Reading a Golf Scorecard: What to Know
In this guide we will cover how to read a golf scorecard and how to use a scorecard to track your scores and/or golf stats.
A golf scorecard is available for free at each golf course. When you go inside the golf shop, you’ll usually find the scorecards and pencils near the front desk. If you don’t see them, ask a golf pro shop worker for help. Some golf courses also include them on their golf carts.
Once you have a scorecard in hand, you’ll notice lots of different numbers and words on the card but don’t worry, here’s how to read the scorecard.
Scorecards Are Split Into Front 9 Holes & Back 9 Holes
Start off first by locating the row that says Holes and you’ll notice it numbers the columns from 1 to 18 going left to right across the scorecard. This represents the 18 holes on the golf course.
You’ll usually play golf starting on hole 1 until you finish your round on hole 18.
If you’re only playing 9 holes, then you may start on hole 1 and finish on hole 9 or you may start on hole 10 and finish on hole 18, depending which side of the course you play.
Golf courses are generally split up into two sets of 9 holes and they call holes 1 through 9 “The Front 9” and holes 10 through 18 they call “The Back 9”.
Both sets of holes are laid out to usually lead back to the golf clubhouse, so hole 9 and hole 18 will both end you by the clubhouse.
Splitting the course into two sets of 9 holes allows golfers the option to play just a 9 hole round of golf or play a full 18 holes.
It also gives you a halfway break where you can come inside the clubhouse and get food or use the bathroom. Think of it like halftime for other sports where you get a short break at the midway point in the game.
On the scorecard you’ll find a map that shows the layout of the golf course. It may also number the holes for you so you can see what each hole looks like from hole 1 through 18.
The map may even include some distance numbers or images of water and bunkers to show you where hazards are on each hole.
You’ll usually find that the map is on one side of the scorecard and if you flip it over, you’ll find the grid of columns and rows on the other side.
Let’s continue discussion on how to read the gridded side of the scorecard.
The top row is almost always going to number off holes 1 to 18.
Everything below in that same column goes with that particular hole number. So if you see the column that has hole 1, all numbers and blank spaces below it are still related to hole 1 if you remain in the same column.
Yardages for Each Hole
The next couple of rows on the scorecard contain the yardages of the holes based on which set of tees you’re playing from. You’ll see numbers like 354, 378, 403, 507, etc. which are yardage numbers telling you how far it is from the tee box to the green for that particular hole.
Yardages for hole 1 will change depending which set of tees you play from. There are different colors for the tee boxes at a golf course.
Most commonly you’ll find blue or black at a golf course is used to mark the farthest back tee box for the most advanced golfers to play from.
White tee box markers represent the typical average to beginner golfer and will usually play a shorter total yardage than the blue/black tee boxes.
Red tee box markers are for women golfers. Almost every golf course uses red to represent the women’s tee boxes and play much shorter in total distance than the white or black tee boxes. Kids can also play from the red tees unless they have their own tee box color (green).
Gold tee box markers usually represent senior golfers who cannot hit the ball as far anymore. They play the shortest yardage usually, even shorter than the women’s tees. Some golf courses may put the senior and women’s tees together at the same tee box or use one color to represent both groups.
Colors for Tee Boxes May Vary By Golf Course
These are just example colors but each golf course will be different and may use different colors to signify professional, amateur, women’s and senior tee boxes.
On a golf scorecard, you’ll usually find the longest distance set of tees as the first row beneath the Holes row.
Then the next longest set of tees in the next row beneath and so forth until you get to the last row which has the distances for the shortest tee box, which is usually seniors/women unless the golf course also has kids tees set up.
Handicap Numbers on a Scorecard
You’ll also notice a row that says Handicap and has numbers running from left to right across the scorecard randomly within that same row.
Each hole on a golf course is rated from 1 to 18 in terms of difficulty with 1 being the hardest hole and 18 being the easiest hole. For example, if hole #1 has a 5 for the Handicap, then this means it plays as the 5th hardest hole on the golf course.
