Par for the Course

handshakeIn the beginning, competitive golf always took the form of match play, with substantial crowds being drawn to the links courses of Britain to watch players compete in big-money matches. The game that is now, arguably, the most popular form of golf, and the one that dominates the professional and elite amateur calendar, is individual stroke play. However, there are many other forms of stroke play, not all of which are contained in the Rules of Golf, e.g. greensomes.

According to Rule 32-1, bogey, par and Stableford competitions are forms of stroke play in which play is against a fixed score at each hole. Therefore, the Rules for stroke play apply, but with some subtle differences.

Bogey and Par Competitions

The first bogey competitions were played at Coventry Golf Club, England in 1891. A popular music-hall song of the time referred to “the bogey man”, and so the term was adopted as the name of the mythical golfer, Colonel Bogey, a player of high amateur standard who was held to play every hole of a given course in, what was termed at the time, the “ground score”, which is now referred to as “fixed score” in the Rules.

The meaning of the term “bogey” has changed over the years, but it was originally the ideal target score that a good amateur golfer should achieve on a given course, in the same way that par became associated with the target score for professionals. It is now most commonly used to denote a score of one stroke over par, however, many golf courses to this day have separate bogey scores for their holes – some may be par, some may be one over par.

Around the 1890s, the concept of par competitions developed. Originally, like bogey, it also meant the ideal target score and, for a while, the two terms were interchangeable until par became the standard term. The R&A first adopted the term “Bogey or Par Competitions” into its Rule book in 1950.

Rules Essentials:

  • Forms of stroke play in which play is against a fixed score at each hole.
  • The scoring for bogey and par competitions is as per match play.
  • The competitor with the lowest net score takes the honour at the next teeing ground.
  • The marker is responsible for marking only the gross number of strokes for each hole where the competitor makes a net score equal to or less than the fixed score.
  • The Committee is responsible for applying the handicap recorded on the score card and determining the result of each hole and the overall result.
  • The winner is the competitor who is most successful in the total number of holes won against the fixed score (either bogey or par). In effect, the competitor’s opponent is the course.


Click here to view the scorecard from Elie Golf Club

For example, at the 1st hole at Elie, if a competitor scores 4, in a bogey competition he would win the hole (as the bogey score at the 1st hole is 5) and he would halve the hole in the par competition.

scorecardStableford Competitions

The Stableford format of play was invented in 1931 by Dr Frank Stableford although it was not until 16 May 1932 that it was first played at Wallasey Golf Club, near Liverpool. Dr Stableford’s desire was to provide more fun for golfers playing in tough conditions, and to avoid the situation where players tear up their score cards after one bad hole or near the start of their rounds. The beauty of the Stableford form of play is that you can be aggressive and you can afford to have a terrible hole or two, but still remain in the competition.

In a Stableford competition, scoring is made by points; points being awarded in relation to a fixed score as follows:




More than one over fixed score, or no score returned - 0 points
One over fixed score - 1 point
Fixed score - 2 points
One under fixed score - 3 points
Two under fixed score - 4 points
Three under fixed score - 5 points
Four under fixed score - 6 points

The fixed score is commonly taken to be par.

Rules Essentials:

  • A form of stroke play in which play is against a fixed score at each hole.
  • The marker is responsible for marking only the gross number of strokes at each hole where the competitor’s net score earns one or more points.
  • The competitor with the lowest net score takes the honour at the next teeing ground in a Stableford competition.
  • The Committee is responsible for applying the handicap recorded on the score card and determining the result of each hole and the overall points total.
  • The winner is the competitor with the highest number of points.

For example, at a par 4, if a player scores 5, he would receive one point. If he was receiving a stroke at the hole, he would have a net 4 and receive 2 points.

So, if you are fed up with an endless diet individual stroke play competitions, why not give bogey, par or Stableford competitions a try?