The Meaning of 'Over Par' in Golf, With Scoring Examples

Over-par scores on a golf scoreboard
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In golf, any score, whether on an individual hole or for a completed round, that is higher than the par rating for that hole or for the round is said to be "over par." "Over par" is usually spoken and denoted in relation to par itself; for example, a score of 5 on a par-4 is termed "1-over par."

To fully understand what "over par" means, let's explain what "par" means. Every hole on a golf course, and the golf course as a whole, is rated for "par." Par is the number of strokes that an expert golfer is expected to need to complete play of each, individual hole, and to complete the entirety of the course. If a hole is a par-4, "over par" is any score greater than 4 for that hole. If the par for the course is 72, over par is a score of 73 or higher.

Most golfers are, therefore, scoring over par on a regular basis. Very few of us qualify as "expert golfers," after all.

Examples of Over-Par Scores on Holes

1-Over Par ...

2-Over Par ...

  • on a par-3 hole is a score of 5;
  • on a par-4 hole is a 6;
  • on a par-5 hole is a 7.

On a par-3 hole, 3-over is a score of six, 4-over is a score of seven, etc. On a par-4 hole, 3-over is a score of 7, 4-over is a score of 8, etc. On a par-5 hole, 3-over is a score of 8, 4-over is a score of 9, and so on.

'Over Par' Also Applies to the Score for the Full Round

The term "over par" is also used to give a golfer's score for a full, 18-hole round of golf. Most regulation-length, 18-hole courses are par 70, par 71 or par 72. How many strokes higher than those numbers did it take a golfer to finish 18 holes? That's his score over-par.

For example, if a golfer finishes a par-72 golf course with a score of 90, she is 18-over par.

On a par-70 golf course, 1-over-par is 71, 5-over-par is 75 and 10-over par is 80. On a par-71 course, those over-par scores are 72, 76 and 81. On a par-72 course, 1-over is 73, 5-over is 77 and 10-over is 82.

How Leaderboards Denote Over-Par Scores

The leaderboards in use at golf courses during professional golf tournaments may denote over-par scores in one of two ways: either through the use of a plus (+) sign or through the use of a dark color (black, dark blue, dark green).

Listing a score as "+1" mean the golfer is 1-over par; +12 means 12-over par. This is a common way of giving a golfer's 18-hole score, or his or her score for a full tournament.

What about colors? Golf leaderboards typically use red to denote under par, and black, dark blue or dark green to denote over par. (Some tournaments use black for both even-par and over-par scores.)