Golf Formats and Games

There are many different golf play and golf tournament formats.  In addition to your basic stroke play and match play, there are many formats to liven up your game and provide fun opportunities for all skill levels.  Listed in alphabetical order are some of the games played in our chapter events with a brief description of how they are played.  That section is followed by a detailed section on Match Play and Stroke Play. Enjoy!



Best Ball

In a Best Ball tournament, all members of each team play their own balls on each hole. At the completion of the hole, the lowest net score among all team members serves as the team score.

Better Ball

"Better ball" is what you call a Best Ball competition in which the teams are comprised of two players rather than three or four players. When played as Match Play, Better Ball is another name for Four Ball.  


In Bingo Bango Bongo, three types of achievements are rewarded with a point. The first player in a group to get her ball on the green gets a point (bingo). The player in the group whose ball is closest to the pin once all balls are on the green gets a point (bango). The player in the group who is first to hole out gets a point (bongo).  When putting, you must mark your ball and allow those further out to try and get their putt in first.  You cannot have continuous putting on this game.


In the 4-person Cha-Cha-Cha tournament format, each member of the team plays his or her ball throughout.  A 3-hole rotation exists for determining how many scores are used to create the team score.

On the first hole (cha), the one low net ball counts as the team score. On the second hole (cha-cha), the two low net balls count as the team score. On the third hole (cha-cha-cha), the three low net balls count as the team score. The rotation starts over on the fourth hole.

Fairways & Greens

Fairways & Greens is a betting game best for groups of golfers with similar handicaps.  The objective is, of course, to hit fairways and greens.  The catch is that you have to be the only player to hit the fairway (off the tee) to win the bet.  Determine before the round the value of each fairway and each green.  Each hole has two bets, one for the fairway and one for the green.  It you’re the only player in the fairway off the tee, you win that bet.  If two or more players find the fairway, or two or more players are on the green in regulation, then that bet carries over to the following hole.

Fairway & Greens can also be played for points. Each golfer in a group tracks his points earned through the round. At the end of the round, high points wins an overall bet (the amount of which is set before the round).

Fairways & Putts

Fairways & Putts is a betting game.  The objective is to hit fairways and make putts.  You count the fairways hit off the tee and then how many putts you make.  You subtract the fairways hit off from the number of putts in the round. The person with the lowest score total wins.

“Hit, Switch, & Bitch” (aka Chapman Format)

Both players get to tee off then they “switch” balls and each hit their partner’s 2nd shot. The best or preferred ball is then determined. The player whose 2nd shot was not chosen is the player to hit the 3rd shot. They alternate until the ball is holed out.

This game got its common name because you each “hit” your own ball, then “switch” to play your partner’s ball, and “bitch” about where they put you!

Horserace (aka Shootout)

In the golf horse race, one player is eliminated per hole until only one player is left at the end of 18 holes.

Step 1 -Begin with 19 players if you are playing an 18-hole tournament or with 10 players if you plan a 9-hole tournament. You can run the shootout with or without handicaps.

Step 2 - Start all players on the first hole. The golfers play the hole under the regular rules of golf. The participant with the highest score on the hole is eliminated.

Step 3 - Break any ties for high score with a designated skills challenge, such as a closest-to-the-hole chipping or putting contest.

Step 4 - Assemble the remaining 18 players on the second tee. The player with the lowest score tees off first. At the conclusion of the second hole, the player with the highest score is eliminated. Again, break any ties for high score before proceeding to the third tee. Continue the competition in this manner until one player remains.

Match Play

Match play is a scoring system in which a player, or team, earns a point for each hole in which they have bested their opponents; this is as opposed to stroke play (see below), in which the total number of strokes is counted over one or more rounds of 18 holes. Unlike stroke play, in which the unit of scoring is the total number of strokes taken during the round, match play scoring consists of individual holes won, halved or lost. (See Rules of Golf: Rule 2)


The Scramble is probably the most-common format for team tournaments. It can be played by 2-, 3- or 4-person teams. The team chooses the one best shot following every stroke, with each team member then playing again from that one spot.


Skins is determined on the value set on each hole. A skins game pits players in a type of match play in which each individual hole has a set value (usually in money or points). The player who wins the hole is said to win the "skin," and whatever that skin is worth.

When players tie on a given hole, the value of that hole is carried over and added to the value of the following hole. The more ties, the greater the value of the skin and the bigger the eventual payoff. For example, a friendly skins game might be played for $1 per hole. If three holes in a row are played without a winner, then the fourth hole is worth $4 ($1 for its own value, plus a dollar for each hole that carries over).


  • The number of points awarded on each hole is determined based on comparison of the number of strokes taken to a fixed score, usually par.
  • This fixed score is then adjusted in relation to the player's handicap. Once a player has taken two strokes more than the adjusted fixed score, they may pick up their ball as it is then not possible to score any points on that hole.
  • They can then resume play on the next hole. Because of this, it is still possible to be competitive even allowing for a few bad holes.
  • At the end of the round, the number of points scored on each hole is totaled to give a final score. The winner of the competition is the player with the highest point total. The chart below shows a round with suggested points.



