The Scorecard Explained: How to Read a Golf Scorecard

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If you want to act like a golfer (even if you’re brand new to the game) you need to know some things about the scorecard. As I’m sure you know, there’s a lot going on with scorecards at your local golf club.

There’s a ton of blank spots, a lot of numbers about slope/rating, different tee boxes, and more. If you’re a little overwhelmed as a new golfer, don’t worry we got you covered.

While a scorecard’s purpose is primarily for keeping score, it can be used for a lot more things too. Keep reading to learn more about how to read a scoring card for golf. 

How to read a golf scorecard explained

To understand how a standard scorecard for golf works, follow the steps below. Whether you’re a bogey golfer playing the white tees or more advanced playing the blue tees, we’ll help make playing golf easier.

Locate Your Starting Hole (Hole numbers)

First, identify your starting hole. In most cases, this is the first hole. Sometimes, you might start on the back nine. In this case, you would start at hole 10. 

If you’re in a golf tournament with a shotgun start, you can start on any hole. In these types of tournaments (like a scramble or shamble), they will typically highlight the starting hole so you don’t accidentally write golf scores on the wrong holes. 

Front 9 vs. back 9

Assuming you’re starting on the first hole (which is the most common), you’ll want to fold the scorecard in half. This way you will have a front nine – which refers to the first nine holes and a back nine which is the last nine holes. 

You will see a box for each hole 1-9 then a box for “out” – this is where you can add up the front nine holes. It’s referred to as “out” as you’re typically playing away from the clubhouse and coming back towards it on the back nine. But this isn’t as common anymore as most golf courses tend to have holes 1 and 10 very close to the clubhouse. 

Conversely, on the back nine the final box after hole 18 will be “in” – which is where you will add up the back nine scores. Next to that box you should see a “Total” which is where you will add up the front nine and back nine scores for a total score. 


The holes par will be indicated in the middle or under the different boxes. This references what a scratch golfer “should” score on the hole based on its length and difficulty. 

As Wikipedia defined it, “In golf, par is the predetermined number of strokes that a proficient (scratch, or zero handicap),  golfer should require to complete a hole, a round (the sum of the pars of the played holes), or a tournament (the sum of the pars of each round). 

For scoring purposes, a golfer’s number of strokes is compared with the par score to determine how much the golfer was either “over par”, “under par”, or was “even with/equal to par.” 

Pars can range from 3-5 on most courses to 10 par 4s to four par 3s to four par 5s on a traditional 72-hole golf course. Pars can add up to 70,71, or even par 73. 


Names and Tee Boxes

On the far left side of the scorecard you will have larger empty boxes to write down each player’s names. If the boxes are too small, you can write the initials instead. In that column, you will also need to note which tee box each player is using. 

Every golf course is different but they all have multiple tee boxes – usually between 3-6 depending on the golf course. The tee boxes at the top of the scorecard are known as the “tips.” These tee boxes are the longest and most difficult on the course and reserved for scratch golfers or better. 

Find out how to pick the right tees.

Each tee below the tips (also called championship tees), is slightly shorter and more difficult. The ladies tees have the lowest tee boxes, which are sometimes at the bottom. They might also have junior tees depending on where they are playing. 

Once you figure out the tee box for each player, it’s a good idea to notate. As an example, the left box with names would look like. James – Black or Steve – Blue

Combo Tees

Additionally, some golf courses have a hybrid set of tees where they’ll play nine holes of one tee box and nine of another. For example, it might be a blue-white combo where players use both tee boxes throughout the round. 

Make sure to check with everyone before the round as you’ll need to play one set of teeOr combo tees throughout the round for an official score. 


Another important part of a golf scorecard is the handicap – which ranks the holes from hardest to easiest. The #1 handicap is the most difficult hole, while the #18 handicap has the easiest hole. 

Check the hole handicap can give you some better insight to each hole if you’ve never played the golf course before. Plus, the handicap will determine if you get strokes which we’ll cover in the next section.

Net Score vs. Gross Score

The best thing about golf is the ability to play against any kind of golfer and have a match using handicapping. So if you’re a 10 handicap golfer and want to play with a 20 handicap, it’s easy to do. In this case, you would give them 10 shots per game.

But you don’t just give them any 10 shots, you only give them a shot on the 10 hardest holes. They would be awarded a stroke on handicap holes 1-10. 

This scorecard does not allow you to add dots or an asterisk to remind you. Then, you can write their net score in one line and their gross score in the next. 

Or, simply write 5/4 next to a hole they have hit a shot. This means that their net score was five, but due to the stroke they had to receive, it was four. If you had a gross four, you would tie them for first place. 

After each hole, write down the scores

Its a good habit to start is keeping track of the scores of each player after the hole is completed. Don’t try to do it every 2-3 holes as you’ll likely forget and write down an incorrect score (especially if you’re writing down all four players scores). 

If you make a mistake and don’t have an eraser, you will want to X out the score and write the correct score above or below. Additionally, if you’re in a formal tournament make sure to write your initials to verify that you changed your score. 

