How to Understand Golf Scores

By John Lindell

Someone new to golf can have a difficult time grasping how the sport is scored because of some confusing terms and the different competitive formats. However, by gaining a basic knowledge of some of these terms and scoring methods an individual can understand golf scores.

How to Understand Golf Scores

Familiarize yourself with the concept of par. Par is the term used for the total number of shots an accomplished player should hit to get the ball from the tee into the hole. The length of a hole is a big factor in determining its par: the longest holes are usually par 5s, the middle-range holes are usually par 4s, and the shortest holes are usually par 3s. Par always takes into account that a player will need two putts once on the green. For example, a par 5 reflects that a player should be able to reach the green in three shots and then take two putts.

Learn the terms that describe scores other than par. The term bogey is used when a player needs more than the allotted strokes (par) to finish the hole. One stroke more than par is a bogey; two strokes more is a double bogey, three strokes more is a triple bogey, and so on. When a player needs fewer than the allotted strokes to finish the hole, a variety of terms are used. A ball that goes into the hole on the shot from the tee is a hole-in-one. An albatross is three shots better than that hole's par: a score of two on a par 5, for example. An eagle is two shots better than par: such as a three on a par 5. A birdie is one shot better than par: a four on a par 5. While the terms are used to describe how the golfer fared on the hole, their score is always recorded as the number of strokes they took to complete the hole.

Remember that in stroke play the number of strokes a player took on each hole is added together to produce the final score for the round. The fewer the strokes the better. A typical golf course has a par of between 70 and 72, meaning that this is the number produced when the pars for the 18 holes are added together. A player who shoots a 67 on a par 72 course is said to be "5 under" for the round. A 72 would be described as "even par." A round in which 77 strokes were needed to complete the course would be identified as "5 over."

Be aware that when watching a professional golf tournament that a player's final score will be the total strokes needed from every round played. The vast majority of professional tournaments consist of four rounds, meaning 72 holes will be played. The par for the course must be multiplied by four to see what "even par" would be. So, for example, on a par 72 course a four-day score of even par is going to be 288. A player that is 11 under, for instance, will have shot a 277 for the four days on the course. When watching a tournament, remember a player's score will be referred to in four ways: his relation to par just in that round; his cumulative relation to par for the tournament (all rounds played so far), his score for that round and his cumulative score for the tournament.

Remember that in match play each hole is valued as a single point. The player or side that has the lowest score on a hole will be said to have "won the hole." If the sides complete the hole in the same number of strokes the hole is said to be "halved." A player or side's actual numerical score for a hole does not matter. Match play scoring can be confusing for two reasons. First, because it is always a running total. If Player A wins the first two holes, that player is 2-up. If player B wins the third hole, Player A will be 1-up. Think of it as Player A is 1 hole up on Player B. If Player B next wins a hole, the two players will have won the same number of holes and the match will be "all square." Second, a match play score can be referred to two ways, depending on whether referring to the leader or the trailer. If Player A wins the first two holes, he is said to be 2-up. If talking about Player B after the first two holes, that player is 2-down.
The match ends when one side has managed to win more holes than there are holes left to be played. For example, a side that is up by two holes coming to the 18th hole cannot lose. The match is over and that side is said to have won "2 and 1" indicating it was up two holes with just one to play.

Realize that a tournament that uses the Stableford System awards points to players based on how a hole was played. In this system, which is seldom used by professionals, a golfer is given a specific number of points for a par, a birdie, and eagle, and so forth. For example, in some versions of the Stableford System a par is worth one point, a birdie is worth two, and an eagle worth three points. Bogeys may be given no point value or they may be given a negative value, with a double bogey worth minus two points for instance. Remember that with the Stableford System matches the highest score wins.


About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.

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