Beginner Golf – Golf Formats and Golf Scoring

It’s hard enough for beginners just to hit the golf ball. When you add in THE RULESJARGON and ETIQUETTE it can be quite daunting. And we haven’t even got to the most important bit – how golf scoring works in golf?

I thought I’d put a BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO THE DIFFERENT GOLF FORMATS together and briefly explain how each one works.

But to understand them you firstly need to have a grasp of THREE BASIC CONCEPTS – Par, Golf Handicaps and Stroke Indexes.

– Par

This is defined as ‘the number of shots a competent golfer should take on a hole’. It is written on your golf scorecard against each hole and is normally determined by the length of the hole. Golf holes are usually par 3’s, par 4’s or par 5’s. If you add all the par’s up on the scorecard you will usually come to a number around 72 – this is known as the ‘par of the course’.

– Golf handicaps

We will not discuss how handicaps are calculated here since it’s actually very complex, however the simplest way to describe it is an ‘allowance’ for your skill level. It’s expressed as a number usually somewhere between 0 and 36 and the lower your handicap the better golfer you are.

Golf handicaps are used differently in different golf formats, but this is explained in the relevant section.

– Stroke indexes

These are not important in all golf formats, but for most amateur golfers they are very important.

Each of the 18 holes on the golf course are assigned a ‘stroke index’ between 1 and 18. Stroke index 1 is assigned to the hardest hole on the course, and stroke index 18 is assigned to the easiest hole on the course. They should be marked on your golf score-card and are also displayed at each hole on the golf course.

So now let’s look at the COMMON GOLF FORMATS and how the scoring works in conjunction with your golf handicap and the strokes indexes.


This is the ‘purest’ and simplest way of playing and scoring in a game of golf and the format that the vast majority of professional golf tournaments play.
To play a strokeplay match you simply count the number of times you strike the ball on each hole (plus of course any penalties!), total up the number of shots after 18 holes and then deduct your handicap.
Stroke indexes are not relevant in strokeplay.

The person with the lowest net score is the winner. If more than one person has scored the same number of shots, then a complex system called ‘count back’ is used to determine a winner.

This format favours players with lower handicaps since every shot is counted.

For example – if you hit the ball 94 times in 18 holes and you have a handicap of 16, your net score if 94 less 16 which equals 78. If the par of the course is 72 then this would be expressed as ‘6 over’ or +6. The aim of course is to make this as low as possible or better still a negative number!


In stableford format you score points based on how many shots you have taken on each hole, but unlike strokeplay the higher number of points you score the better.

The number of points is determined by your handicap and the stroke index of the hole as follows:
First you need to calculate your net score on each hole. This is done by using your handicap combined with the stroke indexes.

For example, if your handicap is 15, you are ‘allowed’ an extra shot on the holes with stroke indexes from 1 to 15. If you are playing the 1st hole which is a par 4 with a stroke index of 8 and you take five shots, this is your gross score. But since the index is 8 you calculate your net score as 4 (5 minus 1!). In this example this would be a par.

Points are scored as follows for a net score:

  • Par – 2 points
  • Bogey (1 over par) – 1 point
  • Double bogey or worse – zero points
  • Birdie (1 under par) – 3 points
  • Eagle (2 under par) – 4 points
  • Albatross/double eagle – 5 points


In this format you simply play against your opponent on each hole. The person that hits the least shots on a hole is deemed to have won a hole, and whoever has won more holes after 18 holes is determined to be the winner.
There are of course a number of complications to this! The first being handicaps….
Simply subtract the lower handicap from the higher handicap. This number of shots is then ‘given’ to the higher handicapper and is allocated to the holes with the lowest indexes.

For example – if your handicap is 24 and your opponents’ is 18, subtract 18 from 24 to get 6. You then receive an ‘extra’ shot on the holes with stroke index 1 to 6.

Matchplay can be a lot of fun for higher handicap golfers since if they have a ‘bad’ hole it’s only one hole lost, and that can be made up quickly on the next hole.

There are MANY different variations on the above formats especially when playing doubles with a partner, but hopefully this has given you a good introduction to the basics of the different golf formats and how to score in them.

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