What Are The Different Formats In Golf?

Golf is a sport that has many different formats. In this blog post, we will examine the multitude of competitive and friendly formats of the game.

The most popular types of play seen on courses all over the world are discussed, as are a few that are sadly not played often enough. Additionally, a full and clear explanation is given of how handicaps work with each format. With that said, let’s jump right in.

The Different Types Of Formats In Golf

Here are the different types of formats in golf:

  1. Strokeplay
  2. Matchplay singles
  3. Stableford
  4. Fourball betterball
  5. Foursomes
  6. Greensomes
  7. Bogey

1. Strokeplay

Most professional and amateur tournaments take place under the format known as strokeplay. In this form of the game, you simply record your score for each hole, and add up the total at the end of the round. The person with the lowest score wins.

The total number of shots taken in strokeplay is known as the “gross score.” In a tour event, this is the score that counts because professional players do not have a handicap. But at the club level, each player’s handicap is deducted from the gross figure to produce a “net score,” which in most amateur events decides the winner.

2. Matchplay Singles

This format involves head-to-head competition. Individual holes are won, lost, or halved (whereby each player scores the same), and every hole contributes to the state of play of the match.

For example, the player who wins the first hole is “one up.” If that player wins the next hole, he or she goes “two up,” and if he or she loses the next, the player is back to “one up.”

If a hole is halved, the match score stays the same. The match is decided when a player is “up” by more holes than there are holes left to play. For example, if a player is four up with three holes to play, this is known as victory by four and three.

If the match is all square after 18 holes, a sudden death playoff ensues. The golfer with the lowest handicap gives strokes to his or her opponent, based on three quarters of the difference between the two handicaps.

For example, if Player A has a handicap of 4 and Player B has a handicap of 16, three-quarters of the difference (12) is 8. Therefore, Player B receives a stroke from his or her opponent on each of the holes with a stroke index of between 1 and 8.

3. Stableford

This format works on the principle of awarding points for scores gained on each hole. A double eagle is worth five points, an eagle four points, a birdie three points, a par two points, a bogey one point, and anything worse than a bogey scores no points at all.

The person with the highest score at the end of the round wins. Stableford offers the full handicap allowance to competitors.


4. Fourball betterball

This is similar to matchplay singles, only the game is played in pairs. Each player in the two pairings plays his or her own ball and the lowest score from each pair on each hole is the one that counts.

The method of keeping score, and how the handicaps work, is the same as in matchplay singles. Fourball betterball can also be applied to stableford but seldom to strokeplay.

5. Foursomes

This is another game played in pairs, but here each pairing shares just one ball. One player in each pair tees off on the odd-numbered holes, the other on the even-numbered holes. Thereafter, alternate shots are played with the same ball until the hole is completed.

This format is applicable to matchplay, strokeplay, and stableford. In matchplay foursomes, the pair with the lowest combined handicap gives shots to the other two players based on three-eighths of the difference.

For example, if Team A has a combined handicap of 10 and Team B has a combined handicap of 26, then 16 is the difference. Since three-eighths of 16 is 6, B receives a stroke on holes with a stroke index between 1 and 6.

6. Greensomes

This is a variation on the foursomes format, the difference being that both golfers in each pair tee off and then select the more favorable of the two drives. Then, alternate shots are played as in foursomes.

The handicap calculations work in exactly the same way as with foursomes. Greensomes is also a popular stableford format.

7. Bogey

This almost-forgotten format is essentially a game against par. The course is your opponent, and the scoring system is based on holes won, lost, or halved (as in matchplay). The only difference is that the game is not over until the last hole has been completed.

The goal when playing the bogey format is to fifinish as many holes “up” on the course as possible. As you play, you receive shots from the course, most commonly based on three-quarters of your handicap allowance. If you play with a handicap of 8, for example, the course gives you six shots. You receive these shots on the holes that have a stroke index between 1 and 6.

How Is A Handicap Calculated?

Handicaps allow golfers of different abilities to compete on equal terms with each other. Gaining your fifirst handicap is a straightforward process which involves playing usually three rounds on the same course. You then combine the scores and divide by three to arrive at a figure relative to the standard scratch score (SSS) of the course.

For example, if you play three rounds and score 86, 91, and 84, these fifigures are then totaled to make 261. This number is divided by three (which makes 87). If the SSS of the course is 70, then you will be given a handicap of 17. The maximum handicap for men is 28; for women the upper limit is 36.

Your handicap is then adjusted every time you play in a strokeplay. There are three possible scenarios.

First, you can shoot a score better than your handicap; your handicap will then be lowered.

Second, you can shoot a score that is the same as, or one–three strokes above, your handicap. This places you in a “buffer zone,” wherein your handicap does not move up or down. This zone allows for a minor dip in form, which does not warrant an increase in your handicap.

Finally, you can shoot a score that is more than three shots above your handicap, which places you beyond the buffer zone. In this situation, your handicap will increase.


Golf is a game that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. The sport has many different formats, which makes it suitable for everyone from beginners to experienced players.

Whether you’re playing a friendly game with family or friends, or taking part in a competitive tournament, there’s a format for you. So get out on the course and enjoy yourself!

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