golf scorecard explained

The Scorecard Explained: How to Read a Golf Scorecard

If you want to act like a golfer (even if you’re brand new to the game) you need to know some things about the scorecard. As I’m sure you know, there’s a lot going on with scorecards at your local golf club.

There’s a ton of blank spots, a lot of numbers about slope/rating, different tee boxes, and more. If you’re a little overwhelmed as a new golfer, don’t worry we got you covered.

While a scorecard’s purpose is primarily for keeping score, it can be used for a lot more things too. Keep reading to learn how to read a golf scorecard and the best scorecard tips to help you act like a veteran golfer. 

How to Read a Golf Scorecard Explained

Follow the steps below to understand how a standard golf course scorecard works. Whether you’re a bogey golfer playing the white tees or more advanced playing the blue tees, we’ll help make playing golf easier.

Find Your Starting Hole (Hole Numbers)

First, identify the starting hole which in most cases is the first hole. Sometimes you might start on the back nine which means you would start on hole 10. 

If you’re in a golf tournament with a shotgun start, you can start on any hole. In these types of tournaments (like a scramble or shamble), they will typically highlight the starting hole so you don’t accidentally write golf scores on the wrong holes. 

Front 9 vs. Back 9

Assuming you’re starting on the first hole (which is the most common), you’ll want to fold the scorecard in half. This way you will have a front nine – which refers to the first nine holes and a back nine which is the last nine holes. 

You will see a box for each hole 1-9 then a box for “out” – this is where you can add up the front nine holes. It’s referred to as “out” as you’re typically playing away from the clubhouse and coming back towards it on the back nine. But this isn’t as common anymore as most golf courses tend to have holes 1 and 10 very close to the clubhouse. 

Conversely, on the back nine the final box after hole 18 will be “in” – which is where you will add up the back nine scores. Next to that box you should see a “Total” which is where you will add up the front nine and back nine scores for a total score. 


In the middle of the scorecard or underneath the different tee boxes will have the par for the hole. This references what a scratch golfer “should” score on the hole based on its length and difficulty. 

As Wikipedia defined it, “In golf, par is the predetermined number of strokes that a proficient (scratch, or zero handicap),  golfer should require to complete a hole, a round (the sum of the pars of the played holes), or a tournament (the sum of the pars of each round). 

For scoring purposes, a golfer’s number of strokes is compared with the par score to determine how much the golfer was either “over par”, “under par”, or was “even with/equal to par.” 

Pars range from 3-5 on most golf courses and typically 10 par 4s, four par 3s, and four par 5s on a traditional 72 hole golf course. But pars might add up to 70, 71, or sometimes even par 73. 

How to Read a Golf Scorecard

Names and Tee Boxes

On the far left side of the scorecard you will have larger empty boxes to write down each player’s names. If the boxes are small, you might just write down the initials of each player instead. You will also want to notate which tee box each golfer is playing from in that column as well. 

Every golf course is different but they all have multiple tee boxes – usually between 3-6 depending on the golf course. The tee boxes at the top of the scorecard are known as the “tips.” These tee boxes are the longest and most difficult on the course and reserved for scratch golfers or better. 

Read all about how to figure out which tees to play.

Each tee box below the tips (also known as the championship tees) get slightly shorter and easier. The lowest tee box (which is sometimes on the bottom of the card) is reserved for the ladies tees. Additionally, depending on the golf course, they might have a set of junior tees as well. 

Once you figure out the tee box for each player, it’s a good idea to notate. So the left box with the names would look like, James – Black or Steve – Blue

Combo Tees

Additionally, some golf courses have a hybrid set of tees where they’ll play nine holes of one tee box and nine of another. For example, it might be a blue-white combo where players use both tee boxes throughout the round. 

Make sure to check with everyone before the round as you’ll need to play one set of tee or combo tees throughout the round for an official score. 


Another important part of a golf scorecard is the handicap – which ranks the holes from hardest to easiest. The most difficult hole is the #1 handicap, while the easiest hole is the #18 handicap. 

Check the hole handicap can give you some better insight to each hole if you’ve never played the golf course before. Plus, the handicap will determine if you get strokes which we’ll cover in the next section.

Gross Score vs. Net Score

What makes golf great is that you can play against any type of golfer and have a match using the handicapping system. So if you’re a 10 handicap golfer and want to play with a 20 handicap, it’s easy to do. In this example, you would give them 10 shots per round.

But you don’t just give them any 10 shots, you only give them a shot on the 10 hardest holes. On handicap holes 1-10, they would get a stroke. 

On the scorecard, you can notate this with dots or an asterisk as a reminder. Then, you can write their gross score in one line and net score in another. 

Or, simply write 5/4 on a hole where they received a stroke. This means their net score was a five but thanks to the stroke you had to give them, it was a four. If you made a gross four, then you would tie them for the hole. 

Write Down Scores After Each Hole

A good habit to get into is writing down the scores of each player once the hole is complete. Don’t try to do it every 2-3 holes as you’ll likely forget and write down an incorrect score (especially if you’re writing down all four players scores). 

If you make a mistake and don’t have an eraser, you will want to X out the score and write the correct score above or below. Additionally, if you’re in a formal tournament make sure to write your initials to verify that you changed your score. 

Golf Scorecard Symbols

If you’re playing with a more experienced golfer it’s common to use symbols around your score. This is common practice when using a golf app too and each symbol relates to the score for par.

