So what does par for the course mean?
Don’t be embarrassed. You’re not the first person to ask this question.
Simply put, par for the course means “typical or normal.”
Another way to translate this expression would be “what you might expect.”
The Free Dictionary gives this example:
“The school budget is going to be cut again this year, but then that’s par for the course.”
In this example, the speaker is saying that the school budget will be cut again, and that’s typical or normal. In other words, it’s common for the school budget to be cut each year.
As a former teacher, I can testify that this is what you’d expect in American public education.
Where does the par for the course expression originate?
Golf, of course!
The word par is used in golf all the time. Each hole in golf has a number of strokes (or hits) that it should take for an experienced golfer to get the ball in the hole. So if a hole has a par of 4, that means a typical or normal golfer should finish that hole in 4 strokes.
If it takes a golfer 7 strokes to get that ball in the hole, they are over par (and a below average golfer). If it takes them 3 strokes to get the ball in the hole, they are under par (and a lucky or above average golfer).
Most 18 hole golf courses have a par of 72, so if an experienced golfer completed a round of golf and scored anywhere from a 70 to a 74, one could basically say that’s par for the course. Their performance was typical or what might be expected from someone who knows how to play golf.
When did people start using this expression outside of golf?
It’s tough to say for sure, but KnowYourPhrase.com gives us some helpful insights here. According to their website, the earliest written form of this expression (outside of golf) is found in the May 1932 edition of the Princeton Alumni Weekly (a publication I’m sure you have read). Here’s how it was used:
“Whatever is to be done in Washington would better be done quickly. If the industry and business knew the par for the course people would be disposed to go ahead.”
Par for the Course – The Cynical Definition
If you’re talking with someone that has a more cynical view of how the world works, they might use the expression par for the course with a slightly different tone/understanding.
For the pessimistic soul, par for the course means that things are going wrong, just like they expected or just like they always do. So in a sense, they mean average or normal as well.
A cynical example goes something like this:
Person 1: I waited for that delivery all week, and the day after I left for vacation, they finally delivered the package.
Person 2: Well that’s par for the course.
Person 2 is basically saying this is what always happens. Or, this is what you should expect.
So what does par for the course mean? You’re the expert now, so go ahead and share your knowledge with the world.