Most golfers and even a lot casual observers are familiar with the two most common types of competitive golf—aka ways of keeping score with your friends and opponents. Stroke play is when you simply add up all the actual strokes and penalty strokes over a certain number of holes (typically 9 or 18 holes). It matter whether you lose a hole by 1 stroke or by 4 strokes. In contrast, with Match play each hole counts as one discrete win, loss, or draw. You can’t lose more than one hole at a time…unless you’re playing a variation of match play like Skins in which the hole carries over to the next hole until a player wins a hole and collects the value of all the holes that have accrued since the last time a player won a hole.
You can find authoritative guides for the official rules of golf including the Professional Golf Association (PGA), United State Golf Association (USGA), and The R&A. Check out these links:
But this is just the beginning. Whether you’re looking for new ways to play with your friends or you’re trying to buff up on your golf trivia, here’s a collection of common and not so common variations of the traditional stroke and match play golf.
Foursome and Variations:
A foursome is played between two players in partnership, playing one ball which they stroke alternately. One player tees off on the odd numbered holes, the other on the even holes, regardless of who played last on the previous hole. The other shots are played in turns until the hole is finished. Penalty shots do not affect the order of play. Foursomes can be played under match play or stroke play rules. There are countless variations of foursomes.
- In Mixed Foursome, in which two teams of a male and female golfer playing alternate shots.
- In Canadian foursome each player plays his/her own ball from the tee and the players then decide together which ball is in the best position and the other ball is taken out of play.
- In Greensome, 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.
- In Chapman, also known as Pinehurst, this is a variation of four ball where each player hits a tee shot but then swaps positions before hitting the second ball (each player of the same team hit their teammate’s ball). The team then decides which of the two balls they choose to play before picking up the other ball. From there, the teammates alternate strokes until holing out.
Also known as Bag Raid, this is a great way to make golf new and interesting again. Also a great way to develop your shot-making skills. Using match play, when a golfer or team wins a hole, they “remove” a club from the opponent or opponents’ bags, typically starting with the putter, then the driver. That This continues until the match is decided. Some people allow a team to reclaim a club if someone on their team makes a net birdie.
Learn how not to get discouraged by one bad hole. Any time a player follows up a double bogey or worse with a par or better on the next hole, they win a point. Any time a player makes back-to-back double bogeys or worse, they lose a point.
Four Ball and Variations:
The same as foursomes but each player plays with his own ball and the better score of the team counts. Four Balls can be played as match play or stroke play. In a three-ball match, three players play against one another, with each playing two discrete matches.
- A slightly different form is Best Ball, in which one player plays against the better ball of two or more different players.
- In Patsome, 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.
With closeout, the 18-hole match is worth a set amount and once it’s decided, a second match on the remaining holes begins for half the original amount. So if the initial wager is $20 and the match play is closed out after 15 holes, the last three holes are played under match play for $10, and if one player wins 16 and 17, the 18th hole would be played for $5. Great for making sure every hole counts.
This is the golf game for you if you frequently play with two other friends. There are a total of nine points available on each hole (a point has a predetermined dollar amount). The player with the low score on a hole gets five points. The player with the second-lowest score gets three. And the worst score on a hole gets one. If there are ties, you simply divide the points by the number of players tied. Relatively easy to keep score among three players that’s different than standard stroke play.
Type of match play in which each hole is worth a given amount of points or money. You can win only by winning the hole outright, which is done by carding a lower number of strokes on a hole than all other players. If the best score for the hole is achieved by more than one player, the money or points are carried over to the next hole. An entire match may be won by winning a single, well-timed hole. In the event that two or more golfers halve the final hole, a playoff begins until one golfer wins a hole outright.
Instead of rewarding great shots, players are penalized with points for bad shots. Such as Hitting a ball in a bunker (1); Hitting into the water (2). Hitting out-of-bounds (3). Three-putting (1). Four-putting (4). Duffing a tee shot (1). Points can also be subtracted for stellar play such as making birdies, holing long putts or stiffing shots from off the green. Feel free to modify the categories and points. The player with the lowest point total wins. Great for developing course management skills.
Stableford Scoring is a scoring system in which different strokes are awarded different point levels on each hole. There are two widely used Stableford Scoring systems. Each type of scoring system is designed to incentivize a more aggressive style of play. Over three holes, two birdies and a double bogey will result in a better overall score than three pars. The winner is the player who scores the highest number of points. Here is how each Stableford Scoring system works.
Traditional Stableford Scoring
0 2 strokes or more over, or no score recorded
1 1 stroke over
2 Same number of strokes
3 1 stroke under
4 2 strokes under
5 3 strokes under
6 4 strokes under
Modified Stableford Scoring
+8 Albatross (3 strokes under par)
+5 Eagle (2 strokes under par)
+2 Birdie (1 stroke under par)
−1 Bogey (1 stroke over par)
−3 Double bogey or worse (2 strokes or more over par)
Bogey and Par Match Play Scoring:
Think of this as the pass/fail version of golf. Rather than using match play against at an opponent, players need only score a bogey or par to get a result and score a point for the hole. The winner is the player who is most successful in the aggregate of holes.
Great for players who fear or struggle with one or two holes, a player can use his or her handicap strokes on any hole until they run out. The catch is that the handicap stroke (or two) has to be declared before the tee shot on that hole, and a maximum of two strokes can be used on any one hole. The player with the low-net score wins the pot. Can be used for stroke or match play with varying results.
Great for not ruining the fun when an inconsistent player is prone to blowing up on a couple holes. At the end of the round, each player gets to throw out his or her worst score on three holes. The best 15-hole score wins the pot. This is a great game for mid-to-high handicappers because it tends to keep everyone competitive and interested for longer. Some people prefer to not even add up the score until afterward.
Scramble and Variations:
Each player in a team (typically of two to four players) tees off on each hole and the team decides which shot was best. Other players pick up their ball and play their next shot from that position. This process is repeated until the hole is finished. The lifted balls must be placed within some distance, often 6-12”, of the original player’s position. This is a popular type of competition for events and organizations, especially those that involve players of varying skill sets. Here is one example of official Golf Scramble Rules.
Texas Scramble: This variation requires a set number of drives from each team member must be used during the course of the round.
Reverse Scramble/Bloodsome: This scramble is one in which the team plays its worst ball after each stroke. Better for small teams of skilled golfers. Otherwise, it can take forever.
Shamble/Bramble: Pick the best ball off the tee, everyone plays regular golf from there into the hole.
Ambrose Scramble: An adjusted team handicap is used to level the playing field across teams of varying skill level.
Florida Scramble: After each stroke, the golfer whose ball was selected sits out the following stroke. Also called a Drop Out Scramble, Stand Aside or Stand Out.
Miami Scramble: The golfer whose drive is selected sits out until the team reaches the green.
Powerball Scramble: On some holes, team selects one of its golfers to tee off from the forward tees.
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.
Great for a side pot game that will force you to become better at short and clutch putting. There are no gimmies in Snake. Any three-putt or worse, you have to add to the pot. The last person to three-putt has to pay the other players the amount in the pot. You may want to keep this side pot add-in small, especially if you’re playing one a more aggressive variation in which the amount you add to the pot doubles each time. Another version makes the person with the most three-putts pay.