Match Play Golf Format Explained – Tips & Guides

The majority of us average golfers operate on the standard Stableford scoring system during casual rounds. This format sees us convert our strokes into points, where if you card par on a hole that you stroke, you are awarded three points. But do you ever play any other formats?

My personal favorite is match play, a format where you can play the worst hole known to man and still come back and win the match.

In this post, we are discussing the match play golf format to give you a better understanding of the rules and how you can play it against your friends.

Types of Golf Scoring Formats?

From stroke play to Stableford and skins to match play. There are a variety of ways to enjoy the game with your friends. The superior golfers among us will likely play strokeplay or medal, where every shot counts until the ball drops into the hole.

While most average golfers employ the Stableford scoring format, where you pick your ball up after carding a net double bogey or zero Stableford points. Skins is another golf scoring format that is fun to play with your buddies. For a more detailed write-up on golf skins, you can view our article explaining the details here.

Finally, match play is not a format that we often play as casual golfers, but it is one of the most forgiving scoring forms. Instead of counting every shot, you only count the holes. For example, if you make a quadruple bogey and your opponent scores par, you are only one hole down.

Match Play Golf Overview

The USGA sums it up simply when they say that “Match Play is a format of golf where you compete directly against an opponent in a head to head match.” Out of all the scoring formats, Match Play is by far my favorite for two reasons. It is the most forgiving form of golf, and it gives us amateurs the chance to experience the thrill of competitive golf.

When we play our standard weekend Stableford competition, you never know where you sit until prize giving, which diminishes the competitiveness of the experience.

Furthermore, it is the most forgiving format because if you score 6 and your opponent scores 4, you only lose the hole and do not fall two shots behind. It allows you to bounce back from a terrible hole, unlike in strokeplay, where a triple or quadruple-bogey can ruin your round.

Match Play Rules

The most common form of match play sees you compete directly against an opponent over 18-holes. However, you can also play this format against everyone in your three or four-ball. In the end, whoever wins the most holes is declared the winner. Let us take a look at the rules of Match Play.

Match Play Terminology

Before we look at the rules of match play it helps to understand the terminology associated with it. When the match starts, the score is all square and remains this way until one of the competitors wins a hole.

If you win the first hole, you go one up. Conversely, if you lose, you go one down. Finally, Merriam-Webster defines the term dormie as “being ahead by as many holes as there are left to play.” What this means is that if you are 3-up with 3-holes to play, it is dormie. As your competitor has to win every remaining hole to force a playoff.

A playoff occurs when the opponents are tie at the end of the round and need to play additional holes to determine a winner. A playoff is usually based on a sudden death format, where the first player to win a playoff hole wins the match.

How Do You Win A Hole In Match Play?

As is the case with stroke play and skins, the player with the lowest score on a hole wins and increases their lead by one hole.

What Happens If You Tie A Hole In Match Play?

If you and your opponent finish the hole with the same score, then the match score remains as is. For example, if you are 1 up, and you tie the hole with your competitor. The score remains 1 up in your favor.

How Do You Win The Overall Match?

The short answer is that you need to win more holes than your opponent by the end of the round. If you come off the 18th hole, and you are 1 up in your match, then you are the victor.

Can You Win Your Match Before The Last Hole?

Yes, match play is one golf scoring format where the result of your match can be determined before you reach the last hole. This happens if you are winning by more holes than there are left to play. If you are winning by 3 up with 2-holes remaining, then the match is over as your opponent cannot draw or beat you.

What Is The Biggest Margin You Can Win A Match By?

Obviously, the margin that you can win by is determined by how many holes you are playing. During my high school days, our school league consisted of 9-hole match play games. The widest margin of victory that you could achieve was 5 up with 4 to play.

In my college years, we generally competed in 18-hole match play events. In this instance, the widest possible winning margin is 10 up with 8 holes to play. Once you reach a point where your opponent can’t draw or beat you, the match is over, and you can make your way back to the clubhouse.

What Happens If Your Match Is Tied At The End?

What transpires when two players draw at the end of their round depends on whether your match is part of a team event or an individual knockout tournament.

If you are playing a team event, you and your opponent will be awarded half a point each. Which will contribute to your team’s total. Like we see in the Ryder Cup.

However, the situation is far more competitive in an individual match play tournament. If you and your opponent are tied at the end of the round. You proceed to face off in a playoff. Generally, it involves a sudden-death playoff where the first player to win a hole wins the match.

Final Thoughts

Match play is a brilliant golf format that allows us, average golfers, to experience the thrill of competitive golf. Furthermore, it is the most forgiving form of the game, where one disastrous hole will not ruin your round.

Now that you have a better understanding of how match play works. Are you ready to dominate your friends in this format?

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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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