In golf, a “stroke” refers to any swing forward of a golf club by a golfer with the intention of striking the golf ball. Strokes are counted as part of keeping score in golf and are the means by which golfers advance the ball around the golf course. It is important to note that a swing that is voluntarily stopped prior to making contact with the ball or intentionally missing the ball is not considered a stroke. Strokes are the unit of scoring in golf, and each stroke a golfer plays, including any penalty strokes due to rules violations, contributes to their final score. The official definition of a stroke may vary slightly between golf’s governing bodies, such as the USGA and R&A, but the basic concept remains the same.

Key Takeaways:

  • A stroke in golf is any forward swing of a golf club with the intention of striking the ball.
  • Strokes are counted as part of keeping score in golf and contribute to a golfer’s final score.
  • Stopping a swing before making contact or intentionally missing the ball does not count as a stroke.
  • Penalty strokes due to rules violations are also counted as part of a golfer’s score.
  • The definition of a stroke may vary slightly between golf’s governing bodies, but the basic concept remains the same.

The Definition of a Golf Stroke

The definition of a golf stroke is the forward movement of a golf club made with the intention of striking at and moving the ball. This definition is common across various versions of the Rules of Golf. It is important to note that if a player checks their downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball, they have not made a stroke. However, if a player completes their swing but intentionally misses the ball, it still counts as a stroke. The new rules, which came into effect in 2019, define a stroke as the forward movement of the club made to strike the ball.

Understanding the definition of a golf stroke is essential for properly scoring and playing golf. It establishes the basic unit of measurement for a golfer’s performance on the course. Whether it’s a full swing with the intention of hitting the ball directly or a swing that intentionally misses the ball, both actions are considered strokes. By following the rules and understanding the terminology associated with golf strokes, players can navigate the game more effectively and improve their overall performance.

Counting Strokes and Scoring in Golf

Strokes are counted in golf to determine a golfer’s score. Understanding how strokes and scoring work is essential for navigating the game effectively. Let’s explore the different formats and methods of scoring in golf.

Stroke Play

In stroke play, the objective is to complete the full round of golf with the fewest number of strokes. Typically played over 18 holes, each golfer keeps track of their total number of strokes throughout the entire round. At the end, the golfer with the lowest score is the winner. Stroke play is the most common format used in professional golf tournaments and regular recreational play.

Match Play

In match play, every hole is a separate competition. The objective is to win individual holes rather than focusing on the total number of strokes. The golfer who completes a hole using the fewest number of strokes wins that hole, and the winner of the match is determined by the golfer who wins the most holes. Match play encourages a more strategic approach, as golfers can concede strokes to their opponents or concede a hole entirely to gain an advantage.


Stableford is another scoring system that factors in the number of strokes used on each hole. Instead of counting the total number of strokes, the player earns points based on their performance. Fewer strokes result in more points. The winner in Stableford is the golfer with the highest number of points at the end of the round. This format is often used in friendly competitions or when handicaps are involved.

Exceptions to Counting Strokes

In golf, strokes are typically counted when a golfer swings with the intention of hitting the ball. However, there are certain exceptions to counting strokes that players should be aware of in order to accurately keep score and follow the Rules of Golf.

If a golfer stops their swing before making contact with the ball, it is not considered a stroke. This can happen when a golfer decides to abort their swing due to a sudden change in strategy or a loss of confidence in their shot. While the intention to hit the ball was there, since no contact was made, it is not counted as a stroke.

On the other hand, if a golfer completes their swing but misses the ball, it may still be necessary to count the miss as a stroke. Even though the ball was not struck, the full swing was made with the intention of hitting it. This ensures that players do not intentionally avoid hitting the ball to gain an advantage.

The new definition of a stroke provides clarity on various scenarios where a forward motion of the club may or may not count as a stroke. It helps eliminate ambiguity and ensures consistent scoring across the golf course.

Understanding these exceptions to counting strokes is crucial for golfers who want to keep an accurate score and play by the rules. It allows for fair competition and ensures a level playing field for all players.

Having a solid grasp of golf stroke terminology and the exceptions to counting strokes can greatly enhance one’s understanding of the game. It allows players to navigate the course effectively and make informed decisions regarding their shots. By familiarizing themselves with the rules and gaining a deeper understanding of golf strokes, players can work towards improving their skills and achieving greater success on the golf course.

