Types of Golf Competition

New members are often requesting information regarding the types of golf competition that exist. One of the joys of this great game is that there are types of play to suit every occasion and when you want to change it up a little? well there are plenty of different options to try!

Types of Play

Match play and Stroke play are the two fundamental types of play.

Stroke play:
When watching golf on TV, you are more often than not watching a professional 'stroke play' tournament. The rules are very simple. Every player (or team) counts the total number of strokes they have taken over the 18 holes and whoever has the lower total nett score (gross score minus handicap) wins.

Match play:
Match play is different because every hole is a separate contest. So, two players (or two teams) play each hole against each other and whoever scores the lowest wins that hole. The number of strokes is irrelevant, you may win the hole by playing 10 shots, so long as your opponent scores 11! The hole is “halved” (drawn) if both players score the same. Whoever wins the most holes wins the match.

This is very popular amongst amateur golfers because your match isn't ruined by one disastrous hole - there is always the next 17!

Popular forms of Team Game

A Foursome
A foursome is where two golfers play in partnership. They play only one ball which they hit alternately. So one player always tees off on the odd numbered holes, the other on the even holes. It doesn't matter who played the last putt on the prior hole. One player Tees off, his or her partner takes the next shot and then each golfer plays alternate shots until the ball is in the hole. Penalty shots do not affect the order of play. Foursomes can be played under match play or stroke play rules.

It wouldn't be golf if there weren't some variations! A Canadian Foursome allows both players to Tee off and the best of the drives is adopted as 'the drive'. Alternate shots are then played as before. A Mixed Foursome merely means that a male and female make up a team and play another male and female team.

Four ball
This is similar to foursomes but each player plays with his own ball rather than playing alternate shots. Again four-balls can be played as match play or stroke play.


This is a scoring system for stroke play which is very popular amongst club golfers, particularly at Princes Risborough Golf Club.
Stableford points are awarded on each hole according to how the player does against their own handicap.
Its popularity is largely due to the fact that it speeds up play. In normal strokeplay you have to complete each hole, no matter how badly you have scored and how ever many shots you have sliced out of bounds on the 7th.
Stableford points are very simple. Make a handicap adjusted par on a hole and you get 2pts. A handicap-adjusted score of one over par is 1pt, 1 under par is 3pts, 2 under par is 4pts and so on.
The first thing to do before you play is to mark on your scorecard the holes on which your handicap "gives you shots". You do this by referring to the stroke index on the scorecard. For example a 28 handicapper gets given 2 extra shots for holes with a stroke index of 1 to 10 and just 1 extra shot on holes with a stroke index of 11 to 18 (total 28 shots). A 12 handicapper gets an extra shot on stroke indexes 1 to 12. So, if a hole is par 4, stoke index 10. For our 12 handicapper it would be, in effect, a par 5; for our 28 handicapper a par 6. (And for anyone with a handicap of 9 or less it would be a par 4.)
So if both our players holed out in 5 shots, they score as follows:
* the 12 handicapper would score 2pts ie 5 shots less one shot taken off for handicap = nett 4 ie hits a net par and scores 2 points
* the 28-handicapper would score 3pts ie he is given 2 shots on this hole and scores a nett 3, a birdie and hence scores 3 points.
You will hear the 12 handicapper saying "five for two" and the 28 handicapper saying slightly louder and with a broader grin, “five for three”.

In terms of recording scores on the scorecard, it is the gross number of shots on the hole that must be recorded. Most markers will also record the Stableford score, but all the marker is required to do, and the player, is record their gross score.

Stableford points (after handicap shots are taken into account) are awarded on each hole

2 over par —> 0 points
1 over par —> 1 point
par —> 2 points
1 under par —> 3 points
2 under par —> 4 points
3 under par —> 5 points

To recap: the number of shots given to any player is dependant on their handicap - a 12 handicapper gets given 12 shots.
The shots are allocated in order according to the stroke index on each hole, starting with stroke index 1.  A 1 handicapper gets an extra shot on the hole with a stroke index of 1, a 12 handicapper on holes with a stroke index of 1 to 12. Points are then related to how well you score (nett of handicap) on each hole against par. It is as simple as that!

The winner is the player who scores the highest number of points.


This is fantastic fun! Each player in a team (of two, three or four players) tees off on each hole and the players decide which shot was best. Other players then picks up their ball and play their second shot from that position and the procedure is repeated until the hole is finished. The lifted balls must be placed within one scorecard’s width of the selected position. If on the green, the balls are to be placed within one putter head of the marker.

An Ambrose is the same as a Scramble, but in an Ambrose handicaps are used in the game, as in strokeplay. The net score is the total gross score minus the adjusted handicap. The adjusted or team handicap is calculated by dividing the total of all handicaps of a team by two times the number of players in a team, so 1/8 of the aggregate for a 4-person team, 1/6 of the aggregate for a 3-person team and 1/4 of the aggregate for a 2-person team.

Texas Scramble is a variation in which both individual play and team play are rewarded. This is because a set number of drives of each member of the team must be used during the course of the round. If a beginner golfer is part of the team it may be wise to use their drives early in the round so as to take the pressure off them for the rest of the game!

Other popular games...

A variation of Foursome where both teammates of each team make a tee shot and each team selects which one they prefer. The player whose ball was not selected, then plays the second shot and all future even-numbered shots on this hole, the other teammate playing all further odd-numbered shots.

The six first holes are played in Four-ball, the next six in Greensome and the last six in Foursome. The final count of strokes is calculated as in Foursome.

A variation of Four Ball where each player hits a tee shot and swap positions to hit the second ball (each player of the same team hit their teammate’s ball), after which they decide which of the two balls they will play for the remainder of the hole. The other ball is picked up. Once the best position is selected, the teammates alternate strokes until holing out. Also called “Pinehurst”.

Each player gets a length of string that they can use to improve bad lies. The length of the string depends on the player’s handicap (generally 50cm per handicap point).When in a bad lie the player cuts off the length of string equal to the distance they move the ball(without penalty) to any new position away from where the ball had previously come to rest. Once the ball is moved, that length of string is no longer available. Each player may use his string at any time during the round to save as many strokes as possible.

Flag tournaments:
Each player is given a small flag and is allocated a number of strokes equal to par plus 2/3 of his or her handicap. When the player runs out of strokes they plant their flag where the ball lands. The player who gets the furthest wins.

This is just a fraction of the variations of golf game available but it will certainly we hope help to clarify some of the more popular ones!!