How to Read a Scorecard in Golf

When you keep score during your round of golf, you’ll be using two important pieces of equipment: a scorecard and a pencil. Although you may feel pretty comfortable using a pencil, that scorecard has a lot of numbers and strange words on it. In fact, you may just ignore everything on the scorecard that doesn’t involve your name and score.

Well, you won’t have to ignore them any longer. This guide will take you through all of that information so the next time you’re out keeping score, you won’t have to pretend those numbers and words aren’t there, and you can even explain to your friends what they mean and why they’re useful.

Different Courses, Different Cards

If you’ve played more than one golf course, you’ve probably noticed that every course has its own unique scorecard. That’s because no two golf courses are the same, and scorecards do more than just give you a slip of paper to jot down the number of strokes you take each hole. They’re full of information about the golf course—all for your knowledge and benefit.

But although the specific numbers will vary depending on the course you’re playing, and the layout and design of the scorecard may change for different scorecards, there are certain things that will not change between golf courses’ scorecards. That is, the numbers may change, but the categories will always be the same on any scorecard you see.

Keeping Score

Although there’s a lot of information about the golf course on a scorecard, it’s called a scorecard because its main reason for existence is to allow golfers a space to write down their scores. With that said, here’s how you find the right place on the scorecard for your scores, and how to use it.

Scorecards are usually set up with nine holes on one side (the front nine) and nine holes on the other side (the back nine).

Usually located somewhere in the middle of your scorecard, on the left side, you’ll see empty rows. These spots are for the names of the golfers in your group, including you.

List the golfers in your group vertically in those rows. Moving to the right, you’ll see a space for each person’s score on each hole. At the far right, you’ll see a space for the total score for each golfer in your group on each side of nine holes. On the back nine, there will be a space for you to add up everybody’s front nine and back nine scores to see the final result for each golfer.

For more details on the specifics of scorekeeping, check out the guide on “How to Keep Score in Golf”.

Sets of Tees

One of the first things you’ll notice on your scorecard is the different colors signifying the different sets of tees the golf course has set up.

When you start your round of golf, one of the first things you and your group should decide is which set of tees you’re going to play from. Most golf courses have at least two sets of tees, and many have more than that. They can be labeled by color or name, but the reason more than one set of tees exist on every hole is to give golfers of different ability levels a fair shot at doing well on the course.

Of course, each golf course has its own tee box setup (some courses have six or more sets of tees), but a typical arrangement of tees looks something like this:

  • Front Tees: These are the closest tees to the green, so if you play from the front tees, you don’t need as much distance with your shots. They usually set these up so that you avoid any really tough tee shots, as well. For instance, if there’s a pond you have to hit over from the other sets of tees, the front tees will usually be perched on the other side of the pond, eliminating that obstacle altogether.
  • Middle Tees: These are the “regular” tees that offer golfers of average skill level a challenging but not-too-difficult look at each hole. For you recreational, weekend golfers, this is the set of tees you’ll probably want to play.
  • Back Tees: These are the toughest tees a course has to offer. They’re not only set the farthest away from the pins, but they usually offer some extra difficulty when it comes to placement and potential hazards. This is how the course designer envisioned the course being played, so the back tees are usually in use for tournaments and other organized rounds of golf. Although you’re more than welcome to play from back here if you want an extra challenge!

Remember, these sets of tees are often organized by color, so look out for that on your scorecard. Other keywords to look out for when it comes to tees are: Ladies Tees, Regular Tees, and Championship Tees.

Another note to keep in mind: Choose one set of tees and play from them on every hole that round.

Regardless of how your golf course names them, you can always tell which tees are which by checking the yardage (or meters) that each set of tees plays, both for each hole and for the entire course. That information can be found — where else? — on the scorecard.

Scorecard Terms Defined

Looking at a scorecard, you’ll notice a bunch of words whose definitions you may not know. Some have numbers associated with them, and others have spaces for you to fill in, but you may not know what information they’re asking for.

If that’s the case, fear not. Here’s a list of terms you’ll find on a typical scorecard, complete with definitions and, if applicable, explanations of how they’re calculated:

  • Hole: This number is usually at the top of every column, and just tells you which hole the column on the scorecard is referring to. Every hole on the course will be listed in order, starting with the first hole.
  • Par: Every hole will have a designated par (three, four, or five) listed in its column. At the end of each side of nine holes, you’ll see the total par for each side. At the end of 18 holes, you’ll see the par for the entire course.
  • Out: This refers to the end of the front nine (the first nine holes). The “out” column will have yardage and par listed for the whole front nine.
  • In: This refers to the end of the back nine (the final nine holes). The “in” column will have yardage and par totals for the entire back nine.
  • Total: This refers to the sum of the “out” and “in” totals. That is, this column will have the yardage and the par for the entire golf course, all 18 holes.
  • Handicap (golfer) : Golfers can set up what’s known as a handicap through their country’s governing body for golf. It’s a numerical indicator of your skill level, and it can affect your net score, if a tournament you’re playing allows handicaps.
  • Net: If a golfer has an official handicap indexed through the governing body for golf in his country, he can subtract his handicap from his total score and calculate his net score. So, if a 17-handicap golfer shoots a 98 on an 18-hole course, his net score would be an 80.
  • Handicap (hole) : Every hole on the golf course is rated in difficulty from 1 (the most difficult) to 18 (the least difficult). On the scorecard, the holes’ handicaps may be separated by men’s and women’s, or depending on the set of tees being used.
  • Slope: Every golf course is judged for difficulty by its country’s governing body for golf. Ranging from 55 (the least difficult) to 155 (the most difficult), the slope of a course is always labeled on the scorecard, and varies depending on the set of tees being played.
  • Course Rating: As with slope, a governing body for golf will test the course for its course rating, which is a numerical value that includes decimal points. It’s basically the expected score of a scratch (professional level) golfer from each set of tees the course offers. Like slope, it’s a way of quantifying the course’s level of difficulty.
  • Yardage (or meters) : Every set of tees will have the distance listed for (a) each hole, (b) each side (“out” and “in”), and (c) the length of the entire course.
  • Date: This is where you mark the date you’re playing.
  • Scorer: This is where the person who is keeping score writes his name.
  • Attest: This is where someone in the group other than the scorekeeper signs to verify that the scores are correct after finishing.

Get to Know Your Course

Now that you know how to read one, take a look at the scorecard for your favorite course. Get to know which holes are supposed to be its most difficult (handicap), and how challenging it is according to the governing bodies (slope and course rating). Take that knowledge with you to the course, use it to your advantage, and have fun!

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