Four-Ball Match Play Golf Format Explained – Tips & Guides

Most of the biggest and 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, Fourball is played during the morning sessions and Foursomes is played in the afternoon.

The captain chooses four teams of two. Both players on each team play their own ball’ so four balls are played on every hole. 

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”.

In Four-ball, also known as Best ball, or Better ball, two partners or(pairs) play together and hit their own ball on every stroke for each hole. Is sometimes abbreviated as 4BBB. 

Four-Ball Formats

The format can be played as either a Stroke play or a Matchplay Tournament.

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

In match play, a four-ball consists of two teams of two players per team competing 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.

The Rules

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 sides 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. 

Fourball Scoring

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

In stroke play, the side’s gross scores must be recorded on a single scorecard and 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 needs to certify the hole scores on the side’s scorecard. It is the committees’ responsibility to decide which score counts for the side on each hole.

If only one score is recorded for a hole then 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.

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 partner of each team 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 or if both are, it is not required for both 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 will have to 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, he is however responsible for any breach of the rules which may be incurred which could lead to penalties, such as:

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.

Fourball Strategies

Your ability to win especially in Four-Ball 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.

 Where he has a bad hole you can stabilize things 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 for achieving 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.

In match play, a point is awarded to the side that wins the hole. If scores are the same for the hole, then 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.

Final Thoughts

A Four-Ball competition or game is one of the most popular formats at Club Level and local golf tournaments.

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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