How Is the Score Kept in Golf?

By Robert Preston
Scorecards are useful in tracking scores of multiple players during the round.
Scorecards are useful in tracking scores of multiple players during the round.

Scoring in golf seems counterintuitive when compared to most other sports. While sports such as football and basketball see players or teams looking to score as high as possible, the goal in a round of golf is to hand in the lowest possible score to win.


Scorecards are useful both for tracking the players scores on all the holes, as well as for preparing how you want to approach each hole. Most scorecards feature yardages for the holes for each of the different tee boxes, and also provide information such as the least and most difficult holes on the course, while many also feature diagrams of the holes.

Counting Strokes

Each stroke a player takes is equal to one stroke. Even if a player whiffs, if a swing was made with the intent of hitting the ball, it is counted as a stroke. Counting the number of strokes on a hole with no penalty is easy, as it simply requires replaying the hole in your head and counting how many swings you took.


Unlike other sports, golfers are not watched over by a set of officials who are tasked with spotting violations. Instead, players are expected to follow the rules of the game through self-policing, with players calling their own penalties on themselves, such as a player penalizing themselves two strokes for accidentally replacing their ball in the wrong place after marking and then playing that ball. Even in tournaments where officials are on hand to help with rules clarifications, players are still expected to penalize themselves for all infractions, whether an official sees it or not.


Golf uses a set of phrases to signify how a player has performed on a given holes. Par is the term which means the player scored the expected number of shots on a hole, and is also the general baseline for a round, such as "Mark shot 4 over par today." When shooting over par on a single hole, the term bogey is used. One shot over par is a bogey, two a double bogey, and so on. For shots under par, a bird theme is used. One under par is a birdie, two under an eagle--named after the large bird--and three under called either a double-eagle or an albatross.

Other Scoring Systems

Not all games of golf are determined simply by which player or team scored lower. The two most common non-stroke styles of scoring are match play scoring and skins scoring. In match play, every hole is worth the same, regardless of how much it is won by, meaning if Player 1 wins the first hole by 1 stroke, and Player 2 wins the second hole by 4 strokes, the match is still even at 1 hole each. Skins play is similar to match; however instead of an even hole simply going as a win for neither player, the value of that hole carries over. For example, if two players are playing skins, with each hole worth the same amount, even if Player 1 wins the first 7 holes, if the next 10 holes are even and Player 2 wins the 18th hole, Player 2 would win 11 to 7.

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