Explaining 'Gross Score' In Golf

golf scorecard showing gross scores
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"Gross," or "gross score" in golf refers to the total number of strokes taken during your round of golf, plus any penalty strokes. In other words, your actual number of strokes: Add up the numbers on your scorecard at the end of the round — what you wrote down for each hole — and that's your gross score.

If if takes you four strokes to complete Hole No. 1, your gross score on that hole is 4. On No. 2, maybe you take four strokes plus a 1-stroke penalty. Your gross score on that hole is 5, and your total gross score after two holes is 9. And so on.

Key Takeaways

  • Gross score is the actual number of strokes (including any penalty strokes) a golfer uses during a round of golf.
  • Gross score and net score are often paired; net score is the golfer's gross score minus handicap strokes.
  • Flighted golf tournaments at the local level sometimes award prizes for both gross score and net score finishes.

"My gross score was 92," a golfer might say. Other usage examples: "I had a gross score of 92 but a net score of 76." "This tournaments awards first place in gross and places one through three in net score."

Why Is 'Gross Score' Even Needed? Why Not Just 'Score'?

"Gross" (or "gross score") isn't always needed. If you do not participate in any of golf's handicap systems, or play any tournaments that involve both gross score and net score, you needn't worry about referring to your score as anything other than, well, your score.

But handicap systems — methods of evening the playing fields for golfers of differing abilities — do exist in golf, and many golfers have handicaps. Or even golfers who do not have official handicaps might bargain handicap strokes among themselves when playing for pride or money. (For example, two friends on the first tee deciding to play for a wager, and the weaker player asking the better player, "How many strokes are going to give me?")

That's why when "gross score" is used it is often in conjunction with or in contrast to net score.

Turning Gross Score Into Net Score

Gross score is your actual number of strokes used (including penalty strokes); net score is gross score minus any handicap strokes.

Let's say a golfer has a course handicap of 8. That means our golfer gets to lower her score by eight strokes. Let's say that her actual score — her gross score — at the end of the round is 85. Her net score, then, is 77 (85 minus 8). 

Many golf tournaments require golfers to have handicaps (or, at the level of charity events, corporate outings and such, at least be able to estimate one) and award prizes based on net scores. Some tournaments award prizes based on both gross scores and net scores.

And Then There's 'Adjusted Gross Score'

A related term is "adjusted gross score", which is something in the USGA Handicap System that limits how high a score golfers can make on a given hole. However, if you don't have a USGA Handicap Index, trust us, you don't need (or want) to care about adjusted gross score.