What Is the Meaning of 'Par'?

A Definition of the Golf Term With Scoring Examples

The 18th hole yardage sign for the 2013 US Open at Merion Golf Club
The hole this sign describes is a par-4. That means an expert golfer is expected to need four strokes to play it. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

In golf, "par" is the number of strokes an expert golfer is expected to need to complete an individual hole, or to complete all the holes on a golf course. Par is the standard to which golfers aspire.

  • Usage Examples: "This hole is a par-4." "The par for this golf course is 71." "I'm 3-over par so far in my round." "If I par each of the last three holes, I'll shoot 75."

The Par of an Individual Hole

Think of any hole on a golf course.

Let's say the 13th hole at Augusta National Golf Club. It's a par-5 hole. What does that mean? In this case, it means that five is the number of strokes an expert golfer is expected to need to finish play of that hole.

The value assigned to represent par for an individual hole is always comprised of two putts plus the number of strokes it should take an expert golfer to reach the green. Holes typically are listed as par-3, par-4 or par-5, although par-6 is also occasionally encountered. A par-4 hole is going to be longer than a par-3 hole, and a par-5 longer than a par-4 (with rare exceptions).

  • On a par-3 hole, an expert golfer is expected to need only one stroke to reach the green, followed by two putts, for three strokes total.
  • On a par-4, he should need two strokes to reach the green, followed by two putts, for four strokes total.
  • On a par-5, she is expected to reach the green in three strokes, followed by two putts, for five strokes total.

    There aren't official rules about how long a hole has to be to be called a par 3, 4 or 5, but governing bodies have published guidelines for the length of holes and par ratings.

    The Par of a Golf Course

    For 18 holes of golf, the par is the total number of strokes an expert golfer is expected to require to complete the course.

    Most full-size golf courses range from pars of 69 to 74, with par-70, par-71 and par-72 courses most common.

    Add up the par of each hole on a golf course to get the par for the course as a whole. (A standard, regulation golf course might have, for example, 10 par-4 holes, four par-3 holes and four par-5 holes, for a total par of 72.)

    Scoring in Relation to Par (1-Under Par, Etc.)

    "Par" is also used to describe a golfer's scoring performance on an individual hole or for a complete round of golf. If you complete a par-4 hole having used four strokes, then you are said to have "parred the hole." This is also referred to as being "even-par" or "level par."

    If you take five strokes to play a par-4 hole, then you are 1-over par for that hole; if you take three strokes on a par-4, you are 1-under par on that hole.

    Same applies to 18-hole scores: If the golf course's par is 72, and you shoot 85, you are 13-over par; if you shoot 68, you are 4-under par.

    'Par' Before Golf

    "Par"—meaning (in various usages) equal, a mean average, a standard level, or ordinary—was around for centuries before it became a golf word.