Symbols for the Golf Scorecard

If you’re playing with a more experienced golfer it’s common to use symbols around your score. This is also a common practice when you use a golf app. Each symbol corresponds to the score for par.

Here are some examples of symbols that you might see on a scorecard.

  • No symbol is equal to par on the hole
  • Circle around score = birdie on hole
  • Square around score = Bogey on hole 

There are many symbols that are used in scoring. You can read our entire article about the symbols of scoring golf.


Add up the Scores 

Once the round is complete, make sure to add up everyone’s score for 18 holes.

If someone shoots an 85 on a par 72 golf course, that’s 13 over par. A player who shoots below par is considered to be under par. This feat is rare for amateur golfers. Or, if a player shoots the same as par then it’s common to say they shot par for the day. 

It’s always a good idea to verify the score with each player in the clubhouse or by the 18th green. You can compare cards with each other to determine any scoring issues.

Once every player confirms their golf holes score and the total round, then you will want to sign it under the “Scorer” section. You should also ensure that another member of the group signs it under Scorer section. If you’re playing in a golf tournament two signatures are always required for a score to count. 

You can then enter your score into your GHIN to contribute to your overall handicap. 

Scoring Errors

Humans make mistakes, and sometimes this can lead to a major mishap later in the round. If you sign a scorecard that is lower than your actual score, you’re disqualified. You must accept a scorecard that is lower than your actual score.

This is why it’s so important to check your scorecard diligently after the round. 

FAQs about Scorecards for Golf 

Do you have any questions about scorecards, best practices, and other aspects of your golf game? Continue reading if you have additional questions about scorecards and other best practices for your golf game.

How do you calculate a scorecard for golf?

There’s a lot going on with a golf score card. There are yardages, boxes for scoring, slope, course rating, handicap, and many other things.

It’s best to write scores down in each box and then after the round add up scores from holes 1-9 and 10-18. Next, fill in the total score on your scorecard. You can also sign the scorecard with another person to attest that it is complete. 

To be considered a United States Golf Association official score, you must complete every hole and comply with all golf rules.

How do I read a green book?

Learning how to read greens is one of the most important parts of golf. You can hit putts great but if you aren’t reading them correctly, you’re not going to make a lot of putts.

You can purchase a green reading guide if you need extra help reading greens. These books gave detailed information about the slopes and breaks of each green on a golf course. Sometimes they’re available in the pro shop but most often they’re only available online.

There are a few things you should consider when reading a book.

  • Depth of the GreenThis helps you to understand the size of a green and can assist with club selections for different pin positions.
  • Color: Each book has a different color for the green. This legend will explain what each one means. For example, red might mean there is a steep slope and green means it’s relatively flat.
  • ArrowsDepending on where the green is located, the arrows indicate how much the green is breaking. It’s up to you to figure out where your ball is and where the pin is to understand the read. 

My top tip for green readers is to always commit to the break of each putt. It’s so easy to use one of these books but see something different with your own eyes which leads to indecision. If you’re indecisive over a putt, it typically leads to a bad putt so make sure to commit to the line before going through your routine. 

What are the dots in a golf scorecards scorecard?

If you see dots on a scorecard it likely means you’re in a golf tournament that has a net division. There is usually a net or gross division in most tournaments. The gross division doesn’t factor in players handicaps and is the true score for the round.

A handicap is used to calculate the net score. As an example, let’s say you’re a nine handicap. Based on the hole handicap, you would be awarded a stroke for each hole that is considered the most difficult.

For those nine holes on the scorecard you’ll have a dot to represent the stroke you get back. So if you make a five, it’s actually a four. 

If you play golf with someone who has a handicap that is higher than 18 they’ll have multiple dots on certain holes. Typically, you don’t need to worry about the scoring aspect as it’s factored in at the scoring table after the round using golf software tools. 

What is the 95% rule of golf?

The 95% rule refers to the recommended handicap allowance for a tournament of golf. For example, if you’re a 10 handicap golfer, you would be a 9.5 for the event. 

As the USGA said, “Handicap allowances are designed to provide equity for players of all levels of ability in each format of play, over both 9 holes and 18 holes.

Handicap allowances are applied to the Course Handicap as the final step in calculating a player’s Playing Handicap.”

What are the 7 terms used to score golf? 

The seven terms used to score golf are hole in one (or albatross eagle), birdie, par and bogey, double bogey, and birdie. There are many other terms, such as snowman (which looks like an 8), triple-bogey, or others. 

Click here to find out more about the most common terms used in golf.

Final Thoughts about Scoring in Golf 

A golf scorecard is more than just a place to record your scores after each hole. Scorecards can help you identify the best tee boxes, track your statistics, remember names of players, and much more. You can also get tips and round statistics.

However, the main purpose is to keep track on your score after each hole. To get the total score for 18 holes, you can add up the scores from the front and back nines. 

As someone who’s been playing for 20+ years, I urge you to not add up the scores after nine holes and announce them to the group. No one cares about a nine-hole score, it’s the full 18 holes that actually counts. Some golfers can set unrealistic expectations by adding nine holes to their back nine.

Instead, take it hole by hole and add up the scores once you’re in the 19th hole having a drink or meal. 

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