What is “Par” in Golf? Golf Scoring Explained

What is “Par” in Golf?

The term “par” in golf refers to the number of strokes that an expert golfer should need to complete an individual hole or a “round” of golf holes (usually 18 or 9 holes).

Par is both the score golfers aspire to make as well as the baseline for describing scores.

If you shoot a score of 85 on a par-72 18-hole golf course, you could describe this as “13 over par” or simply “13 over”.

If you took 4 strokes to complete a par-5 hole, you could say you were “one under par” or “one under.” However, other terms are more commonly used to describe a golfers score for a hole in relation to par (see the “Scoring Terms for Individual Golf Holes” section below).

Par and Hole Distance

The longer the hole, the higher par typically is.

The USGA’s yardage guidelines for men are:

  • Par 3 – Up to 250 yards
  • Par 4 – 251 to 470 yards
  • Par 5 – 401 to 690 yards

The USGA’s yardage guidelines for women are:

  • Par 3 – Up to 210 yards
  • Par 4 – 211 to 400 yards
  • Par 5 – 401 to 575 yards

Course designers and managers can also take into account the “effective playing length” of a hole. If a hole is downhill or at altitude, it could be longer than your typical hole with the same par score. The opposite is true of uphill holes, especially close to sea level.

Par Includes 2 Putts

Par for a golf hole is meant to give expert golfers 2 putts per hole.

Expert golfers:

  • Are expected to reach the green in 1 stroke on a par-3 golf hole, leaving them 2 putts for par.
  • Are expected to reach the green in 2 strokes on a par-4 golf hole, leaving them 2 putts for par.
  • Are expected to reach the green in 3 strokes on a par-5 golf hole, leaving them 2 putts for par.

Par of a Golf Course

The par of a golf course or group of holes (like the back 9 or front 9 holes) is the sum of par for every hole in the group.

Par on full-sizes 18-hole golf courses is usually in the range of 69 to 73. Par 72 is the most common for full-size golf courses.

Par-3 or “executive courses” are shorter golf courses meant for practicing specific golf skills, to be played by beginners and children, or simply to facilitate faster rounds than full-size courses.

These courses will have mostly par-3 holes but may also have a few par-4 or even par-5 holes. Because the individual holes are shorter than on a full-size course, the courses will have a lower par. A true “par-3 course” with 18 par-3 holes would be a par 54 course.

Scoring Par Is NOT Easy for Most Golfers

It’s essential to remember that “par” is the number of strokes an “EXPERT” golfer is expected to make.

For the average golfer, scoring par on an individual hole is a good accomplishment. Only an exceedingly small percentage of people who play golf will ever score par or better for an entire round.

MyGolfSpy and  TheGrint (a golf GPS and scoring app) analyzed data from users of TheGrint app to see how golfers of various skill levels perform.

The average handicap of all golfers is usually said to be in the 16-20 range. Looking at the data provided by MyGolfSpy and TheGrint, you’ll see that golfers in the 16-20 handicap range only make 3.6 pars and 0.3 birdies or better per round on average. They score a bogey or worse on 14.1 holes per round.

Birdies, Pars, Bogeys Per Handicap (Source MyGolfSpy)

When looking at their chart of how many golfers break 72 (typical course par) regularly, you can’t even make out the bar on the chart because it’s so small.

Scoring Percentiles (Source MyGolfSpy)

I bring up this data because too many average golfers think they’re terrible because they’re not close to par. The reality is only a tiny percentage of golfers have what it takes to make or break par.

Rather than worrying about making par on individual holes or trying to get close to par for your round, instead strive to improve your average score over time.
If you’re new to golf, averaging a bogey on every hole (18 strokes over par for the round) is a major accomplishment.

While professional golfers might not be excited to score par on a hole, you should be! As the data shows, they’re pretty rare for the average golfer.

Scoring Terms for Individual Golf Holes

While you could describe your score as “one under,” “three over,” etc. for individual golf holes, there are other golf scoring terms more commonly used to describe how you scored in relation to par for a particular hole.

Under Par Golf Scoring Terms for Individual Holes

Birdie – A “Birdie” is a score of one stroke under par on an individual hole. For example, 2 strokes on a par-3 hole, 3 strokes on a par-4 hole, or 4 strokes on a par-5 hole.

Eagle – An “Eagle” is a score of two strokes under par on an individual hole. For example, 2 strokes on a par-4 hole or 3 strokes on a par-5 hole. While a hole-in-one (one stroke) on a par-3 could be described as an eagle, it’d more commonly be referred to as a “hole-in-one” or “ace.”

Albatross (Double-Eagle) – An “Albatross” or “Double-Eagle” is a score of 3 strokes under par on an individual hole. For example, 2 strokes on a par-5 or a “hole-in-one” on a par-4. Again, 1 stroke on a par-4 is usually referred to as a “hole-in-one” or “ace,” rather than an albatross. This feat is so incredibly rare that I doubt it’ll ever come up in your golf round!

Hole-in-One/Ace – A “Hole-in-One” or “Ace” is when a golfer hits their first shot of the hole into the cup (another word for the physical hole in the ground that the flagstick goes into).

Condor – A “Condor” is a score of 4 strokes under par on an individual hole. On most golf courses, this could only be accomplished by getting a hole-in-one on a par-5 hole. You’ve probably never heard of this golf term because only a handful of “condors” have ever taken place. It should generally be physically impossible to hit the ball far enough for a condor on a par 5.

Over Par Golf Scoring Terms for Individual Holes

Bogey – A “Bogey” is a score of 1 stroke over par on any individual hole.

Double-Bogey – A “Double-Bogey” is a score of 2 strokes over par on any individual hole.

Triple-Bogey – A “Triple-Bogey” is a score of 3 strokes over par on any individual hole.

Quadruple-Bogey – A “Quadruple-Bogey” is a score of 4 strokes over par on any individual hole.