How different golf formats work - Golficity

How Different Golf Formats Work

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How different golf formats work - Golficity

During the golf season we often find ourselves attending a few charitable, client, or “just for fun” outings.  In addition to the usual outing instructions (what holes are closest to the pin and which are longest drive), the outing’s format is always also stated.

There are quite a few different variations of tournament formats (some with quite funny names) which can be a bit confusing to the novice golfer.

To keep you playing the correct ball at the correct time, we’ve provided a short list of different golf formats and how they’re played.


Probably the most popular format for golf events.   This format is usually played with 4 person teams and no handicap is applied.  In a scramble, each player will tee off on each hole and the team’s 2nd shot will be played from whichever tee shot has been agreed upon as being the “best,” which is why this format is also known as “Best Ball.”  This method of playing the best of each of four shots continues until the ball is holed and one score is entered on the scorecard for each team of four players.


This format combines the elements of a scramble and regular stroke play.  Like a scramble, all four team members tee off with the best ball of the four tee shots is selected.  All players then move their ball to the location of the best tee shot (no different than a scramble format).  However, after the second shot is played, all players will return to playing their own ball until each completes the hole.  The result is that each player enters his or her own score on the scorecard but each also gets to take advantage of the group’s best tee shot.  The shamble format may be played with or without individual handicaps factored in.


Foursome golf is played in teams of two golfers alternating their shots from tee through the hole.  Tee shots are also alternated regardless of which team member struck the ball last on the previous hole.  The final scorecard should then show one score for each team of two golfers.

Four ball

Four ball is also played in teams of two golfers but in this case each team member plays his or her own ball for the entire round.  The better of the two team members’ scores is ultimately scored for each individual hole.


A Pinehurst (also referred to as a Chapman System) is played in teams of two golfers and can be a bit confusing at first.  In this system of play each player tees off and then the two players swap golf balls for the second shot.  After the second shot the two players then select and play the best ball until the hole is finished.  In this way, a Pinehurst is more or less a combination of Foursome and Scramble formats.

Stroke Play

Stroke play is easily the most common and well-known golf format.  With stroke play each individual’s score is kept by adding the cumulative total of strokes taken throughout the round.  At the end of the tournament each player will turn in his or her own score for the round and handicaps may or may not be factored into the player’s net score.

Match Play

Match play is a competition format in which the round is played with the goal of winning individual holes.  For example, on the first hole you score 4 and your opponent gets a 5, you win the hole.   The goal in match play is to have the most won holes out of the 18 holes played.

Skins Play

A Skins match is played in the exact same way as match play but holes that are tied (a push) carry over and can be won on subsequent holes.  For example, if players tie the first 3 holes before a player finally wins a hole outright on the 4th, the player who won the 4th hole picks up a total of 4 skins (1 hole won plus 3 holes accrued from previous ties).

Although we normally play our buddies in a traditional stroke play format – perhaps for a few bucks a hole, you may find yourself at a community charity outing in a scramble, or shamble format.  If so, hopefully the above descriptions of golf formats will help assist you, but If you still don’t understand the rules, just make sure to speak up.  Ask your teammates, the clubhouse pro, or the event organizer for clarification before teeing off.  Trust us, its better to ask than to be caught out there playing the wrong format.

(Photo Credit)

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