Strokes taken in relation to adjusted fixed score


2 strokes or more over, or no score recorded


1 stroke over


Same number of strokes


1 stroke under


2 strokes under


3 strokes under


4 strokes under

Stroke Play

“Stroke play" refers to a round of golf in which the score is kept by adding the cumulative total of strokes taken throughout the round. The golfer counts each stroke taken on a hole, until the ball is in the cup. Those strokes are written down on the scorecard. At the end of the round, the strokes taken on each hole played are added together for the total strokes.  (See Rules of Golf: Rule 3)


Trainwreck is a betting game for groups that awards points for positive accomplishments - but can wipe those points away if something bad happens. Basically, points are awarded for eagles, birdies and pars.

  • You get nothing for a bogey, and if you have two bogeys in a row, or get a double your score gets reset to zero.
  • Positive points are awarded thusly: Par - 1 point; Birdie - 2 points; Eagle - 5 points

Quite a cool format, as you can have a pretty poor round, but end strong, and with a bit of luck could end up winning.




One thing which makes golf a unique game is that it is played in two very different forms. Match play, which involves two golfers or two pairs of golfers competing directly against each other, was the first form of the game that developed. Later, the desire to have large groups of players compete at one time brought about the development of stroke play. 

Stroke play was called medal play in the early days because the winner of the competition was frequently awarded a medal.  Even today, the winner of the U.S. Open, and every other USGA championship, receives a gold medal and the runner-up, a silver medal.

The differing nature of these two forms of play is the reason there are a number of differences between them in the Rules. While the principal differences are explained in Rule 2 (Match Play) and Rule 3 (Stroke Play), almost every Rule has some difference between the two forms of play.  When a Rule has a difference in how the two forms of play are handled, you will find that match play is always discussed first. This is because it was the original form of golf.

Who Wins

The most obvious way in which the two forms of play differ is how the winner is determined.

Match play is a hole-by-hole contest; think of it as 18 one-hole contests. The winner is the player who wins the most holes. When a player is more holes up than there are holes remaining to play, he wins. This means that matches can end before the 18th hole or they can go beyond 18 until a winner is decided.  Match play even allows for ties.  This happens in team competitions such as the Walker Cup and Curtis Cup. In those cases, a halved match results in each team being awarded a half point.

Since match play is played by holes, the general penalty for an infraction of the Rules is the loss of the hole where the infraction takes place. If a player does something such as playing from a wrong place or hitting a wrong ball, he loses that hole and play moves to the next hole. It is important to remember that not all infractions in match play result in a loss of the hole. There are a number of one-stroke penalties also and players should make sure they don't assume that any infraction will result in losing the hole. Because the play is by holes, a player can give up on a hole at any time by conceding it to the opponent. He can also concede the opponent's next stroke rather than making him hole out.

In stroke play, the player's total score for the round or rounds determines the winner.  In order to have a score for the round, the player must hole out with his ball in play on every hole. The general penalty of two strokes for an infraction of the rules gives a penalty which results in an adjustment to the player's score for the hole. Even so, some violations are significant enough that, in addition to the two strokes, the player must correct the error or be disqualified.  
When Something Goes Wrong, Who Cares
Because match play is a head-to-head contest, all players with an interest in the outcome are playing together and are able protect their rights. If a doubtful or disputed point arises between opponents, one of them can choose to make a claim.  Because match play is a sequence of one-hole contests, if a player sees his opponent violate a Rule and fails to make his claim about it until after the start of the next hole, the opportunity to make a claim is forfeited. Additionally, a player may choose to ignore any violation by an opponent if he feels it is insignificant.

With every player in a stroke-play contest potentially having an interest in the play of every other player, the Rules expect that all penalties will be enforced.  While, in most cases, the reporting of a penalty or its resolution does not need to be initiated during the play of the hole where it occurs, as it does in match play, it still must be done before the scorecard is returned. A player who incurs a penalty and doesn't include it in his score before returning his score card will be disqualified.

Order of Play
While Rule 10 (Order of Play) states that in both forms of play, the ball farthest from the hole must be played first, the Rule is stricter in match play.

If a player in stroke play plays out of turn, there is no penalty unless he and another player agreed to do so to assist one of them.

In match play, it is important that the order of play be preserved so that players can know how they stand when it is their turn to play. While there is no penalty for playing out of turn in match play, the opponent can immediately recall any stroke which is played out of turn and require it to be played at the proper time. If the player plays out of turn and hits it right down the middle, his opponent might have more reason to choose to recall the stroke than, if the ball played out of turn went into the woods. (Courtesy of USGA)

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