Here are a few examples of different symbols you might see on a scorecard:

  • No symbol = par on the hole
  • Circle around score = birdie on the hole
  • Square around score = bogey on the hole 

But there are a lot more symbols that are common with scoring. Read our full article about the golf scoring symbols.

how to read a golf score card

Tally Up The Scores 

Once the round is complete, make sure to add up everyone’s score for 18 holes.

If someone shoots an 85 on a par 72 golf course, that’s 13 over par. If someone shoots less than par, they finish under par and is a rare feat for most everyday amateur golfers. Or, if a player shoots the same as par then it’s common to say they shot par for the day. 

It’s always a good idea to verify the score with each player in the clubhouse or by the 18th green. You can read off the hole by hole score in threes and allow them to compare cards to fix any scoring issues.

Once every player confirms their golf holes score and the total round, then you will want to sign it under the “Scorer” section. Additionally, make sure another member of your group signs it under the attest section. If you’re playing in a golf tournament two signatures are always required for a score to count. 

At that point, you can enter your score into your GHIN to contribute to your overall handicap. 

Scoring Errors

Humans make mistakes and sometimes that can cause a major mishap after the round. If you sign a scorecard that is lower than your actual score, you’re disqualified. If you sign a scorecard that is higher than your actual score, you must accept the new score.

This is why it’s so important to check your scorecard diligently after the round. 

FAQs About Scorecards in Golf 

Do you have additional questions about scorecards and other best practices for your golf game? If so, keep reading to learn more now.

How do you work out a golf scorecard?

There’s a lot going on with a golf score card. You have yardages, boxes for scores, slope, course rating, handicap for each hole, and more.

It’s best to write scores down in each box and then after the round add up scores from holes 1-9 and 10-18. Then fill in the total score at the far right side of the scorecard. You can also sign the scorecard and have another person sign to attest that the score is complete. 

To count as a United States Golf Association (USGA) official score you need to make sure to finish every hole and follow all golf rules.

How do you read a green book?

Learning how to read greens is one of the most important parts of golf. You can hit putts great but if you aren’t reading them correctly, you’re not going to make a lot of putts.

If you need extra assistance when it comes to reading greens, you can buy a green reading book. These books provided detailed information about the slope and break of each green at a golf course. Sometimes they’re available in the pro shop but most often they’re only available online.

When it comes to reading a book you want to look at a few things:

  • Depth of the green: this helps you understand how small or big a green is and can help with club selection to different pin positions.
  • Color: Each book will have different colors on the green and provide a legend about what each one means. For example, red might mean there is a steep slope and green means it’s relatively flat.
  • Arrows: The arrows show how much the green is breaking based on location on the green. It’s up to you to figure out where your ball is and where the pin is to understand the read. 

If you do use a green reading book, my biggest advice is to make sure to commit to the break of the putt. It’s so easy to use one of these books but see something different with your own eyes which leads to indecision. If you’re indecisive over a putt, it typically leads to a bad putt so make sure to commit to the line before going through your routine. 

What are the dots on a golf scorecard?

If you see dots on a scorecard it likely means you’re in a golf tournament that has a net division. In most golf tournaments there is a net and gross division. The gross division doesn’t factor in players handicaps and is the true score for the round.

But for the net score, a handicap is calculated. As an example, let’s say you’re a nine handicap. On the nine most difficult holes (based on the hole handicap), you would get a stroke on each hole based on relative difficulty.

For those nine holes on the scorecard you’ll have a dot to represent the stroke you get back. So if you make a five, it’s actually a four. 

If you play golf with someone who has a handicap that is higher than 18 they’ll have multiple dots on certain holes. Typically, you don’t need to worry about the scoring aspect as it’s factored in at the scoring table after the round using golf software tools. 

What is the 95% rule in golf?

The 95% rule is about the recommended handicap allowance based on a golf tournament. For example, if you’re a 10 handicap golfer, you would be a 9.5 for the event. 

As the USGA said, “Handicap allowances are designed to provide equity for players of all levels of ability in each format of play, over both 9 holes and 18 holes.

Handicap allowances are applied to the Course Handicap as the final step in calculating a player’s Playing Handicap.”

What are the 7 golf scoring terms? 

The seven golf scoring terms are hole in one, albatross eagle, birdie, par, bogey, and double bogey. But there are more terms like snowman (which resembles an 8), triple bogey, and others. 

Click here to learn more about commonly used golf terms now or go here to learn golf’s scoring names and their history.

Final Thoughts on Scoring in Golf 

A golf scorecard does more than just give you a place to tally up the scores after each hole. A scorecard can help you understand what tee boxes to play, help you track your golf statistics, remember players names, and so much more. Plus, nottate golf swing tips, round statistics, and more.

Make sure to read this article to learn about slope and rating.

But the main purpose of course is to keep track of your score after each hole. You can then tally up the scores for the front nine and back nine to get the total 18 hole score. 

As someone who’s been playing for 20+ years, I urge you to not add up the scores after nine holes and announce them to the group. No one cares about a nine-hole score, it’s the full 18 holes that actually counts. Adding up after nine holes can ruin the back nine for some golfers and set unrealistic expectations.

Instead, take it hole by hole and add up the scores once you’re in the 19th hole having a drink or meal.