Your Guide to Golf Scoring: Advanced Version

By Performance Golf Zone · · 7 min read
Golf ball in the hole

Golf is a complex sport. There’s no shortage of knowledge to be gained, from knowing all the right terms, to understanding on-green etiquette, and of course, mastering the swing itself.

Understanding how golf scoring works isn’t as simple as it may seem, as there are many formats and styles to this great game.

Luckily, we’ve simplified this so you can understand common scoring terms and different types of games in golf.

If you missed our beginner’s guide on golf scoring, be sure to check that blog out and come back for this more advanced version!

Advanced Golf Scoring & Types of Golf Games

Stroke Play

The first type of scoring in golf is known simply as stroke play, and is very straightforward compared to others on this list. Simply add up the total number of strokes it took you to get the ball in the hole. Easy, right?

Write this number down on a scorecard and tally up after 18 holes. To adhere to the rules of golf, be sure you factor in penalty strokes from things like out-of-bounds lost balls and other issues.

This is the most common way to play golf, and is the type of scoring you’ll see in majors or PGA Tour events. In professional events, stroke play can be incorporated into multiple scoring games, which we’ll cover in the next section.

Match Play

Match play is, essentially, the complete opposite of stroke play. Stroke play is an individual scoring system, where you’re playing vs. everyone else in the field, whether that’s a professional tournament or a casual round with your buddies.

In match play, it’s you vs. one competitor or your team vs. another team. This is a head-to-head battle where the rules and scoring are different.

With match play, a player or team can only lose by one on the holedespite the scoring differential. If Team A makes a four on the first hole and team B makes a six on the hole, team A only wins by one (known as a 1 Up).

If one team gets up more than there are holes, the match is over. For example, if a team is ‘4 Up’ with three holes left to play, the match ends, and the final holes are not played. Matches can end in a tie – for example the Ryder Cup, where Team USA competes vs. Team Europe every other year.

Golf Gross vs. Net Scores

When playing match or stroke play, handicaps may or may not be used, it just depends.

If handicaps are involved, this is known as net scoring, regardless if it’s match or stroke play. For example, if you’re a 10 handicap player, you get 10 strokes during the round. So if you par one of the 10 hardest holes, it counts as a birdie.

On the other hand, gross scoring does not include handicaps. This is simply adding up your total number of strokes on the hole.


Another common way to make a round of golf more exciting is playing a skins game, which is a typical betting type match. Each golfer pays a certain amount of money to enter and plays their own ball during the round in stroke-play format.

Let’s say eight golfers divide up for a round, and each pay $20 to enter a skins game totaling a $160 pot. A skin is when one person beats everyone else on a specific hole.

In this example, if everyone made a par or worse on the 8th hole, and one player shot a birdie, the golfer with the birdie would win a skin on this hole. If another player had made a birdie on the same hole, it’d be considered a wash for that hole.

Skins are paid out based on how many are made during the round. In this example, if there was only one skin during the day, that player would get $160. If there were two skins, it would be split between each player at $80 each.


Wolf is a newer type of game and played with four players. Players take turns being the Wolf, which rotates on each hole.

On each tee shot, a player (the Wolf) can choose to take their score vs. the other three players or pick a partner. Points are earned or lost by the Wolf and tallied up at the end of the round.


Stableford is a type of scoring system in golf that is very different from any other format. Normally, golf is pretty simple – the player or team with the lowest score wins. However, in a Stableford system, the player or team with the most points wins.

But how do points work in golf? Each score gets its own set of points on the hole.

Here is a breakdown of the scores and points in a Stableford event:

  • Eagle: 4 points
  • Birdie: 3 points
  • Par: 2 points:
  • Bogey: 1 point:
  • Double bogey (or worse): 0 points

This format is more common with amateur golfers, but they have used this scoring system in a PGA Tour event in the past too. There are modified versions as well, where anything above par is a negative score.

Stableford scoring is a lot of fun as it encourages players to have a more aggressive strategy to earn more points. If you choose this golf scoring for the day, make sure to confirm the points per score and use an app or notes to track everyone’s points.

Two golfers fist bumping

Two-Man Formats

Another reason golf is so enjoyable is because you can have multiple ways to score and play no matter how many players you have for a round. Here are some of the most common styles for just two golfers (or two teams) to compete.

Best Ball (AKA Four Ball)

In a best ball tournament, which is typically teams of two, each golfer plays their own ball on the hole. The best score counts toward the team score.


Scrambles generally consist of teams with 2 to 4 players, which are most common in golf charity events.

Here’s how it works: each player tees off on the hole. The best ball is selected and everyone picks up their ball and drops near the best ball. Then, everyone hits their own shot, the best ball is selected again, and this process is repeated until the ball is holed.

There are multiple variations of a scramble as well, including:

  • Bramble
  • Ambrose
  • Texas Scramble
  • Florida Scramble
  • Las Vegas Scramble

To see a 9-hole scramble in action, check out this YouTube video from Performance Golf!

Alternate Shot (Foursomes)

An alternate shot, known as foursomes, is an event consisting of two teams of two, where one player tees off on odd holes and the other on even holes. If player A tees off on the first hole, then player B hits the second shot and they alternate order until the hole is complete.

In a modified alternate shot, both players tee off and the best shot is selected. Players then alternate shots like normal until the hole is complete. Another variation of this is known as Chapman format.

You’re Ready to Try Something Different!

Stroke play is the most common way to play golf, but as mentioned, there are so many other scoring options that are a fun way to mix it up. Try to find a tournament with skins games, Stableford, or match play to make things even more interesting on the links.

If you want to shoot lower scores and play better in competition, make sure to check out the Performance Golf Training Library. This has video lessons from top instructors like Martin Chuck, Hank Haney, David Leadbetter, and more to help with all areas of your game.

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