Saunton Golf Club

How do Golf Scores Work?

Golf scoring is actually refreshingly simple. It’s those weird and wonderful terms like albatross and bogey that throw people. Now, we are going out on a limb and assuming you would rather be out on the fairways than thumbing a dictionary. So here’s an express explanation of golf scoring.


Count your shots, the lowest score wins

The aim of the game is simple: get your ball in the hole with the fewest shots possible. As such golf is one of the only sports where you want to avoid high scores. Each stroke you take represents a score of one. At the end of the course the number of strokes you played on each hole are added together and the lowest score wins. Like we said - it’s simple. Where it gets confusing is with the terms associated with scoring.

Silly names, simple concepts

You have to wonder whether the forefathers of golf weren’t partial to overindulging at the clubhouse, such is the extent of golf’s curious vocabulary. Not that we are complaining. Those weird and wonderful terms are just another part of what makes golf so fabulous. Here’s a quick rundown of the scoring terms.


Par is a term derived from the stock exchange. Every hole on a golf course has a par value. It refers to the number of strokes that should be required for a professional to complete the hole. If you complete a Par 4 in four strokes, you are said to have made par. If you take fewer than four strokes, you are under par. And if you take more than four strokes, you are over par. That’s something you should try to avoid. The more shots you take, the higher your score. As we have explained, in golf the lowest score wins.

Bogey (+1)

One over par. You take five shots to complete a Par 4.

Double bogey (+2)

Two over par. You take six shots to complete a Par 4.

Triple bogey (+3)

Three over par. You take seven shots to complete a Par 4. (Uh oh.)

Birdie (-1)

One under par. You take three shots to complete a Par 4. That’s more like it.

Eagle (-2)

Two under par. You take two shots to complete a Par 4.

Albatross (-3)

Three under par. You take one shot to complete a Par 4. (Even among the pros, it’s rare to score an albatross. In fact it’s only happened 18 times in Major Championship history.)

How you see it on television...

Just like each hole has a par value, so too does each course. This is simply the total of the par values for each hole. Golf scoring is about the cumulative number of strokes you take as you move along the course. You tot up your shots as you go. But when you are watching the pros on tele, the scorecard works slightly differently.

Instead of the cumulative number of strokes a player has taken, you will see a plus or minus score: for example, -2 or +5. This simply refers to how close they are to par for the holes they have played. For instance, if a player has completed two Par 4 holes and one Par 5 hole in twelve shots, they would have a score of -1. (One shot below the cumulative par of 13.)


Stroke play v Match play

Stroke play is the most popular form of golf. But match play is still common and has a slightly different scoring system. There are two key differences:

  1. You play head-to-head. Your score is compared only to your opponent, rather than all competitors.
  2. The aim of the game is to win the hole by completing it with fewer shots than your opponent. If you both take the same number of strokes to complete a hole, the hole is tied. The player who has won the most holes at the end of the course is the overall winner.

Ready to tee off?

As with so much in golf, getting to grips with the scoring is about practice. The good news? While your stroke may take years to perfect, you will have the scoring licked after your first couple of rounds.

Over to you! 

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