In its physical form, the scorecard is a rigid piece of paper that a golfer uses to keep track of the number of strokes taken on each hole, among other things. The number of strokes allowed in order to make par on each hole is indicated, as well as the difficulty ranking of each hole. Additionally, the lengths of the available tees are also displayed, as well as the total yardage for each of those sets of tees. Finally, a number for course rating as well as for slope is awarded to each tee that help give an indication of the course’s relative difficulty.
The first row of the scorecard is used to display the title of the columns on which the rest of the information will be clearly found. And those titles take the form of numbers corresponding to the holes that make the golf course, usually numbering 18.
After the first nine columns representing the first nine holes are displayed and before the next nine are proposed, a break usually appears which will let the golfer mark down the total number of strokes required by each golfer to that point. Traditionally that column will be titled ‘out’ or ‘front’, as opposed to the one following the next 9 holes which will be labelled ‘in’ or ‘back’. While the front and back determinations are obvious, the out and in are less so and date back to when golf courses were laid out in the typical links layout. Indeed, in a traditional links course, the first nine holes line the coast, one after the other and in the process have the golfer travel outwards from the clubhouse. Then, after the initial nine holes are completed, the golfer will turn back and start playing holes inward towards the clubhouse.
At the end of the table, a column will assist golfers in writing down the total number of strokes needed to complete the round. The total par number will be provided, allowing the golfer to quickly determine how far off he was from the objective.
Distances will be displayed next, offering a number in yards for each of the holes and consisting of the distances between the usual location of the tee box and the middle of the green, or in other words, the length of a hole. These distances will be presented in a group of rows, one row for each of the different sets of tees. Indeed, because tees are purposely positioned at different locations, the lengths of the holes will vary depending on which set of tee a golfer will be using that day. For example, the ladies’ tee box will usually be located much nearer to the green than the back – or championship – tees.
A row further down will provide numbers indicating how many strokes are deemed standard for each of the holes. These numbers correspond to the par numbers and represent what golfers should strive to match, if not best. Note that there is usually a separate row that is relevant to those using the ladies tees, giving a different set of par numbers. Indeed, depending on where the ladies tee box is located in relation to the others, a long par-4 from a men’s tee may become a par-5 for ladies if the tee boxes are located very close to one another.
A row further down still will assign a difficulty rating to each of the holes, in relation to all of the others. For a traditional eighteen hole course, each hole will be assigned one of the numbers between 1 and 18. The hole awarded the handicap 1 number will be considered the toughest of the course. Likewise, the one assigned the number 18 will be considered the easiest of the course. For example, a hole designated handicap 5 will be judged to be more difficult than the one awarded number 6, and so on.
In addition to giving an indication of relative difficulty, the handicap row is crucial in matches that are played using the Net format, in contrast to the Gross format. Indeed, the Net format tries to put golfers on an equal footing among each others by giving free strokes to the less skilled ones. For example, in a match pitting a golfer with a handicap of 5 and one with a handicap of 10, the difference is established at 5 (10 – 5 = 5). The match will be played by giving the worse golfer 5 extra strokes (free strokes) during the round. Specifically, he will be awarded 1 extra stroke for each of the 5 most difficult holes, those numbering 1 through 5 in the handicap row.
The score rows will be left blank and will provide the golfer space to write down the number of strokes taken for each of the holes, as well as the names of the golfers. Additionally, the total number of empty rows will usually number 4, allowing one golfer to be able to mark down the stroke information for each member of his foursome.
Also found on a scorecard will be room for the scorer to write down his name, as well as the person that will attest the score, both of which are only used in very serious and official competitions and tournaments. Finally, local rules can also be listed which inform golfers if and how a particular course is meant to be played in relation (or in contrast) to the official rules.