The Most Popular Golf Formats: Comprehensive Explained

Last updated on May 2, 2024 in Golf Resources 0 comment.
popular golf formats

Golf stands out among other sports for its versatility and adaptability, offering a variety of ways to enjoy the game regardless of the number of participants, personal preferences, or the course’s layout. This flexibility is one of golf’s most appealing characteristics, setting it apart as a uniquely engaging sport. With a plethora of golf formats available, each bringing its own rules, excitement, and challenges to the green, the possibilities for how you play are nearly endless. Whether you’re looking to spice up your weekend rounds or organize a friendly competition among peers, exploring different golf formats can significantly enhance your experience.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into 15 popular golf formats that are perfect for any gathering of golf enthusiasts, providing a fresh twist on the traditional game.

Golf Formats for 1 Player


This is the most traditional and maybe the simplest golf format.

Very simple, you will have to count how many shots it takes you to get your ball from the tee to the hole. These individual hole scores will then be added together after you finish your final hole to determine your overall score.

In gross stroke play, commonly seen in professional tournaments, the winner is the player who completes the course with the fewest strokes. Alternatively, in net stroke play, players subtract their Playing Handicap from their total gross score after the round, with the lowest adjusted score claiming victory. This golf format allows golfers of all skill levels to compete on a more level playing field.

The strokeplay format is applied in four majors: The Masters, The US Open, the PGA Championship, and the Open.

Worst Ball

The Worst Ball golf format is a rigorous practice method designed to enhance a player’s consistency and recovery skills significantly. In this format, a player hits two balls from each position on the course – whether it’s the tee, fairway, or bunker – and must continue the hole from the position of the less favorable shot. This process repeats for each shot until the hole is completed.

Not only does this format push a player to focus intensely on every stroke, but it also simulates pressure scenarios, helping improve performance under challenging conditions. Playing Worst Ball is particularly beneficial for advanced players seeking to refine their game by eliminating weaknesses.

Golf Formats for 2 Players


The Stableford format, a variation of stroke play, allows for individual or team competition and operates on a points-based system where the objective is to accumulate the highest score. According to Rule 32 in the Rules of Golf, points are awarded based on performance relative to a fixed score, typically par, as follows:

  • 0 points for more than one stroke over the fixed score (Double Bogey or worse)
  • 1 point for one stroke over the fixed score (Bogey)
  • 2 points for matching the fixed score (Par)
  • 3 points for one stroke under the fixed score (Birdie)
  • 4 points for two strokes under the fixed score (Eagle)
  • 5 points for three strokes under the fixed score (Double Eagle)
  • 6 points for four strokes under the fixed score.

This scoring system encourages aggressive play, as the reward for scoring under par is significantly higher than the penalty for scoring over par.

Skins Game

This game format is adaptable for both individual players and teams, where each hole represents a skin up for grabs. The individual or team with the lowest score on a hole secures the skin. In instances of a tie, the skin carries over to the subsequent hole, adding to its value. The ultimate victor is the one accumulating the most skins by the end of the game.

Beyond the basic rules, players can introduce additional ways to earn skins based on specific achievements throughout each hole, such as:

  • A “greenie” awarded for a tee shot that lands on the green
  • A “sandie” for successfully saving par from a bunker
  • A “woodie” for achieving par after an encounter with a tree
  • An “arnie” for making par without landing on the fairway at any point

Golf Formats for 3 Players

Match Play

In match play, the competition unfolds one hole at a time, with players vying to win each hole individually. Securing a win on a hole puts a player “one-up,” and successive wins increase this advantage accordingly. The match is won when a player is ahead by more holes than remain, for example, being “five-up” with only four holes left.

This format can be played as gross match play, where no handicap strokes are allocated, or as net match play, which incorporates handicap strokes to level the playing field. Match play can accommodate various formats, including singles, pairs, or even three-ball match play, offering a range of competitive setups.


In the format of the flag, players embark on their rounds with a predetermined number of strokes and continue playing until these are exhausted. Each participant carries a flag bearing their name to mark the location of their final stroke once their allotted strokes are depleted. The winner is the player who advances the furthest on the course within their stroke limit.

It’s important to note that a player’s starting stroke count is determined by their full or partial handicap. Opting for a full handicap increases the likelihood that several players will complete the entire 18 holes with strokes to spare. In such instances, those with remaining strokes proceed back to the first tee and carry on playing until they’ve used up all their strokes.

Split Sixes

Split Sixes is a dynamic and tactical golf format ideal for three players. At each hole, six points are available to be won. The player with the best score on a hole earns four points, the second-best score earns two points, and the third-best earns none. If one player wins the hole and the other two tie, the points are distributed as 4-1-1. In cases where two players tie for the best score and outscore the third, points are allocated as 3-3-0.

This format encourages strategic play, especially towards the end of the round, as players vie to maximize their point total. A full handicap allowance is used to level the playing field.

