How To Keep Score In Golf

Go&Golf is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

In all sports, the goal is to end up being the winner, which is usually determined by the final score.

Usually, the more points you have, the better you score. However, in golf, it’s the other way around, and fewer points is actually better. 

That’s because, in golf, the aim is to get the ball in the hole in as fewer strokes as possible! So the fewer points (or strokes), the better you score, and the better chance you have of being the winner! 

But how exactly do you keep score in golf? What are the rules around points, and how are they counted or kept track of? This is important if you want to actually keep the score of your golf, especially when you are playing against others! 

How does the scoring work in golf?

The scoring in golf is fairly simple. In its simplest form, you keep score by counting every shot.

After every hole, you record how many strokes it took you to complete it and at the end of the round you total up your score for every hole to give you a final score for the round.

Also, on all golf holes, there are a number of strokes listed under “par”.

The par is the average number of strokes that it should take to get the ball in the hole and is viewed as the standard score. You can use this to keep track of your own scores. So if the par of a hole is 3, but you take 4 strokes, then your score is 1-over. If you take 2 strokes on a par 3, then your score is 1-under and so on.

If you add all the pars for each of the 18 holes, you get the par for the course. Similarly, at the end of your round, you can finish above or under the par for the course.

And if you want to use some golf terms, 1-under par is a birdie, 2-under par is an eagle, and 1-over par is a bogey. 

Keeping score in golf – Step by step 

As we have already mentioned, in golf the fewer shots you have, the better you score.

However, it isn’t as simple as that. There are a number of different formats in golf which have slight changes in the way you keep score. If you’re interested in a particular format, check out the links below where we go into more detail.

Otherwise, for the purpose of this article and to help you understand, we’re going to go through two most common methods of keeping score in golf step by step. The two different methods we will look at are stroke play golf, and match play.

The main difference between these two is that in stroke play, you’re playing against the entire field of golfers, with the goal of having the lowest total score at the end.

In match play, however, you’re playing against a single opponent (or in pairs) and there is a winner for each hole.

Keeping score in stroke play

1. Start by getting a scorecard

An entire round of golf is 18 holes. That’s a lot of shots to remember over the course of four hours, so you should get a scorecard in order to keep track of your score along the way. Check out our post on how to read a scorecard if you’re not sure.

After each hole, you write down your score on the card, in order to keep track. 

As a general rule, you should keep track of the score of your playing partner, and your playing partner should keep track of your score, in order to ensure there is no cheating!

After every hole, you should both check each other’s card to confirm the score is correct, so that there are no mistakes at the end! Sometimes, if in a larger group, one person will be assigned the role of keeping all the scores. 

(The score after every hole is the number of shots it took to get the ball in the hole). 

2. Count every purposeful stroke

You’d like to think that almost every time a golfer swings the golf club to hit the ball, they’ll manage to do so. However, sometimes they miss, which is called a “whiff” or an “air shot”.

As a general rule, every purposeful attempt to strike the ball counts as a stroke. So even if your swinging to make a shot and you hit an air shot, this still counts as a stroke on the card! 

If you’re practicing the swing of the golf club, or just moving it around, then it doesn’t count. But if you’re aiming to hit, it counts whether you do hit or miss the golf ball.

3. Keep track of the penalties

Some shots in golf cost you extra points, and these are known as penalties. It is important to keep track of these, as they increase your score (unfortunately lowering your chances of winning). 

Here are the main penalties in golf:

  • Hitting a ball in the water – you have to drop a new ball in a designated location, and take a 1 shot penalty
  • Hitting the ball out of bounds (O.B.) – you rehit the ball from the original location and take a 2 shot penalty
  • Losing a ball – rehit a new ball from the original location (where you played from before losing the ball), and take 2 shot penalty

4. Add all the scores up

Once you finish the round, each person needs to add up the total scores, from all the holes combined. Then you have to sign your scorecard, as a way to make it official. 

Make sure to double-check the scores before signing. If you sign for the wrong score, you’ll automatically disqualify yourself!

The person with the least number of shots wins! 

5. The handicap

An added layer to keeping score in golf is the handicap.

Once you’ve played at least 10 rounds on the same golf course, you’ll have an average score over par, which will be your handicap. If you’re playing a game with golfers of different levels, once you’ve added up your total scores (gross score) you’ll need to remove your handicap to give you a final score (net score).

If you’re playing with handicaps, the lowest net score wins. This won’t necessarily be the golfer that’s taken the least number of overall shots (gross).

The aim is to then play better than you have previously, by constantly improving your handicap. 

Keeping score in match play

1. Hole up Vs Hole down

In match play, it’s all about winning more holes than your opponent. Instead of counting total scores at the end of the round, each hole is either won, lost of halved (when yo tie with the same score).

It doesn’t matter if you win a hole by one stroke or three strokes. When you win a hole, you are a hole up from your opponent, and when you lose, you are a hole down.

You can still play match play with handicaps with the player receiving the shots taking them according to the stroke index of the hole. 

2. Conceding a hole

If a hole is proving to be impossible for you to half, and you’re starting to get very tired of it, you can concede.

This means that you give up on that hole, but it’s okay, because you start fresh with the next hole, as the scores are counted hole by hole! As such, in match play, you don’t need to finish every hole unlike in stroke play.

3. Keep track of the winners of each hole

Whilst keeping a scorecard is not really necessary in match play (you should be able to keep score in your heads and confirm with your opponent on each tee), if you do, make sure to write down who wins eachhole, so it’s officially tracked! 

It’s also still a good idea to confirm the score on each hole so you’re all agreed.

4. The final winner

As a general rule, the game ends when one player is more holes up than there are holes remaining in the game.

This is because at that point it’s obvious that even if their opponent won every remaining hole, they still would still win the match.