Golf Scoring Made Simple: Calculate Your Score With Ease

By James Gapinski

golfer writing on scorecard on cart

Scoring a round golf can be confusing, and depending on the format you're playing, it's helpful to have a guide. Here's how to simplify your on-course scoring in several formats so you'll always be sure you're signing an accurate scorecard.

Basics of Golf Scoring

Par is the assigned number of strokes a scratch golfer is expected to take on each hole. The sum of the par of every hole is the par for the course. Most 18-hole golf courses play to a par of 70-72. There are variations such as executive or short courses that have a lower par number.

Golf Scores in Relation to Par

As an alternative to tracking the cumulative total of strokes, golf scores are often compared to par. Scoring par for a hole is also known as "even par." Scoring higher than par is known as "over par", and scoring below par is known as "under par."

For example, on a par 72 golf course, a score of 72 would be even par, a score of 75 would be 3-over, and a score of 69 would be 3-under.

Gross and Net Golf Scores

Your gross score is the actual total number of strokes that you took in your round. Your net score is your adjusted total based on your handicap.

To calculate your net score, find your course handicap -- the formula is Handicap Index x (Slope Rating of Tees Played/113) + (Course Rating - par) -- and subtract that number from your total score.

Here's how to calculate your golf score as you play.

Scoring to Par

The most common way to score your round is to the par of the course you're playing.

  1. Before teeing off, check the par of the course. As mentioned, it will usually fall between 70 and 72, unless you're playing an executive or short course.
  2. Mark your score after each hole in the row to the right of your name.
  3. In the row under your score, make a plus or minus in relation to par. This will be a running tally throughout the round. Example: On hole No. 1 par is 4, you make 5. Mark a "+1" below your score for that hole. On hole No. 2 par is 5, you make 4. Mark an "E" for even, because you're now back to even par for the round.
  4. At the end of the round, you should be able to quickly know your final score if you've been keeping an accurate number in relation to par.

Scoring to Fives

For mid- to high-handicap golfers, a simple and effective score tracker is keeping your score in relation to the number five. Each hole is assigned a score of five and you track your score based on how many over or under "fives" you are.

  1. On hole No. 1, you make 5, so you're even fives for the round.
  2. On hole No. 2, you make 6, so you're now one over fives for the round.
  3. On hole No 3, you make 4, so you're now back to even fives.

This scoring method adds up to a target score of 90, a popular benchmark for weekend players. Mentally, telling yourself that you shot "five over fives" isn't as deflating as telling yourself that you shot 23-over par.

What is a Good Golf Score?

So you just played round of golf and you have your total score. But how do you know if it's good, bad, or somewhere in between? Here's a breakdown of the typical score range for various levels of golfers. These scores assume a course par of 72, and 36 for 9 holes.

Experience

A-Game (9/18 Holes)So-So (9/18 Holes)Rough Day (9/18 Holes)
Beginner49 or better/99 or better54/10857+/115+
Intermediate40 or better/79 or better44/8948+/95+
Competitive Amateur36 or better/72 or better38/7740+/80+
Professional32 or better/64 or better35/7038+/74+

Stableford Scoring

Stableford is a golf format that's counts points instead of strokes. The better your score in stableford and modified stableford, the more points you earn. Typically, one point is awarded for a bogey, two for par, three for birdie, and four points for an eagle. No points are awarded for a score worse than bogey.

A stableford format can be a fun change to your normal round of golf with friends and can be adjusted, like stroke play, for handicaps.

Match Play Scoring

Match play is another fun way to shake up your game and it's played either head-to-head between two players or as teams of two. In match play, each hole has a value of one. The individual or team with the lower score for the hole wins the point. Final scores in match play are formatted as the number of holes the winner was leading by when the match ended, and the number of holes remaining. For example, Beth and Sally play an 18-hole match, and Beth is four up after 15 holes, Beth wins 4&3.

If a match goes all 18 holes and a winner is determined, the final score is given simply as the margin of victory. For example, Beth wins 1 up.

In some competitions, like the Ryder Cup, matches can end in a tie with teams splitting the point. In other competitions, matches must determine a winner. In matches that are tied after 18 holes, the match is extended and the final score is given as the number of holes needed to determine a winner. For example, Beth wins in 22 holes.

The fun part of match play is that it can take until the final hole to determine if a team wins or if the match ends in a tie. Match play can also end early if the match is lopsided, bringing to mind the time Tiger Woods routed Stephen Ames at the 2006 WGC Dell Match Play.

Conclusion

Whether you're scoring your golf round as strokes or otherwise, it's important to know how to accurately add and apply your score so you can continue to grow in the game of golf.

About the Author

James Gapinski is a writer with numerous online contributions, including those featured on JSOnline.com, Digital-Photography-School.com and the Milwaukee City Edition of Examiner.com. He is the recipient of the Burrows Award and the Angela Peckenpaugh Writing Award. Gapinski holds a Bachelor of Science in English with a writing emphasis from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater.