hole is 36. While it depends on the par of the course you’re playing, but in this example, you should aim for a score of 72.

Golf cart sitting on the green with clubs and golf equipment in the back

So How Does Golf Scoring Work?

Whether you’re interested in playing golf, improving your skill level, or simply want to understand how the game is scored, this article is for you.

We’re teaching you some of the most common terms you’ll hear when discussing a round of golf. We’ve also included steps on how to read a basic scorecard.

Now that you know that scoring in golf works a little differently than in other sports, you’re ready to play! Success is determined by the person who makes fewer strokes or has the least amount of points in traditional golf.

Now that you understand the basics of golf scoring, next time you watch the PGA tour, you’ll better understand what’s happening!

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