Why and How to Keep Score in Golf

Want to become a better golfer faster? Keep score.

Always carry a golf scorecard with you on the course, even if you don’t plan to keep score. It’s optional, but not keeping score is creating an obstacle to your progress. A golf scorecard is a permanent record of your successes and challenges on each course. In this article, we look at:

  • Why it’s important to keep score
  • What the scorecard can tell golfers, especially beginners
  • What a good golf score looks like
  • How to keep score in golf

Let’s get started.

Why Keeping Score Is Important

On or off the golf course, it’s difficult to improve what you can’t measure. On the course, scorecards give you a readymade means of measuring your success and challenges at each hole. In the process, you get a clear roadmap to what you need to practice and improve.

What the Scorecard Can Tell Beginner Golfers

local rules of play on scorecard 300x247 Why and How to Keep Score in GolfA golf course scorecard gives players a quick tour of that course. It tells you the exact length of the hole you’re about to play, what par it is, and how difficult the hole will be to play when compared to others on the course.

Some scorecards give players the entire layout of every hole. They show any water hazards, sand bunkers, trees, and out-of-bounds areas as well.
This is helpful whether you are a new player or just new to that particular course. Every course is different. That’s part of the challenge and the fun of playing golf.

If you have played the course before, bringing along golf scorecards from previous play can aid you in improving on each hole. Study the older scorecards for insights into what helped you make or break par on a hole or where things went terribly wrong in previous rounds.

Play smart. Always look to improve your game. Your scorecard can be a real friend here.

What Is a Good Golf Score?

So what is a good score in golf? What should your goal be? The answer, “It depends.” The course par tells you the average number of shots it should take over the 18 holes to make par at each hole for a golfer with a low handicap. So, if the course par is 72, then the average number of shots per hole is 4. Some holes might be par 3; others might be par 5.

So what is a good score for a beginner, occasional recreational player, or other high-handicap golfer? That varies. You’ll see numbers all over the place. In the beginning, aim for an average of no more than 2 to 3 strokes over par on most holes. If a hole is par 4, try to get in the cup within 6 to 7 shots. As your game and swing improve, try to lower that to an average of 1 to 1.5 strokes over par. In this case, you would see your score go from about 126 to 100 on a 72 par course. The point is to have a goal and focus on continuing to improve with each swing and round of golf.

Figuring out the average score for a particular course takes into account the course and slope ratings. Read a good explanation here.

Don’t make the mistake of comparing your scores to those of the pros. On that same 72 par course, a professional would probably shoot well under par. Most of us never get to that level of play.

How to Keep Score in Golf

To beginner golfers, a scorecard can look like a foreign language. There is a lot going on within one card. Don’t be afraid to ask the people in the pro shop and your friends that you play golf with to explain things on the scorecard while you are learning. Here are a few basics to get you going.

sterling scorecard Why and How to Keep Score in Golf

  1. Golf scorecards are used to record the number of shots it takes each player to get the ball in the cup at each hole. Begin by noting the numbers on the scorecard. They are labeled 1 to 18 (or 1 to 9 for 9-hole executive courses), one for each hole, near the top of the scorecard.
  2. Next, note the colors, which represent the tees. Each color represents a different distance to the greens, with the front tees closest and the back tees farthest from the cup. The yardage to each hole from that color of tee is listed. Low handicap male golfers usually tee off from the back tees, which are generally blue or black.. Medium handicap males might play from the white, or middle, tees on each hole. Women golfers often tee off from the red, or front, tees; more experienced women often use the white, or middle, tees. Tournament players use the back tees.
  3. Near the top of the scorecard are usually two sets of numbers, the course and slope ratings. The course rating describes the expected total par for scratch players (golfers with a zero handicap) playing from that color of tees. The slope rating describes the expected total par for bogey players (golfers with an 18 handicap) compared to the scratch golfer.
  4. Write down each golfer’s name on the left side of the scorecard. You’ll keep score on the lines next to each golfer’s name. Below the rows where you have written the players’ names, you’ll find one marked “Par.” Here you will see the par for each hole. Par is the number of shots it should take to get the ball into the hole on the green. This is based on the level of difficulty to score compared to other holes on the course. Lower pars, such as 3 or 4, mean the hole is easier. More challenging holes have a higher par, such as 5.
  5. Understanding par will let you strategize for each hole. Par 3s are usually less than 200 yards to the greens, perfect for your irons. Here, the goal is to hit the green in one shot, then take two putts to make par. Par 4s are a bit longer (200 – 450 yards). Use a longer club, probably a wood, to tee off. Then, use fairway woods, hybrids, or long irons to try to climb onto the green with your second shot. From there, you have two putts to make par. Last, par 5s can be 500 yards or more. As you become a more experienced golfer get a better feel for which clubs to use, you’ll want to try to get onto the green in two shots (tee off, then fairway wood, hybrid, or long iron). Then, take two putts and try to birdie by getting in the hole with your 4th shot.
  6. After each hole, record the number of shots it took each golfer to get the ball into the cup on the green.

Tip Tee75 Why and How to Keep Score in GolfWhen you’re learning the game, it helps to track both the number of shots you took to get on the green and then the number of putts it took to get into the hole. So, if it took 2 shots to get onto the green and 3 putts to score on hole 1, then next to your name under 1 you might record: 2/3. This knowledge can be helpful when you’re trying to improve different parts of your game, such as your putting and other aspects of your short game.


  1. If par for the hole is 4, and you put it in the cup in 3 shots, you have a birdie. If you can score in two shots, or two under par, you have an eagle. If you can score all the way from where you teed-off, you have a hole-in-one. Write a “1″ in the space provided next to your name. If the par is 4, and it takes you five shots, you have a “bogey.” Two additional shots result in a “double bogey,” and 3 shots over par is a “triple bogey.”
  2. Sum your score. In the column next to the one marked “18,” you’ll find the total par for the course. Compare your score to the total par. If par for the course is 72 and you scored 120, you are “48 over.” The player with the lowest score wins.

Watch the video to see a summary of keeping score in golf.


How Penalties and Handicaps Affect Golf Scoring

Two other components of the game can affect your score: penalties and a handicap. Penalties add to your score; a handicap can lower your score. On your golf scorecard, you’ll see a line labeled “Handicap.” Each hole has a handicap, from 1 to 18 (or 1 to 9 on executive courses). The handicap marks the degree of difficulty of making par on the hole, with 1 the most difficult.

Establishing a player’s “handicap” requires playing enough rounds of golf to establish your average score on a course. A handicap allows players of varying abilities to compete within the same game by letting lesser skilled players lower their score.

After recording your own scores into a computerized system from the USGA (United States Golf Association) that tracks and compares golfers’ scores, you will be assigned a handicap. Don’t worry about this in the beginning. Focus on playing and getting the experience that will allow you to develop averages for the course you play. Concentrate on developing a consistently good swing and making solid contact with the ball every time.

We’ll explain the handicap and penalties in more detail in future posts. For now, know that to develop a handicap in golf, you need to keep score.

How to Read a Golf Scorecard

Reading a golf scorecard requires understanding each piece of information, such as the handicap, the adjusted handicap, the front nine, the back nine and the net score. Navigate around a golf scorecard with tips from professional golf instructor Conan Elliott in this video on how to keep score.

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