What Is A Stroke In Golf?

If you aspire to become a scratch golfer one day, then it’s important to know that it won’t just happen overnight.

Buying the best starter golf clubs will help a great deal, no doubt about that. But what has also proven to be effective for learning and/or advancing golfing skills is golf knowledge!

Investing in a golf simulator can also be a game-changer for your golf game. It can help you improve your swing, decrease your scores, and sharpen your game. It’s also a good way to stay in shape during the off-season and when you’re on the road. You will have to invest some money in it, but it’s worth it.

This brings me to the topic of understanding the true meaning and purpose of some of the most commonly used golf terms. With that in mind, what is a stroke in golf?

Stroke or stroke index in the game of golf is often misunderstood, whereas others don’t even know what it exactly implies. So allow me to tell you all about the stroke play meaning, how stroke actually works, and how it’s allocated.

“Stroke” Definition Found In the Golf Rules Book

What is the “official” meaning of stroke in golf? Golf governing bodies, R&A and USGA, explain the term “stroke” in the most straightforward manner.

In the simplest words, a stroke refers to the golf club’s forward movement for striking at the ball and moving it.

Now, this means that if you deliberately check your downswing before that clubhead reaches the golf ball, a stroke shall not be made.

But that used to be the official definition of “stroke” in the rule book of golf until 2018. In 2019, these rules were changed and a new definition of stroke came about.

“The forward movement of your club made to strike the ball.”

Based on that, it’s only common to say that you’re ‘playing a ball’ when hitting a stroke.

Different Types of Strokes In Golf

Consider strokes as scoring units in your round of golf; makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, you play strokes for advancing your game, hence these strokes matter. And when you count the strokes in this way, they work as scoring units. They actually contribute to your scoring based on the golf format or pattern you’re playing.

Stroke Play

Stroke play meaning is as clear as a bright sunny day!

If your full golf round (of 18 holes typically) consists of the least no. of strokes compared to those made by your golfing buddies or partners, then you’re the winner in stroke play.


Stroke play vs stableford – here’s the difference!

How many strokes you use on your every hole converts into earned points. By that logic, the less the no. of strokes hit, the higher your points. And the golfer who gains the highest no. of points once the round of golf is completed is the winner.

Match Play

Match play refers to how many strokes are used for any one particular hole. So if you win the majority of holes, then you’re the match winner.

Understanding ‘Stroke Index’ In Golf

First of all, every hole on a golf course has a stroke index number – from 1 to 18 (for an 18-hole course of course). Now, each hole here is listed accordingly on that scorecard, either as stroke index (SI) or handicap (HCP).

Stroke index numbers pave the way for handicap-based match play. Meaning when the stroke play is the same between golfers that don’t have the same handicap, you calculate every player’s handicap by taking the gross score into consideration (gross score minus the player’s handicap). This should give you the overall score. Thus, the golfer who has the least net score becomes the winner.

But when is stroke index really needed? When, during a competition of winning individual holes i.e. in match play, stroke index is needed for the holes on which the handicap is supposed to be applied. For example, if you get 4 shots in your round of golf, then the stroke index ought to be applied on 4, 3, 2, and 1 holes.

The use and calculation of stroke index are slightly more complicated than you think, so just remember that stroke index suggests how difficult to play the holes are. With SI 8 being the easiest and SI 1 the hardest!

Your Golf Swing Isn’t A Stroke When:

– You complete your entire golf swing sequence but then purposely or intentionally miss the ball.

– You stop your swing prior to your golf club making contact with the ball.

On the other hand, misses and whiffs can also be counted as strokes, all because of the new, more recent ‘stroke’ definition released on the 1st of Jan, in the year 2019. But then also bear in mind the expanded definition that doesn’t count the golf club’s forward motion as a stroke.

Basically, based on the Full Rules, the conditions that don’t count as strokes are as follows…

  • When, during your downswing, you decide against striking the golf ball. Thus, you deliberately stop that clubhead, so it doesn’t make contact with the ball. Either that or you cannot stop the clubhead and deliberately miss the golf ball.
  • When you hit the ball unintentionally during a practice golf swing or when intentionally hitting a stroke.

What Other Uses Are There of a ‘Stroke’ In Golf?

The term ‘stroke’ is as commonly used as some other terms in golf such as bunker shots, cut shots, push shots, fades, birdie, eagle, and so on. Likewise, any single term can be used for multiple situations or conditions. As for the golf term ‘stroke’, this is synonymous with:

Penalty Stroke

Additional strokes included in your score as the outcome of when you happen to violate the official golf rules.

Handicap Stroke

Strokes deducted from your score because of circumstances that USGA (or any other governing body of golf) covers with regards to the Handicap System.

Other less common terms interchangeable with “stroke” include obstacle stroke value and equitable stroke control (also a part of the USGA Handicap System).

What’s the Difference Between Stroke and Match Play?

Ask any professional player or even recreational golfer and they’ll tell you how important is the format of stroke play as well as match play. In the case of the former, you can still count the strokes that are needed for completing each hole. As for the latter i.e. match play, the total no. of strokes needed or used in the whole round of golf doesn’t necessarily matter.

The condition of match play involves the comparison between your and your opponent’s scores on individual holes. Who wins the hole? The player with the least no. of strokes for that particular hole. And who wins the match? The one that wins the largest number of holes!

How Many Strokes In Golf Are Allowed?

According to the official, latest rules of golf, there’s no stroke limit. Meaning a player can make as many strokes on every hole during his/her round of golf.

What If You Swing and Miss, Does It Count As A Penalty Stroke?

Based on the official definition, a stroke is the golf club’s forward movement to make contact with the ball, correct? Now, whether you rip the golf ball down that fairway or you swing and miss, it doesn’t matter because you’ve already started your downswing motion with your club intending to hit the ball. Thus, that counts as a stroke!

Does A Drop Count As A Stroke?

When the golf ball flies into unplayable lie or ends up out-of-bounds, meaning if it drops, you do earn a penalty stroke.

How to Count Stroke Play In Golf?

You keep stroke play score by counting every stroke made on every hole till the golf ball falls into the cups. These strokes are noted down on your scorecard.

So, by the end of your golf round, you can add up all the strokes of all the holes. And that should give you your gross stroke value.

How Many Strokes Is A 20-Handicap Golfer?

The holes that are labeled 1 to 15 on a golf scorecard are the most difficult ones for a high handicapper. In that context, a 20-handicap golfer gets one stroke.

A 20-handicap can also record 8 on hole number 5. This includes double bogey plus 2 handicap strokes.

What Is Strike In Golf Scoring: Key Takeaway!

Just remember the simple, clear-cut definition of a stroke – the forward motion or movement of the golf club carried out for striking the ball.

How many strokes in golf automatically suggests that strokes are scoring units. Every stroke you play as well as your penalty strokes, acquired as a result of violating some rules, add up and give you your final golf score.

Photo of author

Jim Furyk

One of the PGA TOUR’s most recognizable and talented golfers, Jim Furyk was born on May 12, 1970 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It seems like Furyk was born to play golf; his father Mike as an assistant pro at Edgmont Country club, and young Jim was raised into the game. Jim Furyk’s only golf instruction came from his father; and many note that might account for his unusual—yet effective—swing. In addition to Edgmont Country Club, Mike Furyk also served as head pro at Uniontown Country Club.

Leave a Comment