How to Keep Score in Golf-Tips & Tricks

How to Keep Score in Golf

As one of America’s favorite pastimes, golf has become a major part of the cultural scene. Whether you’re playing a few holes with friends or competing in a tournament, the game is fun to play, and it is fashionable for all ages. There are several core components to golf, but one of the most crucial is the ability to keep score. While you can play without paying attention to things like that you won’t be able to track your progress and know when you’ve improved. As such, if you’re still unsure how the whole thing comes together we are going to go over the process for keeping score. After reading this tutorial, you should be a regular master of the game, at least when it comes to figuring out how well you did.

What You’ll Need for This Tutorial

Fortunately, keeping score in golf is a relatively straightforward process, so you won’t need a whole lot to get started. Obviously, you will have to have all of the necessary equipment to play the game as well as a course to play on, so we won’t include those in our list of required components.


You can either get a physical card, or you can track your progress digitally through an app. For our purposes, however, we will focus on the card as that is the easiest way to learn how to keep score. Apps can be great though if you want to make sure that you can track things like par and handicaps (which we’ll go over in a bit).

Pen or Pencil

You will also need something with which to record your score unless you want to try and keep it all in your head.

An Opponent

This part is not necessarily required for scoring unless you are doing match play. We’ll go over the different methods of scoring in a moment, but to track progress in match play you will need someone to play against; otherwise, it won’t work.

Golfing Terms

If you’re still new to the game, then you might not know all of the requisite terms that come along with it. To help make sure that you aren’t lost during this tutorial (or the game) we will go over some of the common words and phrases that you will find out on the course.

● Stroke: this is when you attempt to hit the ball, even if you miss

● Par: the rating for the hole based on the number of strokes it should take to get your ball into the hole

● Birdie: if you make your ball in and you’re one stroke under par, then it is called a birdie

● Mulligan: a do-over

● Handicap: a measurement for deciding how well an amateur player will perform on the course. It will show how many strokes above par he or she will likely get so that you can compensate. The process of figuring this out is rather complicated, so we won’t go into details here

● Rough: a patch of the course that is difficult to hit your ball out of

● Green: the area surrounding the hole

● Hazard: an obstacle that can cause you to lose your ball, and subsequently a stroke. These can include bodies of water or sections of undergrowth that are not part of the actual course

Step By Step Guide

As we mentioned above, the process for keeping score in golf is relatively straightforward, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some important rules to follow. Also, there are two methods for scoring your game: match play or stroke play. We will go over both procedures so that you can do both should the need arise.

Stroke Play Basics

For this style of scoring, you will need to mark down how many times you or your opponent tries to hit the ball. Whether or not you succeed is irrelevant, only that it was an honest attempt at hitting it. This is the most common method of scoring, and it will most likely be the way that you keep track of you and your opponent’s progress.

One important rule about stroke play is that the number you write down is considered the actual score, even if it’s wrong. For example, if you hit the ball three times to get into the hole but wrote down four, then the actual score is four. Even if you can prove it after the fact, once you have entered in a number it stays. The only time to make adjustments is immediately after writing it down.

Step One: Begin Your Scorecard

Whether you are tracking only yourself, only your opponent, or both of you at the same time, it’s imperative that you write it down before you start the game. Once you have agreed how the scoring will go, then it will stay the same throughout the whole match. You can either write down your name, nickname, or initials, but once you have started the scorecard, you have to stick to it or start another one.

Step Two: Keep Track of Strokes

Even the best golfers can forget how many strokes they’ve taken before getting to the hole, but try your best to be as accurate as possible. This will not only keep the game fair, but it will also enable you to figure out your handicap later. Again, even if you or your opponent tries to hit the ball and misses, it still counts as a stroke.

Penalties and Hazards

As we mentioned above, if you lose your ball to a hazard such as a lake or a stream, then you have to mark a stroke to get it out, even if you decide to use a brand new ball in its place. According to standard rules, if you lose the ball entirely, then you have to take two strokes to reset. Also, if you hit it out of bounds (as indicated by the course flags), that is another two-stroke penalty. It’s important that you’re aware of these and that you and your opponent agree to them before starting the game. That way, if you do lose a ball or hit it into a hazard, you can keep track accurately.

Step Three: Add Your Score

When playing golf, you can either do a full round of eighteen holes or a half round of nine. Regardless of the number of holes you do, you will need to add up the scores at the end to see what your total is. Usually, players will do a tally at the halfway point so as to see how well they’re doing, and to see how their game improves on the “back nine” as well.

In golf, the winner is the person with the lowest score. Because the point of the game is to hit the ball into the hole with as few strokes as possible, you want to make sure that you aren’t taking too many hits to get it done.

Match Play Basics

Unlike stroke play, this version of scoring is based on each hole individually, rather than collectively. Instead of tracking the number of shots and adding them up altogether, you’re figuring out who is “up one” or “down one” after each hole. Then, at the end, you determine who was up the most, and that person wins.

Step One: Track Your Wins and Losses

The best thing about match play is that you don’t necessarily have to be that good to win. All you need to do is be better than your opponent. However, although you aren’t tallying strokes altogether, you still need to know how many strokes you and your opponent had on each hole so as to figure out who one. For example, if it took you four strokes and your opponent five, then you are up that hole since it took you fewer strokes to get the ball in. To mark this on the scorecard, you will put a +1 or a -1 to signify a win or loss, respectively.

Draw Scoring

What happens if you and your opponent reach the hole in the same amount of strokes? Well, if that’s the case you mark down AS for both of you and declare it a draw. It will not count towards your overall score of wins and losses.

Step Two: Conceding a Hole

Sometimes, it may seem like it’s taking too long to get your ball to the hole. If that is the case, you can concede it and give the win to your opponent. Because each hole is decided on its own, you don’t have to worry about affecting your overall score. Simply start fresh with the next hole.

Step Three: Winning

With match play, you don’t have to play all the way through to figure out who has won. In this case, what you can do is measure the amount of holes that a person has over the other and then use it as a guide to determine when the game is finished. For example, if you have four holes up over your opponent, then you can stop the game with only three holes left in the course. Because it will be impossible for your opponent to overcome the gap and win, you are the winner by default. The only time you will make it to the last hole is if you or your opponent is only up by one.


As you can see, scoring your golf game is both simple and entertaining, provided that you like a bit of healthy competition and want to see how well you do. No matter what happens, the important thing is that you enjoy yourself on the course. Anyone can become a better golfer, so don’t get too wrapped up in things if you lose. If you are worried about your scores, then get out and practice on your own until you can get better. We hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and we hope that you enjoy yourself on the links. Happy golfing!

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Jennifer Collins

Hi This Is Jennifer Collins, a home blogger, and lover of golf. On my blog I mainly talk about golfing, I have built my website around my passion for golf, so that fellow golf lovers will enjoy the content and also find it interesting and useful. My life-long pursuit of the sport has given me in-depth experience in writing about golfing. I update the site regularly with fresh and insightful material regarding the sport. Follow my blog for tips to improve your golfing game information about the season's hottest golfing products.

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