What are the Different Golf Formats: A Concise Guide

Golf is a beloved sport with a rich history, enjoyed by millions across the globe. While the core principles of the game remain consistent, there are several different formats in which golf can be played. These distinct formats offer varying levels of challenge, strategy, and camaraderie, ensuring there is something for everyone, from long-time enthusiasts to newcomers. In this article, we will explore the various golf formats and their unique characteristics, providing a comprehensive understanding of the ways to enjoy this captivating sport.

At its essence, golf consists of hitting a ball into a hole using a club, with the goal of completing a course in as few strokes as possible. The traditional format, known as stroke play, achieves this by counting the total strokes taken by each player throughout the round. However, there are other popular formats, such as match play, stableford, four-ball, and scramble, which introduce different objectives, team structures, and scoring mechanisms.

By becoming familiar with these diverse golf formats, players can develop their skills, enhance their enjoyment of the game, and build stronger connections with their fellow golfers. In the subsequent sections, we will delve deeper into each format and provide insights into their unique aspects, equipping you with the knowledge to confidently participate in or organize a variety of golfing events.

What are the Different Golf Formats

Individual Golf Formats

In this section, we will discuss various individual golf formats that are commonly played. These formats allow golfers to compete against each other while still enjoying the game independently.

Stroke Play

Stroke play is the most common format and is used in many professional and amateur tournaments. In this format, the golfer’s score is determined by the total number of strokes taken on each hole:

  • The golfers play all 18 holes on the course
  • They accumulate strokes at each hole and record them on the scorecard
  • The player with the least number of total strokes at the end of the round is declared the winner

It is important to mention that handicaps can be taken into consideration in this format to level the playing field among players of different skill levels and ages.

Match Play

In match play, two golfers compete against each other on a hole-by-hole basis, scoring either “win,” “lose,” or “tie.” The player who wins the most holes wins the game:

  • Golfers play each hole independently
  • The golfer with the lowest score on a hole wins that hole
  • At the end of the 18-hole course, the player with the most won holes is the winner


The Stableford format is based on a point system related to the golfer’s score in relation to the par on each hole. The scoring system is as follows:

  • 0 points for a nett double bogey or worse
  • 1 point for nett bogey
  • 2 points for nett par
  • 3 points for nett birdie
  • 4 points for nett eagle
  • 5 points for nett albatross

Players accumulate points throughout the 18-hole round and the player with the highest point total wins the game.

Skins Game

In the Skins Game format, players compete for a virtual “skin” on each hole. To win a skin, a player must have the lowest score on that hole:

  • If there is a tie, the skin is carried over to the next hole
  • The player who wins the next hole wins all of the skins being carried over
  • At the end of the 18-hole course, the player with the most skins is the winner

Bingo Bango Bongo

Bingo Bango Bongo is a fun golf game that awards points for accomplishing specific tasks:

  • Bingo: First player to get their ball on the green
  • Bango: Player with the closest ball to the pin once all balls are on the green
  • Bongo: First player to get their ball into the hole

Each point is worth one and players accumulate points throughout the round. The player with the most points at the end is the winner.

Team Golf Formats

Team golf formats are popular in tournaments and casual play, as they allow players to join forces and compete against other teams. This section will provide an overview of some of the most common team golf formats and rules.

Best Ball

Best Ball, also known as Four-Ball, is a team golf format where teams typically consist of 2 or 4 players. Each player plays their own ball, and the team’s best score on each hole is recorded.


In the Foursomes format, teams are composed of two players. They alternate hitting the same ball, with one player teeing off on odd-numbered holes and the other on even-numbered holes. The team with the lowest total score wins.

Texas Scramble

The Texas Scramble is a fun format played by teams of 2-4 golfers. Each player hits a tee shot, then the team selects the best one and all players take their next shot from that spot. This process continues until the hole is completed.


Similar to the Texas Scramble, the Shamble format also involves teams of golfers selecting the best tee shot. However, after the best tee shot is chosen, each player then plays their own ball from that spot for the remainder of the hole.


Chapman, also known as Pinehurst or American Foursomes, involves teams of two players. Each player tees off, then they switch balls for their second shot. After the second shot, the team chooses the best ball, and they alternate shots until the hole is completed.


Pinehurst is another term for the Chapman golf format, as described above.


Greensomes is a team format similar to Foursomes, but with a slight twist. Both teammates tee off, and then the team chooses the best drive. From that point, the players alternate shots until the hole is completed, just like in Foursomes.


In the Gruesomes format, teams of two players each hit a tee shot, but the opposing team gets to choose which shot the team must use. The team then proceeds with alternate shots until the hole is completed. This format adds a strategic component to the game.

These team golf formats provide a unique experience for players and spectators alike. They can be found in both casual and professional golf tournaments, allowing players to work together and showcase their skills in varied settings.

Golf Format Variations for Tournaments

Yellow Ball

Yellow Ball is a variation played in teams, typically with four players in each. One player uses a yellow golf ball on each hole, rotating between teammates, while the others play with their usual balls. The team’s score for a hole is the sum of the scores of the two best balls played, including the yellow ball. A lost yellow ball often results in penalty points.


In the MeToo format, one player acts as the “MeToo” player. After everyone hits their shots and chooses the best one, the “MeToo” player takes their next shot from the same spot as the best shot. The round typically consists of 18 holes, and the player with the lowest score wins.


Murphys is a team-based format where the players are responsible for teeing off on alternating holes. The players then swap balls and play their second shots, and continue to alternate until they each reach the green. The lowest individual score for a hole counts as the team score.

Lone Ranger

Played in teams of four, the Lone Ranger format assigns one player per hole to be the “Lone Ranger”. The Lone Ranger’s score is added to the best score of the other three players to form the team’s score for the hole. The role of the Lone Ranger rotates among teammates as the game progresses.


