Beginners Guide to Scoring Golf & Calculating Your Handicap

Beginners Guide to Scoring Golf & Calculating Your Handicap

Beginners Guide to Scoring Golf & Calculating Your Handicap

Perhaps one of the most difficult things about learning how to play golf is figuring out the proper way to score each game. Unlike bowling, which is now typically calculated by a computer, golfers still have to rely on little cards that they fill in by hand. You may be wondering how to score in golf, along with how to read a golf scorecard. Before we get there, though, let’s take a quick look at why you should even keep score at all. 


We all know that the number one reason to keep score is so you can compete with your friends. However, you might not be aware that there is another important reason to learn how to score golf. Put simply, the only way to track your progress on individual holes is by filling out your score card. In other words, each time you track a hole, you can compare it to your previous scores. Doing this is kind of like competing with yourself, and the goal is always to improve! 

How Golf is Scored

When you’re first figuring out how to score a golf card, it’s a good idea to keep the basics of the game in mind. Essentially, your score should represent how many swings it took to complete each hole. After all, the entire point of golf is to achieve the lowest possible number of swings while getting the ball into the hole! 

Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as merely writing down how many swings you took. First, you have to know the par that each hole has. What is par? It’s the expected number of swings for each hole that has been predetermined. The most common par is between 3 and 5. 

Let’s say that you defeated hole one, which has a par of 3, in two strokes. Your score would be -1, also known as a birdie. Conversely, maybe you defeated hole one, but it took you four swings. Your score would then be +1, or a bogey. By the end of the game, each hole will be added together, along with any applicable penalties, to reach your final score. Whoever has the lowest number on their scorecard wins! 

How to Read a Golf Scorecard

Reading a golf scorecard may seem tricky, but once you understand it, it’ll become relatively easy. Look at each person’s name, along with their ‘out’ and ‘in’ scores. By adding these two scores together, you can tell how many strokes each person took. If, for example, they took 80 strokes on a course with a par of 72, their final score is +8. Whoever has the lowest final score wins! 

If you’re still wondering how exactly you ended up with a +8, read through the next section, which will go through a scorecard step by step. 

How to Score Golf 

Upon looking at your scorecard, you should see numbers 1-18 on the side or at the top. These numbers are split into the front (1-9) and back (10-18) portions of the course. Next, you’ll notice some colors are indicated. Here is a quick primer on the meaning of each color. 

  • Green Tees – Beginners or junior golfers. 
  • Red Tees – Shortest tees that make the course much shorter than the rest.
  • White Tees – Middle tees that are used by golfers with a middle to high handicap.
  • Blue Tees – Used by very good amateur players in local competitions.
  • Black or Gold Tees – Used by professionals. 

These are lined up accordingly, which means that green tees are set closest to the hole, while black or gold tees are set furthest away. That way, everyone has an equal chance based on their specific level of experience. Next, you’ll notice the handicap for each hole, followed by par. The typical par for an 18-hole course is a total of 72.  

The empty areas of your scorecard are where you and your friends will keep score. Write each person’s name, then write down how many strokes it took for them to get the ball into the hole. Don’t worry about par, though, until you finish the first 9 holes. Then, in the ‘out’ column, add up your total strokes for the first half of the course. Next to this number, indicate your total par score. In other words, if par for the first 9 holes was 36 and you shot a 38, put +2. 

Repeat this process for the back 9 and write the total number of strokes for holes 10-18 under the ‘in’ column. For example, you were supposed to get a 36 or less, but you took 40 strokes to finish. This gives you +4. Then, add the ‘out’ and ‘in’ numbers together, and you’ll achieve a score of 78 with a par of +6. Again, whoever has the lowest total score wins the match! 

How to Score Handicap in Golf 

Okay, so you know how you were playing golf and came up with a +6 at the end? This works well enough, but you can also take your game a step further. Learning how to calculate your handicap in golf makes the process of keeping score a bit more difficult, but it’s also a much fairer way to play. This is especially true if one golfer is experienced, and the other one is a total beginner. 

The purpose of having a handicap is to help even the playing field. The more skilled you are, the lower your handicap will be. Conversely, the less skilled you are, the higher your handicap will be. Let’s look at an example: 

Player A is inexperienced. They have a handicap of -15. Player B goes golfing every weekend. They have a handicap of -3. 

Player A finished the game with 85 strokes. This initially looks like they were +13 for the game. But once you factor in their handicap of -15, they actually ended the game with a -2. 

Player B, meanwhile, matched par and hit 72 strokes. This initially gives them a 0, but once you count their -3 handicap, they’ll finish the game with a -3.  

What have we learned from the above example? First off, what would have been a blowout game for Player B ended up with only a 1 stroke difference. Although Player B eked out the victory, it was a much more competitive game, which means that both players were in it until the very end. 

Can you imagine how different the game would have been if both players had merely accepted their pre-handicap number? Player A would have lost that match by 13 strokes, and it’s likely they never would have played with Player B again. They probably would have felt defeated, and they may have even given up on golf before they really got started. 

Handicaps meet each player where they’re at, and they make the game much more exciting and unpredictable! 

What is a Handicap in Golf?

As previously mentioned, the point of a handicap is to help level the playing field. Although it’s not necessary to use a handicap, it is a great equalizer. Therefore, if you’re playing with someone who has a lot more—or a lot less—experience than you do, it’ll be in your best interests to assign each person a handicap. 

How do you decide on a handicap when you’re keeping score? By using the following golf basics: 

  • Low handicap: 0-10 
  • Mid-level handicap: 11-18
  • High handicap: 19+ 

If you’re a beginner and can play a competitive game with a handicap below -20, you’re well on your way to becoming a fantastic golfer! Of course, don’t let it bother you if you have a higher handicap. In fact, the maximum handicap is -54. 

You can figure out what your handicap should be with the following formula: 

  • Take your score, subtract the course rating, multiply by 113, and then divide by the course’s slope rating. In other words: (Score - Course Rating) x 113 / Slope Rating = Handicap

So, let’s say you had a score of 80 with a course rating of 72. This equals 8, then multiply by 113 equals 904. Then, using the average, let’s say the course slope is also 113. Divide 904 by 113, and you’ll end up at 8. Convert it to a handicap, and you’ve got -8. The total score goes down from +8 to 0! 

Increase Your Odds of Winning 

Everyone wants to win, and now that you know the ins and outs of scoring golf, you’ve got a better idea of how to do it! Using a handicap will definitely help, and it’s completely legal, so why not? 

Another thing that can raise your odds is using the proper equipment. Of course, this doesn’t just mean your clubs. For instance, the clothing you wear will have an impact on how you do. Therefore, make sure you dress appropriately, and don’t forget about your feet! 

TRUEENERGY® socks can give you an advantage when you’re spending the afternoon on your feet. They offer just the right amount of compression, combined with infrared technology! This blend will improve your circulation, drive cellular regeneration, and speed up the healing process. Treat your feet to a pair of TRUEENERGY® socks today!