how do golf tournaments work

How Do Golf Tournaments Work? Here Are The Formats

A golf tournament is a type of event where golf players compete individually or in teams using a variety of scoring formats and tee time configurations based on the given golf course’s policy.

So, how do golf tournaments work?

Golf tournaments are played as a 72-hole stroke play, though different tournaments use different start, playing, and scoring formats, which makes the sport a lot more exciting.

Keep reading to know more about golf tournaments and how they work

How Do Golf Tournaments Work?

Professional golf tournaments usually have around 120 participants and are divided into four rounds played over the course of four days.

Professional tournaments usually start on a Thursday and end on Sunday, with the average game of golf lasting for 3–4 hours.

After two rounds, only the leading 50 competitors get to move into the final rounds.

Basically, players are matched into teams of two to play, with the highest-scoring players teeing off first. In the end, the player with the lowest combined score wins. However, if there’s a tie, these two players will have a playoff.

Different Golf Tournament Formats

There are quite a few scoring formats, but the most commonly used formats in golf tournaments are stroke play and stableford.

There are other formats that aren’t commonly used, like matchplay, scramble, alternate shot, Teamplay, and Fourball.


Stableford scoring format is the most used format in amateur tournaments. It’s a system where the players get awarded points for each hole they stroke.

Players get two points for a par, one point for a bogey, and zero points for a double bogey. Similarly, the points increase for shots under par.

Consequently, the player with the most points wins.

Stroke Play

In stroke play scoring format, each stroke counts, and the score from each round would eventually be added together. It’s usually preferred by professionals who use this scoring format more than any other format.

In amateur tournaments only, the player’s handicap is usually subtracted from the final score to level everything out. In the end, unlike Stableford, the player with the lowest score wins.


In a scramble scoring format, also known as best ball, each player in the group of four plays his own shot. The players then choose the best tee-positioned shot and drop the other three.

This format makes the game easier for everyone. Eventually, the team with the most points wins.


Matchplay is a rare format in both professional and amateur golf. It’s a form where players compete head-to-head in a series of one-hole contests.

The player with the lowest score wins the hole, and they move on to the other. Consequently, it only involves two players at a time.

Most Common Golf Tournament Start Formats

The start format of a golf tournament is the policy that is followed for the starting round. There are three starting formats, which are:


The shotgun start format is when every group of players tees off simultaneously over different holes. That means that the tournament will start and end at the same time, which is the time that takes one group to play all holes.

The tournament’s start is signaled by a shot into the air, and each group of four starts on a specific hole.

This start format is best suited for larger groups of players, usually over 60 participants.


The standard first-hole start format is when each group tees off at the first hole. The groups play successively with predetermined intervals of usually 10 minutes.

These tournaments probably take twice as much time because, by the time the first group finishes, the last group could be just starting.

This start format is best suited for smaller groups of 36 players or fewer.

Two-Tee Start

The two-tee start format is a mix of the shotgun and standard first-hole formats. It means that two groups tee off on hole 1 and hole 10 simultaneously and complete consecutively.

A tee time of 10–15 minutes is usually given for each group on each stroke to keep things going.

This start format is best suited for groups that aren’t large enough to follow the shotgun format yet aren’t small enough to be time efficient following a standard format. So, it’s perfect for a group of 40 to 56 players.

What Are the Major Golf Tournaments?

There are four major golf championships played every year, namely the Masters Tournament, U.S. PGA Championship, Open Championship, and U.S. Open Championship.

Winning all four championships is called a Grand Slam. No one has ever managed to achieve a classic Grand Slam, which is winning all four events in the same year.

However, Tiger Woods achieved a Career Grand Slam by winning the four events within two years.

Masters Tournament

Also known as the U.S. Masters, the Masters Tournament is one of the four major Grand Slam tournaments. It starts in April and is played at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.

Players receive an invitation from the championship to participate. Consequently, there are no qualifying tournaments to be played beforehand.

U.S. PGA Championship

The PGA Championship is a professionals-only tournament. Those professionals need to meet highly specific and demanding criteria in order to participate in this tournament.

Winning the PGA Championship comes with a lot of privileges, including the opportunity to participate in the other Grand Slam tournaments for 5 years to come.

Additionally, it offers a lifetime possibility to compete in the upcoming U.S. PGA tournaments.

Open Championship

Also known as the British Open, this is the most prestigious of the four tournaments, and it’s the oldest golf tournament ever. It’s held in the United Kingdom over a rotation of a selected group of golf courses.

It’s called the “Open” because, in theory, it’s open to professionals and amateurs. However, in practice, only a selected few amateurs can join through invitation or qualification.

U.S. Open Championship

This is considered the most challenging tournament worldwide. The golf courses for this tournament are specially prepared to offer hard conditions with numerous obstacles.

The tournament has been four rounds on an 18-hole course with a total of 72 holes of stroke play since 1898. The winner is the player with the lowest score (lowest number of strokes).


Whether amateur or professional, tournaments are enjoyed by all golf fans and form a great part of many golfers’ experiences.

As far as the format, most amateur tournaments use stableford, while professional tournaments use a more stroke-focused system, which is called stroke play.

The more you get involved in the world of golf, the easier it is to wrap your head around different systems and tournaments.


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