Stroke Play Golf

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Stroke play golf is the most common format in the game. You may not have known it was called stroke play, but this is typically how amateurs (and pro’s) play the game.

Stroke play works nice and simple – you record your total strokes on each hole and at the end of the round, you add all the holes together for your final score. The goal is to have the lowest score as possible, and the winner is the player with the lowest score.

The vast majority of tournament golf is played with the stroke play format. Professional golfers occasionally aplay stableford or match play, but 95%+ of PGA Tour, European Tour and LPGA Tour tournaments are 4 day stroke play events.

Royal Lytham The Open

How do you use your handicap in stroke play?

Like most things with stroke play, it’s a pretty simple answer. 

In stroke play you subtract your handicap strokes at the end of your round. If you are a 15 handicap and you shoot 90, your net score would be 75. 

Unlike match play and stableford, it doesn’t matter where (which holes) you get the strokes. The only exception would be if you are playing a 4-ball (two man) stroke play format.

In this situation, it’d matter where you receive strokes because you need to determine on each hole who had the best score (between you and your partner). 

If you are playing in an individual stroke play event you only need to worry about the total number of your handicap.

How Do You Play a Game of Stroke Play Golf?

Step 1 – Determine each player’s handicap on the course you are playing – use your handicap index and the course rating to figure out the correct number of strokes each golfer should receive.

Step 2 – The lowest handicap can tee off first on the first hole or you can flip a coin to determine who has honor.

Step 3 – Tee off and record the total number of strokes of each player on the first hole. You must hole out on each hole (no gimmies in stroke play unfortunately).

Step 4 – The golfer who makes the lowest score on each hole has the honor on the following hole. If there is a tie, the order from the previous hole is used again.

Step 5 – At the end of your round, add up all the scores, subtract each player’s handicap (Step 1) and the golfer with the lowest total is the winner!

Congrats! You completed a round of stroke play golf. 

Head to the 19th hole, have a cold drink, talk about the great shots, and laugh about the poor ones. You will learn quickly that all golfers love to talk about their round they just finished playing.

How to Win at Stroke Play Golf

Just like any game, there are certain strategies and concepts that will improve your chances of winning at stroke play golf. Of course, the simplest answer is that you play well, but let’s talk about how you should approach the round.

The first thing to remember about stroke play golf is that it is more of a marathon than a sprint. You don’t need to worry about the other player(s) – simply focus on your game. It is you versus the course. 

Think about the shots your playing on the course

An 18-hole round of golf can take 4-5 hours, so you need to stay patient. The game of golf is as much mental as physical. The winner in stroke play golf is quite often the player that doesn’t get too high or too low emotionally – you will hit some great shots and some bad ones – stay relaxed and focused to shoot the best possible score.

Secondly, you don’t have to always try to be a hero, know your strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths when you get the chance and play around your weaknesses when necessary. 

For example, if you feel confident with your 8-iron, but struggle with your 6-iron, be smart when the yardage requires a 6-iron. Just because there’s a pin on every green doesn’t mean you have to fire straight at it. When in doubt or uncomfortable with a shot, there is nothing wrong with simply aiming at the middle of the green.

Finally, course management is a skill that many amateur golfers ignore but can be a huge advantage in stroke play golf. Let’s say you have 250 yards over a lake. Sure, if you hit the perfect 3-wood you might hit the green, but it’s probably a smarter choice to hit a couple irons to reach the green. On average, which score will be better? The one when you try to reach the green with 3-wood or the one when you decide to play smart and hit a couple of irons instead?

An important skill in stroke play golf is to avoid the “big number”. Making bogey isn’t a big deal, but those double, triple, or quadruple bogeys can really damage your score. 

If you find yourself in trouble, pick a club that you know you can get back to the fairway – it’s ok if you can’t get to the green. The one stroke you use to get back into play, will save you strokes later in the hole.

The golfer that properly executes “smart golf” will typically come out on top in a stroke play match. Pick your spots to be aggressive, but when you are having a bad hole, try to figure out the best way to save a bogey, instead of running up a cricket score. That’s how you can give yourself the best chance of winning at stroke play golf.

Enjoy Stroke Play Golf

Regardless if you have a match with friends or you are playing by yourself, stroke play golf is a great way to keep score. 

Looking to improve? Following your round spend a few minutes looking at your scorecard. Where did you lose strokes? Too many 3-putts, too many penalty shots, or too many big numbers? By spending a few minutes after your round, you can analyze what part of your game needs practice and what opportunities you have to improve your course management.