How to Play Four Ball Golf: A Simple Guide

So you’ve agreed to a four ball with your friends, but you’re rusty on the rules and format. Have no fear.

What is four-ball golf? Four Ball golf is a team format where two players compete against two others. Each plays their own ball, and the best score between partners is recorded for each hole. The team’s score is the total of the best scores for all 18 holes. Handicaps level the field. 

But there are more details to understand if you want to play your best golf in this format. Our comprehensive guide will teach you everything you need to know, from the basics of four balls to more advanced strategies.

Let’s dig in.

What Is Four Ball Golf?

four ball golf group of male golfers at a golf tournament

Four ball golf, otherwise known as best ball or better ball, is an uncomplicated format where two sets of partners compete, and each plays their own golf ball during the entire round.

In four ball golf, the team’s score for the hole is determined by taking the lowest recorded strokes of either player. If only one golfer finishes a given hole, their individual stroke count will be regarded as the team’s total, and no other scores will be considered.

Whether played in stroke play or match play, this same principle applies.

Each team takes the lowest of the two scores on each hole, and the team with the lowest score hole wins that hole and receives “one point”. If scores are tied, the hole is halved and each team receives “half a point.” 

It is sometimes referred to as 4BBB match play when played in match play. 

Where Is Four Ball Golf Played?

Most of the biggest and most well-known professional golf team tournaments, such as the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, and Presidents Cup, play the four-ball match play format.

In the Ryder Cup, for the first two days, the Fourball format is played during the morning sessions, and foursomes are played in the afternoon.

The captain chooses four teams of two. As mentioned, both players on each team play their ball. 

Four-Ball Formats

How is a four ball played in golf? Golf four-ball format can be played as a match or stroke play tournament.

In stroke play, competitors are paired and play as a team. Each golfer plays his or her ball to the completion of the hole. The team’s score for the hole is the lower of the two players’ scores.

In 4 ball match play, teams consisting of two players per team compete directly against each other.

All four golfers play their own ball throughout the round. The lowest score recorded by one of the two golfers in a team is the score recorded for that hole.

The pair with the lowest score on a particular hole wins that hole.

If both teams record the same score on a particular hole, the hole is halved.

Four Ball Golf Rules

man in a pro golf tournament thinking about his shot on the golf course

Rule 23 has several rules that many golfers may not know about and find interesting.

When only one partner holes out and completes the hole under the rules, that partner’s score is the team score for that hole.

The other partner does not have to complete the hole.

If neither partner in a team completes the hole, that team does not have a score for that hole which means:

In match play, the side loses the hole unless the opposing team has already decided to concede the hole.

In stroke play, the side is disqualified unless the mistake is corrected in time by one of the partners holing out before moving to the next hole.

Rule Details

  • Rule 23.3a

A  round is deemed to have started when one of the partners makes a stroke to start his first hole.

  • Rule 23.3b

In stroke play, a round ends when either both partners have completed the final hole or the final hole has been completed by one partner, with the other partner opting not to complete the final hole.

In match play, a round ends when either side has won the match.

  • Rule 23.3c

In Stroke Play, a hole is completed when at least one team partner has holed out.  All four players don’t need to hole out. 

A hole is completed in Matchplay when both partners on both sides have holed out, or either side has conceded the hole.

  • Rule 23.4

Both partners don’t have to be present for the entire match; if both are, they are not required to play on each hole.

In match play, if a partner arrives late to play, that partner may start playing for his side once the hole that’s being played when he arrives is completed.

In stroke play, if the partner arrives before his partner has started playing that hole, then he may play that hole.

However, if his partner has started playing that hole, he must wait for the next hole to start before entering the match.

  • Rule 23.5

A partner may mark the spot of the ball and lift, replace, drop, and place his partner’s ball. However, he is responsible for any breach of four-ball match play rules that may be incurred, which could lead to penalty strokes. Examples of such violations include improving the conditions which could affect the stroke to be made by his partner.

  • Moving a partner’s ball accidentally.
  • Not marking the spot before lifting the ball. 

A caddie may also advise his partner’s teammate if requested as long as he stays within the rules.

Four Ball Scoring

four ball golf scorecard

It is the responsibility of each side to fill in their scorecard correctly.

The side’s gross scores must be recorded in stroke play on a single scorecard. 4 ball match play handicap rules dictate that if it is a handicap competition, each partner’s handicap must be entered on the scorecard.

