What is Stroke Play in Golf? Rules & How To Play

By Chris Moore •  Updated on 03/10/22

Stroke play is the most common way for golfers to keep score, used in professional tournaments and casually around the world.

When scoring with stroke play, a golfer counts how many shots, or strokes, it takes for them to complete the hole, then adds the total amount at the end of the round for your score.

After all of the golfers tally their scores, the golfer with the least amount of strokes is the winner.

How does the USGA define stroke play?

As stated in Rule 3.1 of the USGA rules of golf, stroke play is when all players compete with one another based on the total score – that is, adding up each player’s total number of strokes (including strokes made and penalty strokes) on each hole in all rounds.

And if you’re in a handicap competition, the golfer with the lowest net score for the round is the winner.

Are there any other names for stroke play?

Another term for stroke play is medal play, and they mean the same thing.

More specifically, medal play refers to the stroke-play qualifying rounds that come before some match play tournaments.

Other ways golfers can keep score

Aside from stroke play, which is by far the most common scoring format, match play is the other main format golfers will use to compete.

In match play, a golfer keeps track of how many strokes it takes to complete each hole. However, the overall number of strokes utilized throughout the course is not important.

Instead, in match play, you must compare your score on each hole to that of your opponent. If you scored less on that hole, you win the hole. If they scored less on that hole, they win the hole.

At the end of the round, the player who won the most holes is declared the winner.

Aside from match play and stroke play, the other scoring format you’ll find is Stableford.

In Stableford, you gain points for how well you do based on the following chart (via Rule 21, USGA):

More than one over fixed target score or no score returned0
One over fixed target score1
Fixed target score2
One under fixed target score3
Two under fixed target score4
Three under fixed target score5
Four under fixed target score6
Stableford Scoring Chart

After completing the round, the golfer with the most points is declared the winner.

Final thoughts

You should know everything there is to know about stroke play in golf so you can go out there and keep an accurate score for yourself.

In addition, you learned how to score using match play and stableford play in case a tournament arises with those formats!

Chris Moore

Hi, I'm Chris Moore and I'm the guy behind As an avid golfer since 2010, I decided to create this blog to share everything I've learned over the years. Whether it's golf equipment, swing tips, or anything in-between, I want to make sure you have everything you need to become a better golfer.