Golf Scoring: How It Works, Terms to Know, & Scores by Skill

Golf Scoring: How It Works, Terms to Know, & Scores by Skill

The many scoring options and formats used on the golf course add to the complexity of the game. This post will give you a quick overview of golf scoring and explain the terms.

It will help you enjoy the game more by increasing your knowledge about the scoring features. Your new knowledge will be a huge asset to your playing partners.

Table of Contents

  • How the Golf Scoring System Works
  • Golf Scoring Terms
  • Average Golf Scores across Skill Levels

How the Golf Scoring System Works

The handicap system helps you even the playing field when it comes to strokeplay and Stableford. In the scorecard above, you’ll see 2 figures in each block. The first number is the gross score. While the second represents Stableford Points.  (Apologies for the Spanish, as it’s from my last round at the Palermo Golf Club in Buenos Aires.)

The scorecard shows four golfers who have handicaps ranging anywhere from zero to 36. You’ll notice that on the par 3 5th hole, Martin scored the same quantity of points for a double bogey as Rich and Bill did for a par.

Martin is a 36 handicapper and double-strokes every hole on the course. Martin’s double-bogey is equivalent to a par for lower handicappers to level the playing field.

Par

Each hole is given a par score of 3 to 5. The shortest holes on a standard par 72 golf course are par 3’s, while the longest are par 5’s. Par 4 holes are the most popular and usually range from 300 to 400 yards. 

The total par is calculated for both the front and back nines as well as the entire 18-hole course. The average par rating for nine holes is 36. This gives us a par-72 course for 18 holes. This can vary depending on the design of the golf course.

My home course has a par rating 35 for the front nine holes and 36 for back nine holes. There are 71 holes in total.

Stroke

The stroke rating of a golf hole determines its difficulty. It ranges from 1 to 18. Stroke 1 is the most difficult hole. Stroke 18 is the easiest. Every golfer with a handicap above 1 receives a stroke on a stroke 1 hole.

This is important for keeping score at Stableford tournaments where points are awarded based on your handicap. For example, a 1 handicapper making a par on stroke 1 will receive 3 points.

For making par on a stroke 1, a 19 handicapper is awarded 4 points. This is because the 19 handicapper has an advantage of two strokes on this hole. This is better than the 1 handicapper who scored exactly the same.

Additionally, a 37 handicapper who pars the same hole will receive 5 points. They also get 5 points for their efforts, as they triple-stroke that hole.

Your net score for each hole also depends on the stroke. For example, a 37 handicapper who scores a double par 6 on a hole that is par 4, stroke 1, will have their net score adjusted to 4. Similar to the above, a 19-handicapper who cards a bogey 6 on a par 4, stroke 1 hole, will see their net adjusted to 4.

Format

Stableford, stroke play and the commonest formats for golf are Stableford. The handicapped Stableford scoring method assigns points to golfers to level playing fields, regardless of your handicap.

Stroke play is based upon the premise that every shot matters. It is the most popular format on the PGA Tour. You don’t stop counting the shots until the ball is in your cup.

Match play is another format, in which the player with a lower score on each hole earns 1 point. The overall score will not change if the players tie on any hole. Matchplay is different from other forms. It can be completed before you reach 18 holes. 

If your adversaries score 4 or more and you have only 3 holes remaining, the game ends. 

 

Golf Scoring Terms

Par

Par is scored if your number of strokes corresponds to the assigned score. Par is, for example, if I score a 4 on a four-hole par 4, it is par. 

You can also score a par to keep your overall score the same. If you score 10 over par on the golf course before scoring a par, your total strokes are still 10 over.

Birdie

Birdies signify that you scored one stroke less than the par for that hole. For example, if you score 4 strokes on par 5, the ball will be in the hole. If your total score for the round before this hole was 10 over par, you are now 9 above par. 

Eagle

An eagle is better than a birdie because it reduces your total score by two strokes. An eagle is a ball that ends in the cup for two less strokes than the hole’s par score. 

They are more common on shorter par 5, holes where longer hitters can reach it in two and make the putt. A par 4 can be played by players who make an eagle, but this is uncommon due to the distance control and accuracy needed to sink your second shot.

My first eagle was on a short driveable par 4, but it took a lot of luck to slow down my ball. An eagle would bring down your overall score to 3 over par if you scored 5 over par before the hole.

Par-3 holes also have eagles when a player hits the right shot to get the ball in the cup. This is not a golfer’s eagle. They refer to this as an ace, or hole-in one.

The National Hole-In-One RegistryThe odds of an average golfer hitting an ace are 12,000-1. The odds of a low handicapper scoring an ace drop to 5,000 to 1. I know two golfers who have scored 3 aces over their lifetimes. After 28 years of playing on the links, I have nothing.

Albatross

Carding an albatross (or double eagle), is a very rare feat on the course. But, it is something I am grateful to have seen in my lifetime. It took place on a short par-4 green, when my playing partner hit a 3-wood from the tee to a blind green. 

After searching for his golf ball for two minutes, our buddy saw the ball sitting at the bottom of the cup. He hit a 3-under par albatross to move the needle from 2 under par to 1 below for the round. It was a game changer for my buddy that day, but it has been 20 years since he did it again. 

Condor

I have spent a lot of my adult life in Argentina and can confirm that a condor can be both majestically and uncommonly seen. The golf score is also beautiful and rare, just like the bird.

According to the PGAOnly 5 golfers have ever achieved 4 under par on a single hole. You can only do the impossible by putting your tee shot at a par-5 hole.

You can still achieve it if the conditions are right, and the hole is designed perfectly. It has been proven by five of our peers over the years.

Let’s say you are even for the round, and you score a condor, you immediately shave 4 shots off the score and move to 4 under par for the day. I am a lucky guy, but I have never been so lucky to see a condor.

Green Valley Ranch Golf Club was home to Mike Crean’s longest recorded condor. His drive was 517 yards and he made it to the 9th hole, par 5. The conditions needed to be perfect for this shot, and the added advantage of Denver’s altitude produced less drag and superior aerodynamics.

Bogey

Bogey is a score that can cause you to miss one shot on a hole. A dreaded “bogey” can increase your overall score by one. A bogey on a par 3 will increase your score by one. A par 3 bogey is 4. A par 4 bogey is 5. A par 5 bogey score is 6.

Double Bogey

A double bogey can be worse than a single bogey, as it adds two strokes to your total score. After a double bogey, players with a score of 5 over would be able to walk off the green with 7 over. 

Double bogeys are not uncommon in golf, but it is more common for professionals and high-handicappers to have doubles. 

A double bogey can often be the highest score possible when using the Stableford scoring method. Higher handicap golfers might be able to reach a triple- or quadruplebogey.

Triple Bogey

A triple bogey is a score of 3 over par on one hole. This can instantly ruin your round. As a junior, I played in medal tournaments that each shot was important. I was unable to play a worthy round on a few occasions due to a triple-bogey. 

I was a junior in a golf tournament and sat down after 17 holes. I tripled the par 3 18th hole to make it 3 over par. Unfortunately, I lost the tournament by two shots and am still mad at myself 18 years later.

Quadruple Bogey

A quadruple par is uncommon in Stableford, unless your handicap puts you at risk. A quadruple, as the name implies, is 4 over par on one hole. A quadruple, which is a 9 on a hole 5, 8 on a hole 4, and 7 on a hole 3, is an over par.

 

Average Golf Scores across Skill Levels

This chart breaks it down.

Handicap Pro Low Handicap Mid Handicap High Handicap
Score (Par 72). <70 70 – 75 76 – 89 >90

 

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