How does golf scoring work?

Thomas Tanner
Feb 11, 2021
6 minutes
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If you're new to golf, you could be foxed by some of the jargon involved in keeping score. Below are some answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we get on how golf scoring works.

What does par mean?

From what we can tell, 'par' came from the Stock Exchange and the performance of stocks and shares in relation to 'par'. This transferred into golf and dictates the number of strokes a player should be taking on any given hole - its par.

There are three different pars for golf holes - shorter holes or Par 3s, mid-length holes or Par 4s, and the longest holes or Par 5s.

On Par 3s you should hit your tee shot onto the green and then take two putts to complete the hole.

On Par 4s you hit your tee shot down the fairway, the second shot onto the green, and then take two putts to hole out.

On Par 5s you hit your tee shot down the fairway, then the same with your second shot, reach the green with your third, and then take two putts.

Where do birdie and bogey originate?

In the early 1900s in America, if something was cool, then it was 'bird!' which can explain how the term transitioned into golf. If a golfer made a three on a par four (one better than the par), then their playing partners would say 'that's bird!'.

Bogey, on the other hand, comes from the Scottish Devil or Bogey Man, which is a bad thing. If you take a five on a par four (one more than the par) then you've had a bad hole or a bogey.

What are the other scoring terms?

Other scoring terms are simply extensions of these. If you take six shots on a par four (two more than you should be) then you've had a double bogey, three more and it's a triple bogey, and so on.

The bird theme continues as scores get more under par for a particular hole. If you manage to get the ball into the hole in two shots less than par (a three on a par five), this is called an eagle. One better is the rarest of birds, an albatross - the equivalent to a two on a par five or even a hole in one on a par four!

What does even or level par mean?

These terms are used to describe a whole round of eighteen, rather than individual ones. If you made par on every hole, then you'd be level or even par for the round.

Every golfer starts on level par, but only a small few end there.

What does under par mean?

The worlds best golfers can make lots of birdies (under par for a hole) which when they finish means they will be under par for the round.

Example: A round of golf consisting of fourteen pars and four birdies would mean a golfer is four under par for the round - displayed on a leaderboard as '-4'.

What does over par mean?

Unsurprisingly over par is the opposite of under par. If you replace the four birdies with four bogeys, then you would be four over par for the round - displayed as '+4' on the leaderboard.

What are greens in regulation?

The par on a hole always allows for two putts so if you hit a par four in two shots then you've hit the green in regulation. When you add on your two putts, you'll make par.

What is stroke index?

All the holes on a golf course are different, so they're ranked in terms of difficulty - the stroke index one will be the most challenging hole and stroke index eighteen will be the easiest - in theory!

Finally, what's better, an albatross, or a hole-in-one?

Statistically, an albatross as we know this is three under par for a given hole - which is not possible on a par three where most hole-in-ones happen. However, there have been six albatrosses on the PGA Tour, which have also been hole-in-one, as they happened on par fours!!

In real life though, most golfers would consider a hole-in-one a better achievement - even if tradition dictates they have to buy the first round - for everyone!!

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Further reading

If you're new to golf and looking forward to getting out for your first game but don't know what actual golf clubs you'll need to start, this page is especially for you. In the guide below we're going to put any thoughts about not having the right or enough clubs to bed, and show you that golf can be played and enjoyed with just a few clubs in your bag.

If you are new to golf and are a little bit confused about what all the numbers and letters on your golf clubs mean, that's understandable. Depending on the clubs you have, you could have two or even three #5s, others with a single-digit number, some with a double-digit number, some with numbers in various places, and even some with letters!