Stroke Play: Standard Golf Scoring Format

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Stroke play is the classic and most common scoring format when playing golf. Majority of official golf tournaments at every level (including almost all PGA Tour events) utilize stroke play to score the competition.

When scoring golf using stroke play, every shot a player makes during the round counts as one stroke. All the player’s strokes are added together (plus any penalty shots) to come up with a total 18-hole score. 

Alternatives to the Stroke Play scoring format includes Match Play and Stableford.

stroke play golf

Scoring Terms For Stroke Play

Stroke play scores can be stated simply as the number of strokes (plus penalties) over the course of the round. For example, “Tiger shot 68 today.”

Frequently, stroke play scores are stated relative to par. A scratch golfer will often shoot even par, 2 over par, and occasional 1 under par.

Most amateur players don’t score close enough to par to explain their scores this way. It’s a little strange to say you shot 20 over par. It’s more appropriate to just state the number, 92.

However, some players like to explain their score relative to bogey golf. If you score 90 on a par 72 course, you have played bogey golf for the day. Many higher handicap players (16+) will call themselves “bogey golfers” rather than state their exact handicap when asked.

Advantages Of Stroke Play

Stroke play is the traditional format for golf and enables any number of players to compete together for a single round or over multiple rounds. It is also the best way to score yourself when playing alone.

The stroke play format places the same value on every shot. A 300-yard drive and 3-inch putt both count for exactly one stroke. 

Unlike match play, where each hole is a treated as a separate mini game, every single shot a player makes counts toward their total score in the stroke play format. This feature of the scoring system makes stroke play the most formal and ultimately the best test of a player’s ability.

Challenges Of Stroke Play

When playing a stroke play format, golfers must count every shot (including penalties) from the first tee box to the final hole. This requires complete and total concentration throughout the entire round, as well as an understanding of the rules of golf.

If you get frustrated and make a mistake, like hit two consecutive balls out of bounds, you can’t just pick up and move to the next hole. You must continue playing until the ball is actually in the hole. 

For many players, this will result is large numbers on some holes and likely a large over all score. Golf is not an easy game!

Using Handicaps With Stroke Play

Many amateur golf events use handicaps to even the playing field. This is true for stroke play tournaments as well as well casual group golf games. When handicaps are used in a stroke play event, the scoring format is usually referred to as Net Stroke Play. 

When using handicaps in stroke play events, the players course handicap (calculated based on handicap index, the course rating and tee boxes) will be subtracted from the gross score. 

The resulting number is referred to as the net score. The player’s net score is then compared to all the other player’s scores to determine a winner and place for all players.

For example, Jill has a course handicap of 10 for her local club championship. If her gross score (total strokes during the round) is 80, then her net score is calculated to be 70. 

Gross Score (80) – Handicap (10) = Net Score (70)

Let’s say Jill’s main competitor is Ann, and her handicap is 8. If Ann shoots a gross score of 79, her net score will be 71.

Jill will have won the event based on her net score, even though Ann had a better gross score.

Learn more about Average Golf Handicaps.

stroke play golf scorecard

Games Utilizing Stroke Play

There are countless different golf games to play using stroke play. Of course, a standard stroke play game is great, but you can easily add interest to the round with some variations.

Nassau is a common golf betting game that is really three games in one. Players will compete for the best score on the front (outward) nine, the best score on the back (inward) nine, and the best overall score. 

Nassau is often played in a match play style, but there is no reason you can do the same bet using stroke play.

A skins game is frequently added to a stroke play round. Skins is designed to reward a player that makes the best stroke play score on a single hole. Gross and net skins are both commonly used depending on the range of player abilities in your group.

Other great golf games like High-Low, Las Vegas, Wolf, Scotch, Cha Cha Cha and many more work perfectly within the standard stroke play golf scoring system. 


Stroke play is the most common scoring system in golf. It requires every shot be counted and enable consistent and fair competition of a large field of golfers.

Whether you’re playing with buddies on a Saturday afternoon or in your club championship, stroke play is likely to be the standard scoring format. Thankfully, stroke play scoring works perfectly with many other games and side bets. 

Get yourself on the course. Have some fun and GO LOW!

David Shelly
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