Keeping Score In Golf: A Beginner's Guide


The most commonly used golf scoring system is the regular form of stroke play, also known as “medal play”. Unlike most other sports, you’ll need to get the lowest score possible if you want to win when using this method.

Keeping Score In Golf In 5 Easy Steps:

  1. Get a scorecard and decide who will keep score.

  2. Record how many shots it took to get the ball in after each hole, including all strokes and penalties.

  3. Add up all strokes to get your final score, applying any handicaps that are needed.

  4. The person with the lowest score wins.

  5. Make sure you understand basic golf rules and terms.

Let’s go over the steps on how to keep score in golf in more detail below.

Green and red golf scorecard with golf ball and pencil

Deciding Who Will Keep Score

Grab a scorecard and figure out who will keep score. If you want to challenge yourself by playing alone, you can keep track of your own score. If there are only two players, each player will be in charge of recording their fellow competitors’ scores.

When playing a casual golf game with more than two players, one person (called the “marker”) is usually chosen to mark down the scores for everyone.

After each round, make sure everyone agrees that the scores recorded are correct and sign them so there is no confusion later on. You are ultimately responsible if there is an error on your scorecard.

RELATED POST: What Is A Good Average Golf Score?

Understanding Strokes And Penalties

Every attempt to hit the ball, even a golf shot when you swing and miss, is considered a stroke. Count every player's strokes for each hole. Penalty strokes should be added to a player’s score on the hole they are incurred.

Penalties happen for things like carrying too many golf clubs and hitting your ball out of bounds. Here is a list of common penalties.

Adding Up Your Score

The object of stroke play is to complete the course in the fewest amount of strokes possible. When keeping score in golf using this method, you use a scorecard to record how many shots it took to get the ball in the hole after each turn. Add any penalties that are applicable for each hole.

A regulation golf course usually consists of 18 holes. When you are finished with your game, you add up all of your strokes to get your final score. Make sure you apply any handicaps if needed. Each competitor is playing against every other golfer in the competition. The player with the lowest score wins!

RELATED POST: Stroke Play & Match Play Differences

Golf Scoring Terms

It’s important that you learn what the different golf terms mean in order to keep score easily.


Golf slang for when you hit the ball in the hole in one stroke. Also known as a “hole in one”.


Every golf hole has a par assigned to it based on difficulty and length. This is the score that an expert player would be expected to make for a given hole. For example, a par 3 would mean the golfer is expected to get the ball in the hole in 3 shots.


One stroke under par.


Two strokes under par.

Albatross or Double Eagle

Three strokes under par.


One stroke over par.

Double Bogey

Two strokes over par.

Triple Bogey

Three strokes over par. You might want to lighten the mood with a few golf jokes if you keep hitting these!

Penalty Stroke

A stroke added to your score for a rules violation.


A system used to rate a golfer's potential to enable players of varying abilities to compete against one another. Someone who just started learning how to play golf would have a higher handicap.

Better players who consistently hit the average golf distances are those with the lowest handicaps. There are online golf lessons you can take if you’re looking to improve your game.

RELATED POST: How Does A Handicap In Golf Work?

Golf Handicap

In order for a golfer to obtain a handicap index, they must join an approved club or local golf association that is a member of the USGA. Once joined, they need to play and post scores from a total of 54 holes, made up of any combination of 9 or 18-hole rounds, to qualify for a handicap index.

Once a player has completed the satisfactory number of rounds, the golf organization will issue a handicap index. Golfweek has an article which explains how to apply your handicap if you have one.

If you need to calculate a course handicap, USGA has a course handicap calculator you can use.

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