In a golf tournament the winner is the player who completes the tournament while taking the fewest strokes. It doesn't matter whether he shoots a five under or a five over, as long as he has taken fewer strokes than any other player.

So, why do the scorers bother comparing any golfer's score to the average score on the course? The only reason I can think of would be for the purpose of comparing golfers on different courses, but as far as I know, this isn't done.

  • What's the point of any statistic in any sport other than "who won?"
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 18:13

3 Answers 3


According to the USGA:

"Par" is the score that a scratch golfer would be expected to make for a typical hole. Par means expert play under ordinary conditions, allowing two strokes on the putting green. Par is not a significant factor in either the USGA Handicap System or USGA Course Rating System. (See Section 16.)

Thus, par is not the average score of the course, but rather what a golfer with a 0 handicap would be expected to achieve on the hole/course/tournament. Furthermore, the USGA defines yardages to use for computing par on a hole, which are to be adhered to barring unique features of a hole increasing the number of shots a scratch player would expect to need to reach the green.

Comparing a golfer's score against par allows you to quickly access how well/poorly a player is preforming against that "shots needed to reach the green and two puts" benchmark.


It's worth mentioning that the Par for the course is what's used to work out your handicap adjustments at an amateur level.

E.g. If the par for the course is 72 and I have a hcap of 10 and I shoot 80, I'm net 70 and therefore 2 under my handicap. This would result in a handicap cut.

If I shoot 88, I'm net 78 and 6 over par and would get a handicap increase.

In a professional context, comparing scores to par for the overall course will give you an idea of how easy the course is playing. If people are shooting low 60's then the course is generally playing easy and if they are shooting mid 70's then it is likely playing hard.

In both amateur and professional situations comparing vs par for each hole is useful for a number of reasons such as.

  • Competitions can work out which holes have the lowest score and highest score vs par, meaning they can rank the holes for difficulty across all competitors vs a common base level.

  • Exceptional scores can be noted, a 2 on a par 4 is exceptional, whereas a 2 on a par 3 is usually not as exceptional. (This also works the other way, where in an amateur context exceptionally high scores may be discarded to avoid an increase if its felt that was a one off.)

  • In stableford competitions par can be used to work out when you no longer score, meaning that things can be sped up. If my handicap doesn't allow me a shot on a par 3 and I've already taken 5 shots then there isn't any point me taking a 6th from a scoring perspective.


While it's true the number of total stroke is what really matters, showing a score relative to par makes it easier to compare players who are on different parts of the course with each other. This was

What is easier to understand:

  • Tiger is -3 through 16
  • Phil is -2 through 8


  • Tiger has 261 shots through 16
  • Phil has 229 shots through 8

The over/under par was invented by a guy named Frank Chirkinian, who was a golf TV producer.

Read a little history about it here:


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.