Origin of the Word ‘Par’ in Golf


For those of us who play and watch golf, the word “par” is about as familiar as our own name. The term is so completely embedded into the game that it’s odd to even think about “par” as a word and what it means. The word is more or less synonymous with golf and always a part of the conversation on the golf course.

“What’s par?” “I made a par.” “I shot even par!”

But as T.J. Auclair wrote at PGA.com, the term didn’t officially enter the golf vocabulary until 1911. That’s when the United States Golf Association (USGA) began using “par” as a standard—the expected score on a given hole. Add up all expected hole scores and the total is the par for 9 holes and 18 holes.

The USGA defines “par” as “the score that an expert player would be expected to make for a given hole. Par means expert play under ordinary weather conditions, allowing two strokes on the putting green.”

The word “par” was used prior to 1911 but it had a different meaning. According to Auclair, the terms “par” and “bogey” were used interchangeably prior to the 1900s, although bogey was the more common term.

Here are the yardages that determined par in 1911:

Par 3 – Up to 225 yards

Par 4 – 225 to 425 yards

Par 5 – 426 to 600 yards

Par 6 – 601 yards or more

The yardages were updated in 1917 as follows:

Par 3 – Up to 250 yards

Par 4 – 251 to 445 yards

Par 5 – 446 to 600 yards

Par 6 – 601 yards or more

The most recent change to the yardages was more than 60 years ago, in 1956:

Par 3 – Up to 250 yards

Par 4 – 251 to 470 yards

Par 5 – 471 yards or more

Given how far the modern golf ball goes—especially when struck by pros—perhaps it’s time for another update.

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Neil Sagebiel

Neil Sagebiel is a golf writer and author of two golf books published by St. Martin's Press, THE LONGEST SHOT and DRAW IN THE DUNES. He lives in Floyd, Virginia.

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