What is a Par in Golf?

Par in golf is a fundamental term that represents the number of strokes an expert golfer is expected to need to complete a hole, or a round consisting of multiple holes. This standard score is based on the length and difficulty of each hole. Typically, par values range from 3 to 5 strokes per hole, with the sum of all holes constituting the par for the entire course. The concept of par is essential as it provides a benchmark for golfers to measure their performance against an established standard.

In more detail, par is calculated considering two key strokes for putting on each hole, with the remaining strokes being allotted for reaching the green. For example, on a par-4 hole, it is expected that a skilled golfer will reach the green in two strokes and then use two putts to sink the ball. This scoring system allows players of varying skill levels to compete against each other or against the course itself, as achieving under par (birdie, eagle) or over par (bogey, double bogey) carries different meanings in terms of performance.

The creation of the par system is often credited to Hugh Rotherham, who in 1891 suggested that every hole on a course should have a standard score. This idea was later developed further by the United States Golf Association (USGA) in the early 20th century.

The implementation of par as a scoring standard revolutionized golf. Prior to its introduction, golfers would primarily compete against one another, with little emphasis on the course's inherent challenges. The advent of par allowed golfers to gauge their performance in a more standardized way, turning the course itself into a universal competitor. This shift had a profound impact on how golf was played and viewed, as it introduced a more nuanced approach to the game's strategic and competitive elements. It also paved the way for the development of more complex and challenging golf courses, designed to test the skills of golfers against the par standards.

Types of Pars: Par-3, Par-4, and Par-5 Explained

In golf, players encounter three primary types of pars, each with its unique challenges and strategies:

  • Par-3: These are the shortest holes, typically achievable in one stroke to the green, followed by two putts. They emphasize precision and accuracy over distance.

  • Par-4: These holes are moderately long, generally requiring a tee shot and an approach shot to reach the green. The remaining two strokes are usually putts. This type of par demands a balanced skill set, combining distance and precision.

  • Par-5: The longest holes in golf, Par-5s offer chances for birdies (one stroke under par) or eagles (two strokes under par). Golfers face strategic choices on these holes: either to take risks for fewer strokes, potentially facing hazards, or to play conservatively.

The specific par assigned to each hole significantly influences course design and the overall strategy of the game, adding to its diverse and dynamic nature.

Types of Pars: Par-3, Par-4, and Par-5 Explained

Calculating Par for a Golf Course

To understand what is a par in golf for an entire course, it is important to know how par is calculated for each hole. The par for each hole is determined based on its length and the obstacles present, such as water hazards, sand traps, and the layout of the green. Here are some key factors considered in calculating par:

  • Distance: The length of the hole from the tee to the green is the primary factor. Generally, holes up to 250 yards are par-3, those between 251 and 470 yards are par-4, and those over 470 yards are par-5.
  • Hazards: The presence of hazards like water, sand, or trees can influence the par rating of a hole.
  • Green Complexity: The design and slope of the green also play a role. Complex greens can add to the challenge, potentially affecting the par.
  • Elevation Changes: Significant changes in elevation between the tee and green can impact the number of strokes it takes to complete the hole.

For a standard 18-hole golf course, the total par is the sum of the par for each individual hole. This total par provides a benchmark for golfers to measure their performance, with scores expressed as under par (better than expected), over par (worse than expected), or even par (as expected).

The Role of Par in Tournament Play

The concept of par plays a crucial role in tournament play in golf. It serves as a universal standard that enables players to assess their performance relative to the course and to other competitors. In tournaments, scoring is often presented in relation to par, with terms like 'under par,' 'over par,' or 'even par' being commonly used. This scoring system allows for easy comparison of results among a field of players, regardless of the varying difficulties of different courses. For instance, being two strokes under par (a score of -2) universally signifies a performance that is two strokes better than the expected standard.

Moreover, understanding what is a par in golf is crucial for players in strategizing their play during tournaments. Decisions on each hole are influenced by the player's current score in relation to par. For example, a player trailing by a few strokes might take more risks to achieve birdies or eagles (scores under par) to catch up. Conversely, a player leading the tournament might adopt a more conservative strategy, aiming to make pars to maintain their lead. Thus, par not only serves as a benchmark for scoring but also deeply influences the tactical aspects of tournament play.

