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Understanding Golf - What is a Golf Score?

Updated on January 8, 2012

Golf is a beautiful yet difficult game.

The goal when playing golf is to get around a golf course in the fewest number of strokes. Each golf course has 18 holes which are tagged with "Pars" of either 3, 4 or 5. "Par" is the number of strokes, based on the length of the hole, that those who designed the course deemed sufficient to hit the golf ball to the green and allow for two putts (both of which I'll explain later).

Perhaps the most common total "Par" score for a golf course is 72 which, like a puzzle, can be made up of different combinations of 3, 4 and 5.

Many different elements go into coming up with a golf score:

Course layout

Each golf course has its own layout and is made up of different combinations of par 3s, 4s, and 5s. Some courses are very long, and some are very short. This results in the total number of "sufficient" strokes to differ at different courses (Remember, "sufficient" equals "par"). Typically, golf courses range from total pars of 69 to 72. Here is an example:

The image above is of a scorecard, which explains the length of each hole on the golf course and the "par" of each hole. The length of the hole dictates the "par" of the hole - the longer of the hole the more strokes the golfer can take in an effort to get the ball to the green, then into the hole.

The Green and Putting

The green, when it comes to golf, is an area designated to putting. This area is always surrounding the hole. What makes the green special is that the grass is cut very short, in almost carpet fashion, to allow the golf ball to roll on a true path. If one were to roll a ball on the carpet in a living room, the ball would go where one aimed. This is meant to be the case on golf greens.

Golf, in essence, is two games in one. There is the swinging element where the golfer hits the ball in the air to specific targets, and there is putting. Putting requires the golfer to use a putter to roll the golf ball along the green and into the hole. Many would call this the most difficult aspect of call.

Putting well requires the golfer to accurately judge the slope on the green as well as the appropriate speed with which the ball should enter the hole.

The way "Par" and putting are related is that each hole is set up that the golfer has the opportunity to putt twice in an attempt to get the ball in the hole, and still realistically make "par". For example, if the golfer is standing at the start (or tee) of a par 3 hole, he should be able to hit the ball onto the green with one stroke, and then has two putts to make par.

Shooting "Under Par" or "Over Par"

A golfer's goal is to shoot the lowest score possible and every golfer wants to shoot "under par". Essentially, the ability to shoot "under par" is the ability to beat the golf course. By using fewer strokes than the "sufficient" number of strokes (par), a golfer shoots "under par". On each whole that the golfer uses one stroke less than par, they make a birdie. On each whole the the golfer uses two stokes less than par, they make eagle.

Shooting "over par" is extremely common. This means the golfer has used more strokes than the assigned par for the holes. Something like fewer than 10 percent of all golfers in the world shoot lower than roughly 20-over-par, so shooting "over par" isn't as bad as it sounds.


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