What is a Net Score and How to Calculate It

Scorecard showing net score and handicap column
This scorecard example shows a line to write one's net score at the bottom. The column second from the right (next to the red yardages) is the handicap ranking of holes.

"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 can wait until the end of the round and calculate their 18-hole net score to determine winner and placings.

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

What's the Purpose of Net Score?

So how is net score used in golf? Its role is the same as that of the 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 will never beat a golfer who typically scores 75 in the gross score (actual strokes), and will only rarely win a hole off the better player.

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

How to Calculate Net Score

Net score for a hole: 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. But 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 "take strokes" on the holes marked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 on the handicap row.

 

Net score for the round: If your course handicap is, say, 14, and your gross score is 90, then your net score is 76 (90 minus 14). Simple. Just subtract your course handicap from your gross score to get a net score.

Our tutorial on how to mark the scorecard includes a couple examples of how to denote net scores on your scorecard.

Examples of usage: "I shot 89, but my net score was 76."

"I had a gross 5, net 4 on No. 16."

Note that golfers often shorten "net score" to simply "net." And any time you see "net" in the description of a golf tournament, it means that handicaps are in use and placements will be based on net scores.

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