The gross score of at least one partner must be entered on the scorecard. There is no penalty for adding more than one partner’s score on the scorecard.

It must be ensured that the partner responsible for the score on a particular hole must be indicated on the scorecard. If this is not done, then the side is disqualified. 

Only one partner must certify the hole scores on the side’s scorecard. The committee is responsible for deciding which score counts for the side on each hole.

If only one score is recorded for a hole, that score counts for the side.

If both scores are recorded, then the lowest ( gross or net) score counts. If the scores are the same, the Committee may choose either score. In the diagram below, let’s observe how Amy and Martin take the lowest score for their team’s four-ball score over the first four holes.

Four Ball Strategies

four ball golf man shooting from bunker

Your ability to win, especially in 4 ball golf matchplay competitions, can be greatly improved if you adopt certain strategies.

Picking the right partner can be a huge advantage. If you are a consistent player who can play to par on most holes, then it could be an advantage to pick a partner who gets a lot of birdies but has the occasional double bogey.

It is also important to select a partner that isn’t inclined to lose concentration and hit the wrong ball.

You can stabilize things where he has a bad hole by hopefully getting a par. The number of birdies that he is capable of getting is invaluable.

Deciding who will tee off is determined by you and your partner’s strengths and weaknesses.

Letting the player who does not hit the ball far off the tee or has a high handicap play first can allow the better partner to decide what shot he needs to play.

If the high-handicap player hits a good shot straight down the fairway, it allows the “better” player to go all out to achieve a birdie.

A poor shot by the partner teeing off first means that the pressure is now on the partner teeing off second to play it safe and aim for par.

In a stroke-play competition, the winners are the team with the lowest aggregate score over a set number of holes.

A point is awarded to the side that wins the hole-in-match play. If scores are the same for the hole, then the hole is halved and each side receives half a point. 

The team with the most points over a set number of holes wins the game.

What Is the Four Ball World Record?

There are two notable 4 ball format golf world records.

  • On June 28, 2009, ninety-four (four-ball) teams descended upon Gunsan Country Club in South Korea to set the Guinness World Record for playing the most holes within 24 hours by any number of four ball teams. They managed to play an incredible 6,974 collective holes at an impressive rate of 74 per group!
  • On 12 November 2017, Matthew Dalton, Steven Holloway, Landyn Edwards and Michael Ryan (all New Zealanders) set the Guinness world record for the fastest round of golf (four ball), finishing 18 holes at Rotorua Golf Club in Rotorua, New Zealand, within 48 minutes and 56 seconds.

What Is the Difference Between Four Ball vs Foursomes?

In a four ball golf match, each player uses their own ball, and the team records the lowest individual score as their score for each hole. 

In contrast, foursomes feature two teams of two players competing against each other using just one ball per team. The golfers alternate hitting shots from the tee until the ball rests in the cup. 

Foursomes feel different from a four ball. Rather than recording individual scores, it’s more about teamwork between shots. If you hit a bad shot, your playing partner must hit the next one, creating that added pressure. 

If you’re up against the clock, foursomes can be a great way of reducing playing time. Having just one ball for each team greatly speeds things up. 

Read More: The Best Ball Format: Full Explanation


Why is it Called Four-Ball?

Four-ball’s roots extend thousands of years into Chuiwan – an ancient Chinese game that is believed to have somewhat resembled modern golf. It was ultimately brought over to Europe during the Middle Ages, where it would evolve and further refine. Today, with its long history in mind, four-ball stands as a testament to how accommodating golf can be for various players.

Is Four-Ball the Same As Best Ball?

Yes, “Best Ball” and a “Four-Ball” are the same game. Both players play their ball and then record the best player’s score as their collective score for the hole. 

What Is the Meaning of Four Ball?

A four ball is a format of golf that requires serious teamwork. There are two players in a team, and each player plays their own ball. The lower score recorded by either player is the score that is put forward for their team. This form of play can be used in match and stroke play scenarios.

Final Thoughts

Four ball golf is one of the most popular formats at the club level and is a fan favorite during team events such as the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, and Presidents Cup.

It is also a fun and popular format to play a round of golf between four friends and is easy to learn. 

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Nick is the founder of GolfSpan and an avid golfer. He's not quite a pro but has over 15 years of experience playing and coaching golfers worldwide. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience when it comes to choosing the right golf gear and finding the right setup for your game.

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