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Types Of Play And Handicaps In Golf

Updated on January 22, 2015

Types of Play And Handicaps

This article will explain the types of play within the game of Golf as well as briefly explaining how handicaps work with each format.


The first type of play we'll be looking at is Strokeplay. The vast majority of professional and amateur tournaments take place under this format. In this type of play, 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 then wins. Within this format the "gross score" is the total number of shots taken. In a tour event, this is the score that truly matters as professional golf players do not have handicaps. Although at club level where golf players do have handicaps, their handicap is deducted from the gross figure so as to produce a "net score". In most amateur events this then decided the winner.

Matchplay Singles

The second type of play here is the Matchplay Singles. As is suggested by the name, Matchplay Singles involves head-to-head competition. Individual holes are won, lost or halved and every hole contributes to the state of play of the match. To give an example: the player who manages to win the first hole is "one-up". If that person then wins the next hole, s/he goes "two-up", and if s/he loses the next, the player is back to "one-up".

If a hole is halved, the match score stays the same. The result of the match is then decided when a player is "up" by more holes than there are holes left to play. This is known as victory by four and three. If, however, the match is all square after 18 holes, a sudden death play-off takes place. The golf player who has the lowest handicap gives strokes to their opponent. This is based on three-quarters of the difference between the two handicaps. 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. It is for this reason player B receives a stroke from their opponent on each of the holes with a stroke index of between 1 and 8.


Another type of play is the Stableford. Now this format works on the principle of awarding points for scores gained on each hole.

  • An Albatross is worth 5 points
  • An Eagle is worth 4 points
  • A Birdie is worth 3 points
  • A Par is worth 2 points
  • A Bogey is worth 1 point
  • Anything worse than a Bogey scores no points

The golf player with the highest score at the time the round comes to an end wins. Stableford offers the full handicap allowance to competitors.

Fourball betterball

The Fourball betterball type of play is fairly similar to matchplay singles. The main difference being the game is played in pairs. Each golf player in the two pairings their own ball. The lowest score from each pair on each hole is the one that counts. Another way that it is similar to matchplay singles is that the method of keeping score and how the handicaps work is the same.


This one is another type of play that is played in pairs. However,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. Alternate shots are then played with the same ball until the hole is completed. This format can also be applied 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.

Example: If team A has a combined handicap of 10 and team B has a combined handicap of 26, then 16 is the difference. Because three-eights of 16 is 6, team B receives a stroke on holes with a stroke index between 1 and 6.


The greensomes type of play is a variation on the foursomes format. The difference, however, is that both golf players in each pair tee off and then select the more favorable of the two drives. After, alternate shots are played as in foursomes. The handicap calculations work in Presley the same way as with foursomes.


The bogey type of play is an almost forgotten type of format. The course is essentially your opponent. The scoring system is based on holes won, lost or halved. The game is not over until the last hole has been completed. The general aim when playing the bogey type of format is to finish as many holes "up" on the course as is possible. As you play your game, you receive shots from the course, most commonly based on three-quarters of your handicap allowance.

Example: If you play with a handicap of 8, 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 are vitally important within the game of golf as it enables golfers of varying abilities to compete on an equal platform. Gaining your first handicap is a very easy process that usually involves playing three rounds on the same course. You would then combine the scores and divide it by three to arrive at a figure that is relative to the standard scratch score (SSS) of the course. Example: If you were to play three rounds and score 86, 91 and 84, these figures are then added up to make 261. This figure is then divided by three to make 87. If the SSS if the course is 70, then you would be given a handicap of 17. The maximum handicap for men is 28 and for women the upper limit is 36.

Your handicap would then be adjusted every single time you play in a strokeplay competition. There are three possible scenarios:

  1. You can shoot a score better than your handicap which means your handicap would be lowered.
  2. You can shoot a score that is the same as, or one-three strokes above your handicap. This would then place you in a "buffer zone", where your handicap does not move up or down. This "buffer zone" allows for a minor dip in form, which would not warrant an increase in your handicap.
  3. You can shoot a score that is that is more than three shots above your handicap. This would place you beyond the 'buffer zone". In this instance, your handicap would increase.

For More Detailed Information:

A book called "Golf Rules Illustrated 2012 - 2015" contains every rule in the world's most popular game, including all the New Rules that come into play in 2012 that are valid to the end of 2015. This book is great for both beginners and the more advanced golf player as it contains every updated rule in the game of golf and includes simple, clear instructions with great pictures to match.


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