Five Most Popular Golf Tournament Formats Every Golfer Should Know

by Andrew Pritchard

A little golf tournament history

Ever since the 1500s when bored Scottish shepherds invented the game of golf by grabbing long sticks and whacking small rocks toward that rabbit hole off in the distance, it was inevitable that keeping score would quickly follow. Competition is how we humans roll and bragging rights on how many “whacks” it took to make that rock disappear made this new boredom-killer even more fun. It was just a question of time before larger groups started getting together to see which golfer or team could get that rock into the rabbit hole in the fewest attempts. Golf tournaments were born!

Fast forward 500 years to the five most popular golf tournament formats every ball-whacking golfer should know.


The “scramble” is a golf tournament format that is ideal for large-scale golf events such as charity, corporate and pro-am outings. What makes a golf scramble wildly popular is that it allows players of all abilities to contribute to the team’s success. It takes all the individual pressure off and makes “group fun” the goal (especially when the course has a beverage cart!) The most common scramble format is played with in four-person team, but can easily adapt to fewer or more players (or even one person if you have multiple personalities whom all play golf).


Welshman Frank Stableford invented the “Stableford” golf tournament scoring system in the late 1800s to discourage golfers from giving up on a round after just one or two bad holes. It became all the rage in the U.K. and Ireland right away as those countries have wind speeds higher than your average U.S. tornado. At least one or two scores are usually in the stratosphere due to the brutal conditions. Stableford rules are ideal in keeping golf tournaments competitive because even if a player / team has a couple of bad holes they’re still in the game.

Match Play

“Match play” is a scoring system at its most basic. Match play scoring in golf is as simple as apple pie. Golfers compete hole-by-hole. The person getting the lowest score gets one point, so there are 18 points up for grabs during the match. The golfer who wins the most holes wins the match. Remember, every hole is a new opportunity to win a point, so unlike stroke play golf, blow up holes don’t matter. Just forget it and move on to win the next hole. Game on!

Best Ball / Four-Ball

“Best Ball” and “Four-Ball” are two names for the same game. If you have ever watched the intense competitions in any Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup or Solheim Cup match, then you have seen a four-ball match (or best ball match). It’s the perfect golf tournament setup for combining the fun of team play with the personal glory of individual play.

Best Ball/Four Ball is a competition where two competitors play as partners, each playing his own ball, then the lower score of the partners becomes the team score for the hole. Best ball can be scored as match play or stroke play. Remember, the keys to successful match play golf are easy: pick a good partner and don’t get stressed if you have a bad hole!

Chapman / Pinehurst

The golf tournament format known as the “Chapman” is a unique two-person team competition scoring system that is also sometimes called the “Pinehurst System” or “American Foursomes.” The Chapman format can be played as match play or stroke play. It’s an ideal format for four players with varying playing abilities to compete and have a blast. The Chapman scoring system may sound complicated at first, but it’s simple once you give it a try.

The five golf formats listed above are the most popular, but there are loads of various ways to keep score and compete in the sometimes maddening, often thrilling, and always fun ancient game first played by those Scottish shepherds.

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