Golf Scorecard Explained [How To Read Golf Scores & Symbols]

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If you have played a round of golf then we are sure that you must have kept score with a golf scorecard. You may have been wondering what it all meant, which is exactly why in this guide we’ll explain how to read golf scores in full detail.

Most beginners know that a golf scorecard will help you to keep track of your score on the golf course but the numbers may not make complete sense at first with a whole range of numbers and golf terms.

In this guide we’ll cover in full detail exactly how to read a golf scorecard and what it all means for you on the golf course.

What Is A Golf Scorecard?

A golf scorecard is used to measure progress during a round of golf both individually and in competition.

The golf scorecard is used by golfers all over the world when they are playing a round of golf at any of the vast amount of golf courses. This can range from the PGA Tour to even crazy golf! It helps players to track their performance both individually and in competition against others.

Before stepping out onto the course it is advisable to learn and understand what the different features of the scorecard mean so that you can ensure that you are filling it in correctly. This is especially the case when it comes to competition, for example on the PGA Tour incorrect score keeping can mean a penalty or even disqualification! (Golf Digest)

Golf Scorecard Layout

golf scorecard layout

The first step needed to make yourself familiar is to look at the layout of the scorecard. Typically the scorecard will be around 6 inches long by 4..5 inches when it is folded. This makes it easy to carry in a pocket or golf bag without taking up too much room.

Each golf scorecard has some common elements that are important to understand when playing a round of golf. These range from some that are self explanatory to others which are more detailed.

There is also a section to write down your scores for both yourself and other players who are playing during your golf round.

How To Read A Golf Scorecard

reading a golf scorecard

Reading a golf scorecard involves understanding some common elements. The common elements that you should know when learning how to read golf scores include understanding hole numbers, scorecard symbols, yardages for each tee box as well as course rating and slope rating. By understanding these different sections you are able to have a more effective round of golf.


The most self explanatory part, the number here indicates which golf hole was played. You will enter your relevant score for that particular hole.

Yardages (Red, White, Yellow, Blue)

You will see different yardage options for each hole on the course separated by different colors. The different colors represent the yardage for the hole depending on which tee you tee off from. When you arrive at each golf hole the tees will be represented by the corresponding color, so that you can match them up to the scorecard. This makes it easy to know your yardage for the hole from that tee.

On a typical golf course there will be tee boxes for women’s, senior’s, men’s and tournament play on any particular hole with each having their own separate yardages.

Golf Handicap/Stroke Index

The next section is the golf handicap or stroke index section. What this illustrates is the relative difficulty of a golf hole compared to the others. This is why they have a number ranging from 1 to 18 for each of the hole numbers. 18 means that it is the expected easiest hole on the golf course and 1 means that it is the expected hardest hole on the golf course.

The handicap strokes section of a scorecard is fundamental for golfers when calculating their score based on their golf handicaps. This is the case both individually and in competition.

The best way to illustrate this is to use an example golfer of with a 9 golf handicap. What happens, in this case, is you will deduct one stroke for the each of the 9 most difficult holes on the course. For golfers with a golf handicap index of over 18 this works in the same way but with two strokes. For example a golfer with a 27 handicap would deduct two shots on the 9 most difficult holes and only one on the 9 easiest holes.


The par section of the scorecard represents the expected score on that hole to par for a scratch golfer. Your score to par helps to calculate your golf handicap. You can check out our golf handicap calculator to view what yours is based on your recent rounds.

Net Score

As mentioned above, each hole is assigned a handicap index. By using the calculations above you will be able to correctly enter your net score for the round oppose to your gross golf score.

For example if the course is par 72 and you have shot a round of 90 but are allowed one stroke per hole then your net score will be 72.

Course Rating & Slope Rating

There will also be a section on the scorecard for course rating and slope rating. The course rating along with the slope rating are indicative of the relative difficulty of a course.

What Are The Golf Scorecard Symbols?

The different golf scorecard symbols include a solid circle, a circle, no symbol, a square and a solid square symbol. These represent scoring for a golfer on a particular hole.

They work as follows:

  • Solid circle symbol – Represents an Eagle or better score (e.g. an Albatross or hole in one)
  • Circle symbol – Represents a Birdie
  • No symbol – Represents a Par
  • Square symbol – Represents a Bogey
  • Solid square symbol – Represents a Double-bogey or worse

By using these golf symbols for scores it makes it quicker and easier to identify scoring when reading your golf scores.

Best Golf Scorecard Tips

Below we cover some of the most essential golf scorecard tips so that you can make the most out of yours each time that you play and avoid any unnecessary mistakes out on the course.

Have A Scorecard Holder

By purchasing a golf scorecard holder you will be able to protect your scorecards better than if you just have a loose card in your bag or pocket. There is nothing worse than getting half way through a round of golf and having a broken scorecard.

Therefore, as a cheap investment for any semi-regular to regular golfer it is more than worth it to buy a scorecard holder.

Complete After Each Hole

It is quite easy to forget to fill it out after each hole. Especially if you are in a group of players and are busy talking. However, with 18 holes during a round it can only take a couple of forgetful holes and your card can be incorrect and ruined for the day.

Therefore, it is worth taking the 10 seconds to write down scores each time that you complete a hole.

Beware Of Rain

Rain can be the quickest way to ruin your golf scores. That is why we would recommend always having a waterproof notepad handy, just in case. This will allow you to write down your golf scores no matter the weather.

You could then transfer your scores across after your round and can be a makeshift solution in temperamental weather conditions.

Use A Golf Scorecard App

If you have a phone handy then you may be more inclined to use technology and use a golf scorecard app to complete your scores such as mScorecard.

This can prove to be a more efficient method for many golfers and help to provide more in-depth data about a round which will help with improving your golf game.

Pay Attention To The Format

There are different formats that golf is played under. Ranging from stroke play to stableford. It is important to factor this in when completing your score card, especially in competition.

Depending on the type of competition that you are playing will impact how you mark your scores.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you fill out a handicap golf scorecard?

The first thing you should do is mark the correct section of the scorecard allocated for each hole. Then the most straightforward way to keep score is to count the number of strokes you’ve taken on a hole just completed and write that down in the box next to the corresponding hole. Tally up the strokes for both your front nine and back nine totals for your “out” and “in” scores and then add them together for your 18-hole score.

What is the handicap row on a golf scorecard?

Scorecards have a line for Handicap, which rates the difficulty of each hole from 1 to 18, with 18 being the easiest. If two players play together and player 1 has a lower handicap than the other then they will get an extra shot on the hardest holes depending on the other golfers handicap.

What do the numbers on a golf score card mean?

The difficulty of each golf hole is rated from 1 to 18, with 1 being the most difficult. These handicap numbers allow a player to add a net score for each hole based on his handicap and compare his progress based on previous scores.

How To Read Golf Scores: Summary

Now that you know how to read a golf scorecard you are all set to mark your scores next time that you step out onto the golf course.

There are quite a few different aspects to a card that all have their purpose but by knowing these inside out it will make your life on the course easier and help to avoid you from making any unnecessary mistakes.

Finally, by taking note of some of the golf scores tips highlighted you can make sure that you make the most out of your round and don’t get into any awkward situations such as having a scorecard that is completely torn halfway through your round!