Other Terms Related to Strokes in Golf

When it comes to golf strokes, there are several other terms that come into play. Understanding these terms is important for a comprehensive understanding of the game. Let’s take a look at some of them:

1. Penalty Stroke: A penalty stroke is an additional stroke or strokes added to a golfer’s score as a result of violating the Rules of Golf. It is important to know the rules and avoid penalties to keep your score as low as possible.

2. Handicap Stroke: A handicap stroke is a subtraction of a stroke or strokes from a golfer’s score under certain circumstances covered by the USGA Handicap System or other golf handicapping systems. It is a way to adjust scores and level the playing field in competitions.

3. Equitable Stroke Control: Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) is a system that limits the number of strokes a golfer can count on a hole for handicap purposes. It ensures that exceptionally high scores on individual holes do not disproportionately affect a golfer’s handicap index.

4. Obstacle Stroke Value: Obstacle Stroke Value (OSV) is used in the USGA Handicapping System to adjust a golfer’s handicap based on the difficulty of the golf course they are playing. It takes into account the rating of the course and adjusts the number of strokes a golfer receives.


Penalty StrokeAn additional stroke added to a golfer’s score for violating the Rules of Golf
Handicap StrokeA subtraction of a stroke from a golfer’s score under certain circumstances covered by the USGA Handicap System
Equitable Stroke ControlA system that limits the number of strokes a golfer can count for handicap purposes
Obstacle Stroke ValueA value used to adjust a golfer’s handicap based on the difficulty of the golf course

Understanding these terms is essential for navigating the world of golf strokes and scoring effectively. By familiarizing yourself with these concepts, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions on the golf course and improve your overall game.

What Is Not Considered a Stroke

While intentional swings with the intention to strike the ball count as strokes, there are instances where certain actions do not count as strokes. It’s important to be aware of these exceptions to avoid unnecessary penalties and confusion during a game of golf.

Accidental Multiple Hits

Accidentally hitting the ball more than once during a swing is considered a single stroke with no penalty. This can happen if the clubhead accidentally comes into contact with the ball multiple times during a swing. The golfer is only penalized with a single stroke, regardless of how many times the ball is inadvertently struck.

Clubhead Deflection

If the golf club’s clubhead is deflected or stopped by an outside influence, such as a tree branch, it does not count as a stroke. This exception recognizes that the golfer did not have control over the clubhead’s movement and therefore should not be penalized for it.

Practicing Swings

When a golfer accidentally strikes the ball during a practice swing or while preparing to make a stroke, it does not count as a stroke. This allows golfers to loosen up and practice their swings without being penalized for any unintentional contact with the ball.

By understanding what actions are not considered strokes, golfers can play the game with confidence and clarity. It’s essential to remember that strokes are only counted when there is an intentional attempt to strike the ball. Accidental multiple hits, clubhead deflections, and practicing swings do not contribute to a golfer’s stroke count. It is always recommended to familiarize oneself with the rules and exceptions to ensure a fair and enjoyable game of golf.


Understanding golf strokes and their significance is essential for every golfer. Strokes serve as the building blocks of scoring, directly impacting a player’s performance on the course. By accurately counting strokes and following the rules, golfers can effectively measure their progress and compete proficiently in different game formats. Whether engaging in stroke play, match play, or Stableford, having a strong grasp of strokes and the associated regulations greatly enhances the overall golfing experience. To excel in the game, golfers should focus on mastering the fundamentals of golf strokes and continuously improve their techniques.

By developing a deep understanding of golf strokes, players can elevate their level of play and enhance their overall performance. Practicing the proper execution of each stroke and employing effective techniques can lead to better accuracy, distance, and control. A comprehensive golf stroke guide can assist in honing these skills and provide valuable insights to optimize one’s game. With dedication and perseverance, golfers can refine their stroke technique, leading to more consistent and successful shots on the course.

Investing time and effort in understanding and refining golf strokes is a worthwhile endeavor for any golfer looking to improve their game. By staying updated with the latest golf stroke techniques and utilizing comprehensive resources, players can enhance their overall golfing experience and maximize their potential on the course. Remember, a solid foundation in golf strokes is the gateway to achieving greater proficiency and enjoyment in the game of golf.