Golf scoring formats explained

Golf’s various scoring formats can be confusing, so here’s our handy explainer of how they work and how you can calculate your handicap when playing each format.

Before we explain the different scoring formats, here’s a quick outline of golf’s three scoring systems.

Strokeplay: A player’s total number of strokes is counted over one or more rounds of 18 holes. The winner is the player, or team, which has taken the fewest strokes over the course of the round, or rounds.

Matchplay: A player, or team, earns a point for each hole at which they have bettered their opponents. The winner is the player, or team, with the most points at the end of play.

Stableford: A player scores points based on the number of strokes taken at each hole. The winner is the player, or team, with the highest score at the end of play.

Scoring formats

Foursome: A competition format with teams made up of two players. Each team’s players take turns hitting the same ball. For example: player one tees off, player two hits the second shot, player one hits the third shot, and this continues until the ball is holed. Players take turns hitting tee shots.

Foursomes can be played as strokeplay, stableford or matchplay (2 against 2). As matchplay, foursomes is one of the formats used in the Ryder Cup.

Handicap calculation: Strokeplay – Handicap allowance is half of the team’s combined course handicaps. So, add each player’s course handicaps together and divide by two. Matchplay – Add the handicaps of both golfers on each team. So if Team A’s combined handicap is 15 and Team B’s is 30, you then subtract the lower handicap total from the higher one. In this case, that would be 15 (30-15). Then, divide that total by two (7.5). This is then rounded up to 8, meaning Team A must give Team B 8 shots.

Best Ball: This competition format can be played with 2, 3 or 4 player teams. Each team’s player plays their own ball throughout the round, and on each hole the team’s lowest score or ‘best ball’ provides the team score. So, if player A gets a 5, B a 4, C a 6, and D a 6, then the team score for that hole is 4. 

Best Ball can be played in strokeplay, stableford or matchplay (2 against 2). Best-ball matchplay with more than 2 players per team results in a lot of halved holes.

Handicap calculation: Best 1 of 4 strokeplay 75%. Best 2 of 4 strokeplay 85%. Best 3 of 4 strokeplay 100%. Best 4 of 4 strokeplay 100%.

Betterball: A Best Ball competition in which the teams are made up of two players. When played as matchplay, betterball is another name for Fourball or Four Ball Better-Ball. The two players on the team each play their own ball throughout the round. The low score, or better ball, out of the two on each hole is the team’s score for that hole.

Betterball can be played in strokeplay, stableford or matchplay (2 against 2).

Handicap calculation: Rounds played in Betterball format will be valid for all players regardless of their handicap provided that they play 18 holes and 85% of their handicap is applied.

Four Ball Better-Ball (4BBB): This is a match between two teams of two players (a total of four balls being played) against each other using betterball scoring. All four players play their own ball throughout. Then at the end of each hole, the low score between the two partners on each team is that team’s score.

Four Ball Better-Ball can be played in strokeplay, stableford or matchplay (2 against 2), and is one of the formats used at the Ryder Cup.

Handicap calculation: The lowest handicap player gives strokes to the other three players based on 90% of the difference between the lowest handicap and that of each player.

Greensome: A competition format that is a variation of foursomes (2-person teams, each playing one ball). Both partners tee off and one of the two tee shots is selected. The partner whose tee shot was not selected then plays the next stroke and each subsequent stroke is made in alternating order until the ball is holed.

Greensome can be played in strokeplay, stableford or matchplay (2 against 2).

Handicap calculation: Calculate the handicap for each pair as follows: (Lower handicap x 0.6) + (higher handicap x 0.4). If the handicaps in the pair are equal, then use half the combined handicaps. The lower handicap pair then give strokes to the other based on the full difference between the two handicaps.

Skins: Format whereby players compete for a prize, usually money, on every hole, with the prize being the ‘Skin’. If the hole is halved, the Skin is then rolled over and added to the Skin for the next hole. In a Skins game you play a type of matchplay format in which each hole has a set value. You can play a ‘Gross’ skins game, where handicaps are not used, or a ‘Net’ skins game, where a player’s handicap is used to calculate a net score on each hole, and the net score is used to determine the outcome.

Format can be played in strokeplay or stableford, but usually is played as matchplay best suited to either three or fourballs.

Handicap calculation: Compare each player’s handicap with the lowest handicap of the group. That difference will equal how many holes that lowest player will have a stroke over the golfer with the better handicap. If the handicap difference between two players is, say, 5, that means the golfer with the lower handicap will have one stroke on the holes with stroke index of 1 through 5.

Scramble: Scrambles involve 2, 3, or 4 player teams playing 2, 3, or 4 balls, but with each shot coming from the same spot (the best drive is chosen, and all four team members then hit from that spot, and so on until the ball is holed).

Format can be played in strokeplay or stableford

Handicap calculation: 4 players: 25% / 20% / 15% / 10% from lowest to highest handicap. 2 players: 35% low / 15% high.

More information about handicap calculation: R&A Rules of Handicapping
More information about your handicap: World Handicap System: Everything You Need To Know

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