Gross vs. Net Golf

Gross vs Net Golf Score: Golf’s Great Equalizer

What is the difference between gross vs. net golf scores? Is one format better than the other? How do you calculate net scoring?

These are all common questions that so many golfers face when it comes to handicaps, tournaments, and scoring. Today we’ll help simplify gross scores, net scores, course handicap, and which type of competition you should enter based on skill level.

Gross vs. Net Golf 

The scoring aspect of golf seems pretty simple… right? Simply add up the total number of strokes it takes to finish the hole (including penalty strokes). Do this for 18 (or nine holes), mark on a golf scorecard, and tally up at the end of the round.

Easy right? Yes and no… this method is known as a golfer’s gross score. But in golf there is a handicap system that can make things a little more interesting in terms of scoring.

Handicapping allows golfers of all skill levels to compete on an even playing field. It’s something that almost no other sport has and makes it fun to compete with all types of players.

Key Takeaways

  • Gross scoring refers to a player’s score without a golfer’s handicap.
  • Handicaps – known as net scoring – makes it easy to compete with other golfers of different skill levels.
  • Most amateur golf tournaments have a gross and net flight. The gross scoring division typically lower handicap golfers while higher handicaps play in a net division. 
  • Players must have an established USGA handicap to compete in net divisions to avoid “sandbagging.” 

Keep reading to learn the difference between gross and net score in golf.

Gross Score in Golf

Gross scoring is pretty straightforward compared to net scores. With gross scores it’s simply adding up the total number of strokes it took a player to complete a hole.

Gross golf scores are used to determine a player’s handicap. After each round you should enter your score into the GHIN system to develop a golf handicap.

The system will create an adjusted gross score based on the course rating and tee boxes played. Once a certain number of scores are entered, you’ll now carry a handicap.

It’s important to remember that a handicap is not an average score of all your rounds. Instead, it’s the “potential” for how you can score in any given round.

Golf Handicap System

Net Score in Golf

A net score in golf is very different from a total gross score. With net scores handicap strokes are included in the total score – which is why we encourage you to have a formal USGA handicap.

In terms of scoring it’s actually pretty simple – take your final gross score minus your handicap.

As Southern California Golf Association (SCGA) said, “Your gross score is the total number of strokes you took. Your net score is the total strokes subtracted by the number of handicap strokes you receive according to your Course Handicap.

For example, if you shot 82 and have a Course Handicap of 12, your gross score would be 82 and your net score would be 70.”

Gross and Net Scores in Golf Tournaments

Now that you know the difference between gross and net score, let’s get into how this works in tournaments. Depending on the type of event, handicaps may or may not be used.

If handicaps aren’t involved, it’s a gross golf score event. These are typically more formal events that could include the club championship, city championships, or state tournaments. A gross golf score tournament is simple – play 18 holes, keep score, abide by the rules of golf, and let the scorekeeper add them up.

Net golf tournaments are a different story. With net tournaments it’s the same format – play golf and keep count of all the strokes played.

But on each hole you’ll possibly adjust your score if you get a stroke on the hole. If this happens you’ll update your gross score to your net score and it’ll count toward your final net score.

Finally, some tournaments have both a gross and net score divisions. For example, maybe the championship flight is single digit handicaps who don’t use handicaps and play gross only. While the other divisions compete from a closer set of tees and use a net score to determine the winner.

how does the golf handicap system work

How to Mark Your Scorecard

Now that you know more about gross and net scoring it’s important to understand how to mark this on a scorecard. If you’re playing in a net golf tournament this is pretty easy as the tournament coordinator will use a dot system.

For example, if you’re a 15 handicap golfer you get 15 shots during the round. This means you’ll get a shot (which is notated on the scorecard as a dot) on the 15 hardest holes. Every course ranks their holes from 1 to 18 (one being the hardest, 18 being the easiest).

Course Handicap 

A handicap “travels” as well since all golf courses are rated differently using the slope rating system. 

Let’s say you have a 15-handicap at your home course but playing a tournament at a harder golf course (in terms of slope rating). This might make your 15-handicap a 16 or 17. But if you’re playing an easier golf course your handicap might actually be lower than normal.

