how golf scoring works

How Golf Scoring Works

With golf season wrapping up and Olympic golf being a pretty big deal, many people wonder how exactly the golfers are scored. If you’re considering getting into the game, you might be wondering how golf scoring works. I have honest golf news: basic golf scoring is fairly simple.

This is how golf scoring works:

  • Each hole has a set number of swings it should take to get the ball in the hole (par).
  • After taking your shots, you simply record how many swings it actually took to hit the golf ball in the hole.
  • At the end of the game, the player with the least amount of swings is the winner.

It can’t be thaaaat simple, right?! Let’s look at golf scoring a little deeper.

What is Golf?

I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t know what golf is, but just in case, here’s a quick overview. In short, golf is a game played cross-country style where a player hits a ball from a starting point (called teeing grounds) into a hole. Players use various clubs that serve different purposes to hit the ball. The game was first played in the 15th century in the Kingdom of Scotland.

Golf 101: How Golf Scoring Works

So let’s get to what we’re all here for – let’s find out how scoring works. The first thing to remember in golf is that the person with the lowest score is the winner. I know we are all used to getting the most points and winning, but this is an important detail to keep in mind as you head into your tee time.

Most golf courses are set up with 18 holes as the default. You can find some courses that have only 9 holes, typically called “executive courses”. That said, depending on how large your party is, a general rule is to plan to be at the golf course for the majority of the day.

Each of the 18 holes on the golf course are set with what’s called “par”. Par is the number of strokes it should take the average person to get the ball into the hole. Generally, you’ll find that each hole’s par value is somewhere between three and five. Typically, a traditional golf course with 18 holes will have a total par of 72. If you’re golfing on an executive course with only 9 holes, you can expect the total par to be around 27.

Your basic scorekeeping is very easy to calculate. At the beginning of the round you’ll be given a tally sheet to write down and track each player’s score. Each swing with the intent to hit the ball into the hole is counted. Let’s say the first hole is par 4, meaning it should only take you 4 swings total to land the ball into the hole. Say you’re having an off day and it takes you 5 swings instead. Your total for the first hole is 5, or one above par. You’ll continue on scoring the same way through the entire course. Once you reach the end of the course, you’ll add up all of your points and compare it to par.  Yes, it’s really that simple!

Alternative Golf Scoring Formats

There are a few ways to keep score when playing golf. Generally, you’ll follow one of three formats:

  • Stroke play – this is the basic scoring format we’ve discussed where each player counts each stroke, keeps track of how many strokes were used for each hole and the fewest number of strokes wins.
  • Match play – this scorekeeping method is similar to stroke play, but with a twist. To start, you’ll still count the number of strokes you take at each hole. The difference with this method is you’ll then compare your numbers to the numbers of those in the rest of your golfing party. After comparing, you’ll keep track of who wins (has the fewer number of strokes) each hole. For example, at hole one it’s par 3. Player 1 takes four swings to get the ball into the hole. Player 2 then takes two swings to land the ball into the hole.  Because it has taken Player 2 fewer strokes to get the ball into the hole, Player 2 is the winner of that hole. At the end of the round, the person who wins the most holes is the winner of the round.
  • Stableford system – the Stableford system is a point system. Each of your scores in relation to par is converted into points. At the end of the round, the total number of points decides who the winner is. In this case, your goal is to have the highest score. In this method, a point value is determined for each swing in relation to par. For example, if you take 2 or more strokes over par, you get no points for the hole. If you’re 1 stroke over, you get 1 point, 2 points for the same number of strokes as par, etc. An advantage to scoring with the Stableford system is a player has the option of abandoning the hole and moving on if he or she has exceeded the 2 strokes over par, as they will not receive any points for that hole. This can actually speed up your round of golf, depending on the skill level of those you are golfing with.

Most professional golfing tournaments use standard stroke play for scoring. Overall, golf scoring is simple and uses three main methods – Stroke play, Match play and the Stableford system. The most common method used is Stroke play:

  • Par is set for the number of swings it should take to get the ball into the hole
  • Count how many strokes it takes you to get the ball into the hole
  • Add up your strokes at the end of the round
  • The player with the lowest number of strokes is the winner!

Conclusion: How Does Golf Scoring Work?

In a nutshell, golf scoring works like this:

Each hole has a set number of swings it should take to get the ball in the hole. After taking your shots, you simply record how many swings it actually took. At the end of the game, the player with the least amount of swings is the winner.