Famous Golf Courses and Their Pars

Golf courses are renowned not only for their scenic beauty and historical significance but also for how their pars shape the challenges they present. Let's delve into a few examples:

  • Augusta National Golf Club: This par-72 course is the celebrated venue for the Masters Tournament. Its notable feature is the Amen Corner, a series of holes renowned for their difficulty and significant impact on the tournament's outcomes. Augusta's par configuration demands a blend of skill, strategy, and mental fortitude.

  • The Old Course at St. Andrews: Also a par-72 course, St. Andrews is honored as the "Home of Golf." It stands out for its traditional links-style layout, which emphasizes strategic play and precise shot placement. The course's design and par reflect a deep respect for the game's historical roots.

The par of a course is more than just a number; it embodies the course's design philosophy and the type of gameplay it fosters. Higher par courses, with more par-5 holes, tend to encourage a more aggressive style of play, offering ample opportunities for scoring birdies and eagles. On the other hand, courses with a lower par often demand greater precision and strategic thinking, especially evident in their par-3 holes.

Strategies for Achieving Par

Developing effective strategies for achieving par is essential for success in golf. A key aspect of these strategies involves understanding the layout and challenges of each hole and adjusting one's approach accordingly. For golfers, achieving or beating par requires a blend of technical skill, mental preparation, and course management. For instance, on a par-3 hole, the emphasis is often on precision with the tee shot, aiming to land the ball on the green for a chance at a one-putt par. On longer par-4 or par-5 holes, the strategy may involve careful positioning of the tee shot to avoid hazards, followed by an accurate approach shot to set up a two-putt par.

Another important strategy is understanding one's own strengths and weaknesses. A golfer with a strong long game might be more aggressive on par-5 holes, trying for an eagle or birdie, while a golfer with a strong short game might focus on par-3 holes and saving par on tougher holes. Additionally, mental fortitude plays a significant role in consistently achieving par. Golfers must maintain focus and composure, especially after a bad shot or hole, to avoid letting mistakes compound and negatively impact their score. Therefore, the quest to understand what is a par in golf extends beyond the numerical value; it encompasses a comprehensive approach combining physical skill, mental toughness, and strategic thinking.

Strategies for Achieving Par

Par vs. Birdie vs. Eagle: Golf Scoring Terminology

In golf, the scoring terms 'par,' 'birdie,' and 'eagle' are integral to understanding how players perform in relation to the expected standard of each hole. Here's a breakdown of what each term signifies:

  • Par: This is the expected number of strokes an expert golfer should take to complete a hole. Achieving par means the golfer has met the standard expected performance.
  • Birdie: Scoring a birdie means completing a hole in one stroke fewer than par. For example, finishing a par-4 hole in 3 strokes is a birdie. It signifies better-than-expected performance on a hole.
  • Eagle: An eagle is achieved when a golfer completes a hole in two strokes fewer than par. This is a significant accomplishment, indicating a performance well above the expected level. For example, scoring an eagle on a par-5 hole requires finishing it in just 3 strokes.

Par in Amateur vs. Professional Golf

The concept of par holds different implications in amateur and professional golf, reflecting the varying levels of skill and experience in these two realms. Understanding what is a par in golf is crucial for both amateurs and professionals, but the strategies and expectations can differ significantly.

For amateur golfers:

  • Skill Level Variation: Amateur golfers have a wider range of skill levels, and achieving par can be a significant accomplishment for many. Par serves as a motivational benchmark, encouraging amateurs to improve their skills and strategy.
  • Course Selection: Amateurs often play on a variety of courses with different levels of difficulty. The par for these courses can greatly influence their experience and enjoyment of the game, with more challenging pars offering a test of skill and easier pars providing a confidence boost.

In contrast, for professional golfers:

  • Expectation of Performance: Professionals are expected to consistently score at or under par. Their training and experience equip them to meet the challenges of even the toughest courses.
  • Impact on Career: Consistently achieving or beating par can have significant implications for a professional's ranking, earnings, and career progression. High-stakes tournaments often hinge on the ability to navigate courses strategically to maximize scoring opportunities relative to par.


In conclusion, the concept of par is fundamental to the game of golf, providing a standard against which golfers of all levels measure their performance. What is a par in golf encompasses more than a simple numerical value; it represents a blend of strategy, skill, and mental fortitude. Par sets the stage for the drama of golf, from the individual battles of amateurs striving to improve their game to the professional golfer navigating high-pressure tournament situations.