17 Golf Scoring Terms Every Golfer Should Know

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Golf isn’t a complex game. The player who gets the lowest score will win. While the theory is simple, trying to keep score can be a challenge. This has led many people to question, how is golf scored?

Thankfully, as long as you know a few basic golfing terms, it won’t be hard to keep track of who is winning. Keep reading to find out everything to keep score like a pro.


The best place to start is by talking about the concept of par. This is the number of strokes that is normally expected on the hole. For example, if the hole is ranked 2-par, this means that you should be able to get it in two strokes. The par is calculated based on two main factors;

  1. Distance from the hole
  2. Difficulty

The mix of par holes will depend on the individual course. In this most cases, though, it will be broken down as follows;

  • 4 par-3 holes
  • 10 par-4 holes
  • 4 par-5 holes


Scoring an ace on a hole is one of the biggest achievements for any golfer. It means that you have scored a hole in one. In some clubs, it is customary to celebrate this by buying a drink for everyone in the clubhouse. Thankfully, it’s very rare for amateur golfers to score an ace.

Albatross A.K.A Double Eagle

This term means that you have been able to score three under par. For example, imagine that you have a par-5 hole. If you land it in two strokes, you will have scored an albatross. Though in the United States, this achievement is most commonly referred to as a double eagle.


Another big achievement for golfers is being able to score an eagle. This means that you have been able to score two under par. For example, you might have a par-6 hole and get it in three strokes. Though this is rare for amateur golfers, it is possible.


This is the rarest achievement for golfers. In fact, there have only been five condors recorded in all of golf history. When someone means that they have got a score of four under par. This means that they would need to get an ace on a 5-par hole.


This is the most common golfing term. In this case, it means that you have scored one under par for the hole.


A bogey means that you have shot one over par. For example, if you have a par-4 hole and you get a score of 5, you have had a bogey. Sometimes, you will hear a double bogey. This means that you have scored two under par. You might also hear a triple bogey. This means that they have scored three-under-par. This can sometimes be shortened to trips.


A handicap is a way of ranking how skilled a player is. For example, you might have heard of someone with a scratch handicap. This means that, on average, they play every shot on par. As a result, they can expect to get a score of 72 per course. If you are new to the game, you probably haven’t played enough golf to get a handicap. While this is easy to understand, in theory, calculating your handicap can be a very complex task.

The good news is that you don’t need to calculate it manually. Though you can if you want to. Instead, you will just need to calculate the scores. You’ll need;

  • Three 18-hole scores. This can be taken from a mix of 18-hole courses and 9-hole courses.
  • The scores will need to be signed and verified by two other people. This ensures that you aren’t trying to artificially inflate your handicap.

You should also be aware that your handicap isn’t fixed. It can be reduced over time as you improve your skills. Often, the handicaps will be re-calculated on the 1st and the 15th of each month. Though some places might allow you to re-evaluate these scores daily.


This is a term that is used to re-do a shot if you weren’t happy with the outcome. In this case, the ball will be returned to the starting position and the shot won’t be counted. Often, this won’t be applied throughout the game. Usually, you can only do a mulligan on the first few holes, to help you get warmed up. The exact rules will depend on the group that you are playing with. It should be noted that this isn’t an official rule. Because of this, you won’t be able to have a mulligan during a tournament.

Gimme Putt

This is another informal rule. In this case, the ball will be very close to the hole. In this case, the group will often elect to give you a gimme put. This means that you will be awarded the putt, without needing to hit it into the hole. Again, this will only happen in an informal game. In the competition, you will need to play every shot.


In this case, your golfing friends will have the ability to ask that you replay a shot. Often, this will need to have some element of chance associated with it. For example, a gust of wind on a long drive might have pushed your ball into the hole. The principle of this rule is to make the game based on skill, rather than chance.

Free Drop

This term is fairly self-explanatory. When a player hits the ball into an area where they can’t play it, they need to take a drop. For example, they might hit the ball off the course or into a water trap. If you are playing with this rule, they can take a drop without getting a penalty point. This is another rule that only applies to amateur golfers. Because of this, you will need to figure out how to apply it. For example, some groups will have a limit of one free drop each round. Others will have an unlimited number of free drops.

Gross Score

When you are playing with a handicap, it impacts the way you determine who won the game. This term refers to the total number of strokes that were taken during the game, without taking the handicap into account. Once the handicaps have been calculated, you will have the net score.

Types of Competitions

There are two common types of competitions. Though the objective is the same, to get the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes, the way they are scored is different. The types of competition are;

  • Match: This is determined by the number of holes you win. These tend to be shorter games and often won’t go the full 18-holes.
  • Medal/Stroke: This is the more common format. In this case, there will be a cumulative score, based on how you perform on each hole. The person with the lowest overall score will be the winner. Who wins each hole doesn’t matter.


This is an extra stroke that is added to a player’s score. As we mentioned, this can often apply when a ball lands outside the boundary. But that isn’t the only way to get a penalty. For example, you might receive a penalty when you violate the rules.


In this case, you have made a swing at the ball. But you haven’t hit it. Some amateur golf groups will be happy to allow you to laugh it off. But, technically, it is a swing. Because of this, it will count as a stroke.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of terms that you need to understand when you are playing golf. At first, this can seem confusing. But, the more you play, the more familiar the unique vernacular of the game will become.