To understand the scoring in golf you first need to understand the golf course. A standard course is made up of 18 holes being a mixture of par 3s, par 4s and par 5s. Each of these holes varies in length and difficulty with a par 3 being of a shorter length and expected to be completed in 3 strokes, similarly par 4s & par5s to be completed in 4 & 5 strokes.
With the popularity of golf, there has also been a huge rise in nine holes golf courses which allow the game to be enjoyed without the time commitments of playing an 18 holes course. This article explains the handicap that is awarded to you and is used whether you are playing an 18 or 9 holes course.
In This Article
A Beginners Introduction To Golf Scoring
Each hole has a stroke index
Each hole on a golf course is graded in difficulty, with the perceived most difficult hole being awarded a stroke index of 1 with the second most difficult hole 2 all the way through to 18 which has been assessed by the club to be the easiest hole. Click here for etiquette tips from PGA.
A golf score card will show the number of the hole followed by the length of the hole. Listed next is the par for the hole followed by the stroke index. You will see the stroke index marked generally in red on the score card beside each hole. It is important to understand the stroke index system as this is where your handicap helps you to enjoy the game rather than make you feel inadequate.
The handicap system
So this is the basis of the handicap system which allows you to monitor your progress and compete effectively. When we watch the golf competitions on the TV, the professionals are playing off scratch which is the equivalent of par for the course. So if a course is made up of say 4 par 3s = 12, 4 par 5s = 20 and 10 par 4s = 40, the par for the course is then added together making a total of 12 + 20+ 40 = 72. A scratch player will be expecting to play the course in 72 strokes or less.
Like anything in life that is new, when a beginner starts to play they will need to learn, which will take time, but improvement comes with consistent steady practice. To help this process and to balance the field between players of all standards the handicap system was introduced.
So, in theory, a player with a handicap of 18, equivalent to one shot a hole can still have a good game with a more experienced or lower handicap player. One great way to reduce your golf score is to improve your driving.
Entering three Cards
When joining a golf club it is usually accepted that a new player will submit 3 cards of the most recent rounds and from this, a handicap will be allocated to them by the club professional. After this, whenever you play in a competition the handicap is adjusted up or down depending on the result. More advice here from golfweek.
Normally, the starting maximum handicap for a man is 24 with the maximum for a lady or a junior is 36, but of course, you may be allocated a lower handicap depending on your first three cards.
So as an example of the above, if a player is allocated a handicap of 15, he or she will receive an extra shot on the stroke index holes 1 to 15. In consequence, if playing an opponent with a handicap of 10 that person will receive one shot at each of the stroke index holes 1 to 10, so as you can see this allows the 15 handicapper to still win the match even having taken 4 more strokes. Stableford points scoring explained here.
Sometimes golf can be baffling due to the sometimes strange terminology used. If you need more clarity then please read our article on golf terminology.
A Handicap balances the playing field
Unfortunately just because a person has earned a handicap it does not mean that they will be capable of playing to it on every occasion. In fact, golf is a game that can never be mastered due to the changing weather conditions on individual days as well as the involuntary movements of the body that can cause a slice or a shank with devastating consequences. Avoid being accused of slow play with these simple tips.
The handicap system balances the playing field and allows players of varying degrees of ability to play matches together which leads on to the variety of different formats that can be adopted but this is being covered in a separate, which is coming soon.