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, 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, 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.

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, 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.

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. 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. If you do - or if you're just curious, here you go:

Just Remember ...

The actual number of strokes you play during a round of golf (plus any penalty strokes) is your "gross score." Actual score = gross score.

  • Usage examples: "My gross score was 92." "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."