FAQs About Gross and Net Scores

Do you have more questions about gross vs. net golf tournaments? If so, keep reading through our most commonly asked questions and answers now.

What is the difference between net and gross golf tournaments?

Most golf tournaments have net and gross flights within the same tournament. Gross flights mean that handicaps are not allowed and every shot counts. In net flights players keep their gross score then factor in handicaps to determine net score. 

Lower handicap players typically don’t play in net golf tournaments as they won’t get any strokes. For example, if a player is a scratch golfer (known as a zero handicap) they don’t get any strokes during the round. While a plus handicap golfer might actually have to add strokes to their round in net formats. 

Is match play gross or net scoring?

Match play is one of the best formats in golf as you’re only playing against one person, not the entire field. Plus, you can compete in a match play event that is either gross score or net score.

However, net scoring is a little more challenging if you’re the person who has to give strokes away. Either way, it’s still a ton of fun and a type of tournament we highly encourage to try out.

If you do, make sure to read how to master match play.

How do you calculate gross in golf?

Figuring out a gross golf score is much easier than calculating net scores. A gross score is figured out by adding up all the holes on a given hole (including penalty shots, if any). If it took a player five shots to get in the hole and one penalty shot, their gross score is a six. 

What is net golf?

Net golf refers to using handicaps to determine a player’s score. 

For example, if a player is a 10 handicap they get a stroke removed from their score on the 10 hardest holes. If they get a par on a hole that is rated in the top 10 handicap it’ll count as a birdie. 

Is Stableford net or gross scoring?

Stableford scoring is a point based system that is different from a normal round of stroke play. Each score – par, bogey, birdie, etc. – has a set value of points depending on the format. 

What’s great about this tournament format is that you can play it with gross or net scoring. The PGA Tour even has a Stableford event each year which is a ton of fun for fans to watch a different format. 

If your group wants to do a Stableford scoring day it’s a good idea to use an app that does the math for you. That way one person in your group doesn’t have to convert scores to points on every hole. Also, make sure to clarify how much each score is worth before the round begins to avoid any confusion. 

Are professional tournaments gross scoring?

Yes, in formal golf competitions on the PGA Tour or LIV Golf there is no handicapping. It’s only gross scores – if these players did have a handicap some estimate it would be between +5 to +7 (or more).

However, professional golfers do not carry a handicap like everyday golfers.

Golf Scoring Names

What is a net eagle in golf?

A net eagle in golf typically means that a player made a gross birdie and got a stroke on the hole. For example if a five handicap golfer made a birdie on the hardest hole on the course (the #1 handicap) it counts as a net eagle. 

What is a bad golf score called?

Golf has a huge glossary of terms but a golf score is typically called one of these terms; bogey, double bogey, triple bogey, or snowman. These terms mean a player scored over par on the hole.

Good scores are typically called eagle, birdie, or par. 

My Experience

One of the reasons I’ve always loved golf is handicaps and tons of different golf games (not to mention gambling games). With net scoring and handicaps it’s easy to play with any other golfer and still have a fun round.

For example, when I was younger my uncle was a scratch golfer and I was close to a 20 handicap. So when we played he gave me a stroke on every hole. Even though we were different skill levels we could still compete during the round thanks to the handicap system. 

Net golf tournaments are also a great way to get started in competitive events. A lot of players get intimidated by tournaments but net scoring makes it much more inviting. 

If you progress and like tournaments, you can always enter gross tournaments. This scoring method is used for higher level tournaments like state qualifiers and USGA events. 

Final Thoughts on Net and Gross Scores in Golf

To recap, a gross score is simply adding up your total number of strokes on each hole. While net scores take your gross score minus your handicap.

Whether you play in tournaments or not, it’s a great idea to keep a golf handicap. This way you can play with golfers of other skill levels and still have a fair competition. 

If you want to start playing golf tournaments but feel a little overwhelmed with nerves enter into a net tournament. This will help you get acclimated to the tournament golf environment. Plus, if you have fun you can start playing in gross golf tournaments in the future.

Do you prefer net or gross golf tournaments?

Let us know in the comments below.