A Net Score in Golf and How to Calculate It

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"Net score" refers to a golfer's score after handicap strokes have been deducted. Put more technically, the net score is a player's gross score (the actual number of strokes played) minus the strokes his or her course handicap allows to be deducted during the course of the round.

In match play, net scores are calculated on a per-hole basis to determine the winner of the hole. In stroke play, golfers wait until the end of the round to calculate their 18-hole net score to determine the winner and placings.

Many golf associations and leagues that stage tournaments name both a gross score winner and a net score winner.

What's the Purpose of Net Score?

The role of net score in golf is the same as that of the USGA Handicap System as a whole: To even the playing field, allowing golfers of widely varying talent levels to compete against one another on equal footing.

A golfer who typically scores 110 probably will never beat a golfer who typically scores 75 using gross scores (actual strokes), and will only rarely win a hole off the better player in match play.

But use handicaps—use net score, in other words, rather than gross score—and those two golfers can go head-to-head, and the weaker golfer actually stands a chance.

How to Calculate Net Score

Net score for a hole (match play): Let's say your course handicap is 3. That means you get to reduce your gross score by one stroke on each of three holes. To determine which three holes, look at the handicap row of the scorecard and find the holes designated 1, 2, and 3. Those are the holes where you get to apply strokes, meaning reduce your gross score by 1 to produce a net score. If your course handicap is 7, then you get to take one stroke off your score on the holes marked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 on the handicap row

In match play, the handicap is determined by the difference between the two players' handicaps. So, for example, if the golfers' handicaps are 10 and 19, the 19-handicapper would get 9 handicap strokes (19 minus 10), and the 10-handicapper would take no strokes.

If the difference is more than 18 strokes—for example, a 5-handicapper playing a 25-handicapper—the higher handicapper would get more than 1 stroke per hole. In the example, the 25-handicapper would get 20 strokes (25 minus 5), with the extra 2 strokes falling on the holes marked as the 1 and 2 handicap holes.

Net score for the round (stroke play): You simply subtract your handicap from your total gross score. If your course handicap is, say, 14, and your gross score is 90, then your net score is 76 (90 minus 14).

Marking Your Scorecard

When writing your score on the scorecard, you post the actual number of shots per hole. In stroke play, you tally your score and mark it in the appropriate box. There is a box next to that box for your handicap and then another box for your net score.

In match play, you mark your gross score and then can use another line on the scorecard to indicate your net score. Many avid golfers calculate the net score in their heads and simply mark the result of the match for each hole—a win, a loss, or a tie. The overall winner is the golfer who wins the most holes.