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How Many Strokes Is Too Many On A Hole?

We’ve all been there before. Maybe conditions were poor, there was someone staring at you and making you nervous, or it just wasn’t your day on the green. We’ve all had that “blow-up” experience, where we slice, hook and duff our way to a triple bogey. Even though meltdowns like this happen to everyone, that doesn’t make the experience any easier. Golf is certainly known as a fun and addictive sport — but an easy sport? A welcoming sport? Not always.

In fact, many relative newcomers find that although the mechanics of the game itself are fairly easy to understand, the sometimes exclusive or intimidating atmosphere of golf and country club culture can be daunting. As with most things in life, however, a little knowledge can go a long way. While there isn’t one simple answer to the question of how many strokes per hole is appropriate, understanding the reasoning behind a few common scenarios will help you avoid embarrassment when deciding when to pick up your ball and move on.

Calculating handicap

The USGA Handicap system, designed by the U.S. Golf Association, has a goal of equalizing the playing field for golfers of variable skill and experience. Calculating your handicap is a way of assigning a numerical value to your ability, and then making allowances for less accomplished players. This way, you can have a foursome group of players with drastically different skill levels, who still get to play an exciting game together.

The handicap system is used mostly during competitive play (versus a weekend round with your friends), so you don’t necessarily need to follow these rules during a casual game. But if you’re making use of handicap scoring then it’s important to keep things accurate by limiting the amount of strokes you take to finish a hole.

Here are the official acceptable stroke limits for handicap play: If your course handicap is below nine (which is really, really good, by the way), then you’re limited to taking a double bogey. If your handicap is between 10 and 19, you can take up to seven strokes, eight if you’re between 20 and 29, nine if you’re between 30 and 39, and the maximum strokes you can enter per hole is 10. Any more trouble than that and rules of “equitable stroke control” dictate that you should pick up your ball and move on.

House rules

Many golf courses and country clubs have either a posted set, or an unspoken set of rules for polite play on their grounds. Some clubs have maximum stroke rules they’ll enforce only when the course is particularly busy.

Many official tours and tournaments have “pace-of-play” rules, stating that you must keep up a certain speed, but not a specific number of strokes. The most important thing to remember is that maintaining good manners in golf means keeping an appropriate pace of gameplay. This means keeping up with the group ahead of you and not causing the group behind you to wait unnecessarily. If you’ve got those basic niceties covered, many courses don’t mind how many strokes it takes you to complete the hole, especially if they aren’t very crowded.

It’s all about timing — if you’re a speed demon and can take 11 strokes in the same time most people could only take five, then go for it. But common sense says if you’re taking 11 super fast strokes, you would likely be better served by taking five slow, careful ones.

The bottom line

The official rules of golf do not dictate a maximum number of strokes allowed per hole, unless you’re planning to enter your score into your handicap calculation. If you’d like to follow the most stringent conventions, then pick up your ball after a double bogey, which is what a golfer with the lowest handicap would do. However, golf is a congenial and social game, meaning that as long as you keep up an appropriate pace and aren’t bothering the golfers around you, you really may take as many strokes as you need to complete a hole.

Finally, a good rule of thumb for maintaining good manners on the course is to simply ask those around you if you’re unsure. It’s common to find regulars on any course who would love to rattle off their opinions on gameplay.

— Cammy Pedroja

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