In Stringball, each player receives a length of string equivalent to their handicap, which represents a number of “free shots”. Players can use the string to improve their position on the course without counting as a stroke. Once the string is used up, no more free shots are available.


In the Chairman format, the designated “Chairman” selects each player’s ball location for the following shot. This format puts the Chairman’s strategy and knowledge of the course to the test, as well as their teammates’ adaptability to various situations.


Ghost is a team game where the individual scores are added to create a “ghost” player’s score. This format encourages cooperation and strategy among teammates, as they collectively aim to outscore the ghost player.


The Betting format involves wagering on strokes, holes, or entire rounds. Popular betting games include Nassau, Skins, and Wolf, each with specific rules and gameplay elements. Betting can be done in teams or individually.

Canadian Foursomes

Canadian Foursomes is played in pairs. Both players tee off, then they switch balls and play their second shots. After the second shot, the teammates decide which ball to continue playing with and alternate shots until the hole is completed.

Pinehurst Foursomes

The Pinehurst Foursomes format is similar to Canadian Foursomes, except teammates choose the best ball after the tee shots and play alternate shots from that point forward.

Scotch Foursomes

In Scotch Foursomes, teammates alternate hitting the same ball for the entire hole. This format places additional emphasis on strategy and communication, as each player’s shot directly affects their partner’s position.

By exploring these diverse golf format variations, tournament organizers can enhance the competitive and strategic aspects of gameplay, bringing excitement and variety to traditional golf tournaments.

Golf Formats and Scoring Systems

Ryder Cup

The Ryder Cup is a prestigious, biennial team golf competition between teams from Europe and the United States. Played under a match-play format, the teams vie in multiple formats such as singles, foursomes, and four-ball betterball, for a total of 28 points throughout the event. The team with the most points at the end wins the Ryder Cup.

Four Ball

Four Ball is a team-based format where two pairs of golfers compete against each other. Each player plays their own ball throughout the hole, and the better of the two scores counts for the team.


Nassau is a popular betting format in golf where the game consists of three separate wagers—one for the front nine, one for the back nine, and one for the entire 18 holes. The objective is to win more holes than your opponent, with each hole being worth one point.

Split Sixes

In Split Sixes, teams of three players compete against each other. The points are distributed among the team members over 18 holes, with six points available per hole. Points are awarded based on individual performance, adding an extra layer of strategy and competition.

Position Points Awarded
1st 4
2nd 2
3rd 0

Double Eagle

A Double Eagle, also known as an Albatross, is a rare and exceptional golf score where a player completes a hole three shots under par. This amazing feat often results from a hole-in-one on a par-4 or reaching the green in two strokes on a par-5 and sinking the putt.

Double Bogey

A Double Bogey is a scoring term used when a player completes a hole two shots over par. This is typically an unfavorable result that golfers strive to avoid.


Ambrose is a team-based golf format where each player tees off and then selects the best-positioned ball. All players then hit their next shots from that position, continuing this process until the hole is completed. This system combines the skills of all team members, making it an enjoyable and inclusive format.

Canadian Foursome

The Canadian Foursome format is a twist on the traditional foursomes format. In this variation, both players on a team tee off, then switch balls for their second shot. After the second shot, they choose the best ball and continue to play the hole with alternate shots until completion.

Hole-by-Hole Competition

Hole-by-Hole competition is a format where players compete on an individual basis, with the objective to win or tie each hole. This system puts a strong emphasis on consistency and performance throughout the entire round, as each hole presents a new opportunity for victory.

Golf Formats Based on Player Attributes

This section covers various golf formats designed to cater to players with different attributes, such as gender and skill level. These formats often create exciting head-to-head competition and provide rewards for a range of abilities.


Patsome is a team-based golf format that combines elements of both Foursomes and Four-balls, suitable for players of any gender and skill level. The game is played in teams of two, with partners taking alternate shots for the first six holes, like in Foursomes. For the next six holes, partners play their own ball, and the better score on each hole is recorded, similar to Four-ball. Cumulative scores are used to determine the winning team.


Better-Ball, also known as Four-ball, is a popular golf format played in teams of two or four. This format is suitable for a wide range of skill levels and both male and female players. Each player plays their own ball throughout the round, and the lowest score on each hole is recorded. The cumulative score is used to determine the winning team, and head-to-head competition is common in this format.


Chachacha, also known as “One-Two-Three Best Ball”, is a format involving teams of three, making it suitable for players of varying skill levels and genders. On each hole, the lowest score (one best ball) is recorded for the first hole, the two best scores (two best balls) for the second hole, and the three best scores (three best balls) for the third hole. This cycle repeats throughout the round, and the cumulative score is used to determine the winning team.


Flaps is a unique golf format suitable for players of any gender and skill level, involving a combination of individual and team play. Players earn “flaps” throughout the round based on their net scores for the holes. Individual net score results are tabulated using a points-based system, which can contribute to both individual and cumulative team scores. This format encourages head-to-head competition and rewards players for good performance on individual holes.


Metoo is a format that rewards golfers based on their individual progress and improvement throughout the round. Suitable for players of all skill levels and genders, Metoo is played using a modified Stableford scoring system. Points are awarded for each hole based on net scores, with rewarding points for birdies and eagles while deducting points for double bogeys or worse. Cumulative individual scores are used to determine overall winners.


Best-Ball, sometimes confused with Better-Ball, is a team golf format suitable for players of varying skill levels and genders. Best-Ball can be played using two, three, or four-person teams, with each player playing their own golf ball throughout the round. On each hole, the lowest score, or “best ball,” is recorded. Cumulative team scores are used to determine the winning team, promoting head-to-head competition and rewarding strong performance on individual holes.

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