One of the greatest benefits of playing golf is the amount of formats you’re able to play. While stroke play is arguably the most popular and de facto choice, golfers have the opportunity to play a wide variety of formats during recreational or competitive rounds.
But, what format should you play? And, when should you play it? What are the benefits of each and how do they differ? Below, we explore the three main competition formats, as well as additional formats you may consider trying next time you’re on the golf course.
As previously mentioned, stroke play is the unofficial format of all golf outings. Most of the PGA Tour’s events are played in stroke play format, as well as a typical weekend round.
Much of the reason for stroke play serving as the game’s unofficial default format is the way the game was designed. Stroke play is based off of the scorecard. Your success determined by how near par your score is for each hole and, of course, the round. Additionally, golf handicaps are all relative to the median par of the courses you register scores for. Above all, stroke play is easy. It can be played solo or utilized in a group of up to four. Stroke play can and should be used in any leisurely or competitive rounds.
Match play is a unique format wherein two golfers or two teams square off against one another hoping to win more holes than their competitors. Competitors can win, halve or lose a hole. Many well-played matches see numerous holes halved (tied), leading to exciting finishes.
A benefit of match play is that each hole represents a new opportunity for each competitor. While in stroke play, it’s important to limit holes that add big numbers to your scorecard. Match play allows golfers to navigate hole-to-hole with a singular focus on playing well for that hole specifically. This often leads to situations where competitors become much more aggressive or conservative on specific shots, depending on the status of their matches.
While open to any and all players, match play is typically reserved for formal rounds in a competitive atmosphere. From high school team matches to club championships and, of course, the infamous bi-annual Sunday singles matches at the Ryder Cup, match play is indeed one of the game’s more thrilling formats.
The scramble format is perhaps the game’s most relaxed. It’s often played at charity tournaments and caters towards golfers of all skill levels. A scramble is a team format that calls for each player to take a tee shot. Once all team members have hit their tee shots, the team chooses the best shot to take for its collective second — and subsequent — shots.
The scramble is great for beginners as they’re able to enjoy the game of golf without the stress of playing their own ball. They can rely on more advanced members of their team to hit pressure shots and simply chip in where possible.
There are also many other competitive formats to consider for your next outing. These include:
Two members of a team simply alternate shots throughout the round. This can be played against another team in a match play or stroke play format, or against a larger field of teams using stroke play.
Two or four-member teams compete in either stroke play or match play formats. Each member of the team plays their own ball but the team’s score on each hole is the best of the group.
A skins match is similar to match play as each hole is worth a point and the player/team with the lowest score on the hole wins the point. However, if there is a tie for lowest score, the “skin” carries over to the next hole, make the subsequent hole worth two points.
A unique take on the traditional stroke play format, Stableford is a scoring system that awards points for each result. Eagles, birdies, pars, bogeys and double-bogeys all have different values. Differently from stroke play, success in the Stableford format means you have the highest score rather than the lowest.
— Ben Larsen