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Net vs Gross Golf Scores | What’s the Difference and How it Works

How do you judge who had a better day on the golf course? By score. A golfer that shoots 75 performed better than the golfer who shot 90. However, it could have been one golfer’s best day and the others worst. But who played better?

Being better at golf is determined by gross golf score. Playing better is decided by net golf score. Net golf score adjusts for your skill level and puts all golfers on an equal playing field (or course, in this case.)

To paint a complete picture, you need to know about course rating and handicap. We could go deep down a rabbit hole breaking each of these down, but we won’t. To understand net vs gross golf score, you only need the basics.

Table of Contents

net vs gross golf score

Course Rating

Distance, water hazards, trees, sand traps, and more all go into determining course rating. The more difficult the course, the higher the course rating and lower the expectations for scoring.

Additionally, each set of tees has their own course rating. After all, it wouldn’t be fair to judge two players equally when one tees off 30 yards ahead on each hole.

Handicap

When you hear someone ask another what their handicap is, it’s the same as asking “how good are you?”. 

A golfer’s handicap is calculated based on the results of their previous rounds. Shoot lower scores and your handicap goes down. Shoot the same score, but on a more difficult course, your handicap goes down. Shoot higher…well, you get the picture.

Course Handicap

When you run your handicap and the course rating through a formula (use an online calculator), you are left with your course handicap.

If your course handicap is 15, you are expected to shoot 15 over par. That means you will subtract 15 strokes from your score to get your net score. Let’s break this down assuming that par is 72.

  • If your score is 87, you shot net 72 (even).
  • If your score is 85, you shot net 70 (2 under par).
  • If your score is 89, you shot net 74 (2 over par).

Comparing yourself to other golfers

When you’re competing against a golfer of a different skill level, you can still play head-to-head using your course handicap and net score. 

If your opponent’s course handicap is 20 and yours is 15, you tie if they shoot 5 strokes worse than you. Any more and you win. Any less and they win.

Scoring net vs gross golf score in match play

The sample above relied on calculating the total number of strokes in a round. That is called medal play. 

However, in most cases one-one-one contests use net scoring and match play. This means each hole counts for one point. Win more holes and you win. Total score doesn’t matter.

So how do handicap strokes get divvied out in this format? Well, it comes back to course rating. Within this system, each hole is ranked most to least difficult. 

Players are expected to struggle more on difficult holes than they are easy ones. And as such, any skill gap is more noticeable. If your course handicap is 5 strokes lower than your opponent, you will give them one shot on each of the five most difficult rated holes.

  • If you make a 4 and they make a 5 on a hole you’re “giving them a stroke”, it’s a tie.
  • If you both make 5 on that same hole, their net score is 4 and they have won the hole.

On any hole where a stroke is not being given, your score is just that, your score. Whoever has a lower number wins the hole.

How are tournaments played?

At the professional level, all tournaments use gross scoring. At the amateur level, it is common for tournaments to use gross or net scoring. 

In many amateur tournaments, you’ll even see a gross and net winner. If you survey a group of golfers what they prefer of net vs gross golf score, there is a disconnect. Better players usually prefer gross and less skilled players net.

The reason professional tournaments are played gross is that they want their winner to be the best of the best. No adjustments, no giving everyone a fair shot. High level amateur events use this same mindset.

golf tournament

Tournaments at your local course are a bit different. The idea behind many of these is for a big field to have a lot of fun in a relaxed, but competitive environment. Everyone deserves a chance to fight for first place and that’s the exact purpose of net scoring. 

Frankly, there’s just not enough good players to have quality gross tournaments in most places. The same two or three would win every tournament. That might be fun for them, but where’s the camaraderie and spirit of getting more people involved?

A note to people who always shoot far from net par

Net scoring is designed to level the playing field, not give a competitive advantage to any one player. If you consistently shoot several strokes below net even, your handicap is likely off.

The same goes for people on the other side of the spectrum. A “vanity handicap” is a handicap too low for the player. This almost always means shooting several above net par come tournament time or a round with other golfers.

If you find yourself reading any part of this section and thinking to yourself it sounds like you, there’s a solution. Be sure to enter all of your scores without any fudging of the card. 

This means no mulligans, OB is played from the spot of your previous shot, and no preferred lies (fluffing it up). Follow the same set of rules you’ll play in tournaments and your handicap will level off and give you the chance to compete fairly.

Net vs gross golf score as a whole

There is one way to keep score. There are two ways to judge a round.

Keeping score means recording every single shot you take throughout a round. Those same numbers are judged two different ways. 

Gross and net. The major difference is that net scoring makes it possible to have fun, lighthearted, and sometimes not as lighthearted competition with others.

Golf has the handicap system in place to give everyone a chance to compare yourself to others using net scores. Your handicap follows your level improvement without any gaps. After all, what golfer doesn’t like  being able to track it as their scores go down and skills go up?

If you’re new to golf check out our article on golf scoring terms.

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AUTHOR
Bobby Heckeroth
Bobby is the founder of FriendlyGolfer.com and is of course an avid golfer. He created the site after building a golf simulator in his garage and developing a passion for the technology that’s helped his game.

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