Golf Formats for 4 Players


In a Shamble golf format, teams can consist of 2 to 4 players. At the start of each hole, all team members drive off the tee as normal. The team then chooses the best of these drives, and every player takes their second shot from this selected spot. After the second shot, players continue the hole with their balls, playing individually until they complete the hole.

For instance, if players A and B form a team and player A’s drive is chosen as the best, both players take their second shot from where A’s ball lies. From that point on, both A and B will play their own balls for the remainder of the hole. This format combines team strategy with individual play, making it a popular choice for tournaments and casual play alike.

Foursome/Alternate Shot

This format involves teams of two, where team members take turns playing shots on each of the 18 holes. Additionally, they alternate who takes the tee shot at each hole.

For example, in a team composed of golfers A and B, if golfer A drives from the tee on the first hole, golfer B will play the second shot, and golfer A the third, and they continue to alternate in this manner. The term “Alternate Shot” is derived from this sequential swapping of turns between shots. This format is especially popular at traditional golf clubs, where it’s appreciated for its emphasis on teamwork and strategy.


In this team-based format, pairs of players compete using a better ball scoring system, applicable to both stroke play and match play. Throughout the game, each participant plays their own ball.

In the match-play version, the hole is won by the team member who posts the lowest score on that hole, thereby securing a point for their team. The duo accumulating the most points by the end of the round claims victory. For stroke play, the team’s recorded score for each hole is the lower score achieved by one of its members. The team with the overall lowest score after the round is declared the winner.


The Chapman format features 2-player teams, combining elements from various golf formats into a single game. Initially, both team members tee off, after which they swap and play their second shots with their partner’s ball. Following these second shots, the team decides on the better of the two and continues to play from that location. The player whose ball was not chosen takes the third shot, strategically allowing the team to consider who will take the next shot when selecting their best ball. From the third shot onwards, team members take turns hitting the ball until it is sunk into the hole. The team with the lowest score wins the game.


Scramble is one of the most popular golf formats for 4 players (2 or 3 are possible) and is often used for casual events when golfers on the field don’t have to play a lot.

In the Scramble golf, also known as “Texas Scramble” or “Florida Scramble,” teamwork takes center stage. At each hole, every member of the team drives off the tee. From there, the team selects the most favorable tee shot, and all members play their subsequent shots from this location. This process is repeated for each shot, including putts, with players allowed to place the ball within one club-length of the chosen spot, though not nearer to the hole.

Typically conducted as stroke play, the objective is to achieve the lowest combined score over 18 holes, with the team posting the smallest total declared the winner. This format encourages strategic collaboration and is a favorite for its inclusive and team-oriented approach to the game.

Best Ball

Commonly referred to as “Better Ball,” this format features teams comprising 2 to 4 players and can unfold as either match play or stroke play. Throughout the round, every team member plays their own ball. The team’s score for each hole is determined by the lowest individual score among its members. Once all 18 holes have been played, the team with the lowest cumulative score will be the winner.

This format allows for a competitive balance, as skilled players with low handicaps or those playing at scratch level have the option to compete solo against teams of two or three, leveraging the best ball strategy to level the playing field.

Formats for Golf Outings

Bingo Bango Bongo

Bingo Bango Bongo is a favored golf format that awards points based on three key achievements in each hole. The first golfer in a group to land their ball on the green earns one point. The next point is awarded to the golfer whose ball is closest to the hole once all group members are on the green. Finally, the golfer who first sinks their ball into the hole secures the last point.

This format can be enjoyed either individually or in teams, with shots taken in sequence from the player furthest from the hole to the nearest. The winner is determined by tallying up the points, with the highest scorer at the end of the round claiming victory.

String Ball

String Ball is a unique and engaging golf format where players use string to improve their position on the course instead of traditional handicap strokes. Each golfer receives one foot of string for every point of their handicap. Players can then use the string to move their ball on the course; the length of string used is cut and discarded. This can be used to extricate the ball from hazards, improve a lie, or even help in holing out. Optionally, players can earn an additional foot of string for every birdie they score, adding a strategic element to when and how much string to use. Don’t forget your scissors for cutting the string!

Note: A golf format is not limited to an exact number of golfers. For example, the Strokeplay can be used for 1 player, but it can also be applied to multiple players in golf majors. The Scramble is mainly for 4 players, but it can also be applied to a group of 2 or 3. Just be flexible when you decide on a golf format for your game.

The variety of golf formats available can significantly enhance the excitement of the game, ensuring that you and your friends always have a fresh experience on the course. By switching between different golf formats occasionally, the game remains engaging and far from monotonous. Moreover, the flexibility of some golf tournament formats discussed in this article allows for the incorporation of personalized rules and variations. This adaptability not only adds an element of fun but can also introduce new challenges, making each round more interesting and unique.

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Linh Chi

I am an avid traveler who loves to play golf and have experience in tourism golf in Vietnam and Asia countries. I'm here to provide you with useful information and help to plan a perfect golf holiday in Southeast Asia.

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