The handicap rankings are used when playing with a handicap scoring system to determine which holes golfers get to use their handicap (which may earn them extra strokes to reduce their score). It’s a way to even out play between two different skill level of golfers.
One golfer may make a par and the other makes double bogey but the worse golfer may get to use two handicap strokes to reduce their score from double bogey to par to equalize the match against the better player.
The golf handicap system is quite complex to understand how it works and how it’s calculated and will be covered in another guide at another time.
What Does Par Mean on a Scorecard?
The most important row on the golf scorecard is the one that says “Par”.
Par is how many strokes it should take a golfer to complete the hole, starting off with the first shot from the tee box until they hit the final shot into the hole on the putting green.
Most holes will play as either a par 3, par 4, or par 5. If you are playing a Par 3, for example, then you’re allowed up to 3 strokes to make a par. Anything more is considered a bogey or worse. If you make one stroke less than par, such as a 2 on a par 3, this is considered a birdie.
In addition to assigning a par to each individual hole, there will also be a par score assigned to the entire golf course. Most golf courses will play as a Par 72, but some play as a Par 70 or Par 71.
If you add up the individual pars of all 18 holes you’ll come up with the same par total as golf courses Par on the scorecard. For example, if a golf course is playing as a par 72 then the individual pars of all 18 holes will add up to 72.
Use the par of each individual hole to help guide you on what a good score would be for that particular hole. Try to equal it or beat it.
How to Use the Empty Rows on a Scorecard?
On a golf scorecard you will also notice several empty rows that are left blank intentionally. This is where you’ll write down the names of each golfer playing in your group, one name on each separate row.
You’ll then record the golf score of each player for a hole by writing the number in the column box next to their name for whichever hole you just played.
For example, find the column for Hole 1 and write everyone’s scores down in that same column, with each player’s score in the same row as their name.
Totaling Up the Scores = In & Out Columns
Once you’ve written down a score for each hole played, you’ll notice two empty columns that are titled “In” and “Out” at the end of each 9 holes.
The “In” column refers to the front 9 (holes 1 through 9). You will total up the score from these first 9 holes and write the total in the box here.
The “Out” column refers to the back 9 (holes 10 through 18). You will total up the score from these back 9 holes and write it in this “out” box.
Do this for each individual player. Then you can compare everyone’s scores for each set of 9 holes as well as total up each player’s score for the entire 18 holes.
The final 18 hole score total has it’s own column at the far right of the score card, usually the last column and usually located just to the right of the “Out” column.
What Do Circles and Squares Mean on Golf Scorecards?
If you ever watch professional golf on TV, you’ll notice when they show player scorecards that they tend to have circles around the numbers as well as other symbols like squares, for example.
Why do they draw circles and squares around the numbers and what do these symbols mean?
A circle is used to signify a birdie, which is when a golfer scores 1 better than par. It’s an exciting score to make on a golf hole.
A square is used to signify a bogey, which is when a golfer scores 1 more than par. It’s not a good score to make on a golf hole.
When a golfer makes a par, they do not use any symbols.
Other symbols you may see include a double circle for an eagle (2 strokes better than par) and a double square which is for scores worse than bogey like a double bogey, triple bogey, etc.
Using these circle and square symbols is a visual way for a golfer to quickly add their score by tallying how many strokes above or below par they were.
It also helps a golfer visually see which holes they played well on and which holes they didn’t play as well on.
Tracking Other Golf Stats on Your Scorecard
If you are playing a round of golf by yourself, you can use the extra empty rows on the scorecard to track other golf stats.
For example, you can create a row where you track your putts for each hole. Mark down the number of putts it took you to finish each hole and then total up at the end to see how many putts you had for the entire 9 or 18 holes.
You can also track other stats like:
- Fairways in regulation hit
- Greens in regulation hit
- Scrambling (up & downs)
- Driver distance
- And more
Use the scorecard to help track stats and learn about your golf game so you can find areas to improve during practice sessions. If you notice that you are taking more than 2 putts on most holes, then work on putting more during practice to help reduce your total putts.