Golf Formats Explained: Different Ways to Play the Game - Mullybox

Golf Formats Explained: Different Ways to Play the Game

Have you ever gotten lost in a golf conversation related to formats? Net, gross, best ball, match play, chapman, and captain’s choice. What are people talking about? The truth is you may have to use a combination of these words to describe the golf format you are playing.

It can get confusing quickly, but we can help. Consider this Golf Formats 101. When you review the format of a golf match there are two pieces you need to understand. How is scoring being done and what format are you playing? It is easier to learn if you think about it as two different parts.



Let’s start with how your tournament or match will be scored.

Gross or Net

To understand Gross/Net, you must learn about golf handicaps. Your golf handicap is calculated based on your last 20 scores and is designed to predict your potential as a golfer. If you are a 10-handicap, you would typically shoot around an 82 on a par 72 golf course.

A net match or tournament uses golf handicaps. This allows a scratch golfer (0-handicap) to compete against a 20-handicap player in a fair match (either player can realistically win). Gross scoring does not use your handicap. The better players will almost win gross events. All professional events are gross.

If the event doesn’t say “net” or “gross” you should assume it is gross.

Stroke Play or Match Play

Stroke play is the most common form of golf. You simply count how many strokes it takes you to finish the hole and your score is the total of the 18 holes. The player with the least strokes is the winner.

Match play is when you compete against one player at a time. You are fighting to win holes, but the total number of strokes for the entire round doesn’t matter. For example, if you make a 6 on the first hole and your opponent makes a 9, you are 1up.


5 Most Popular Golf Formats

For the most part, all golf formats can be played with any of the scoring options above.

1.     Individual

You are playing by yourself, competing against other individual players.

2.     Best Ball (aka Four-Ball)

You are part of a team of 2 or 4 players. Most of the time Best Ball is played with 2-player teams. You play each hole normally, but at the end of the hole, your team score is the best score. In other words, if you make a 5 and your partner makes a 4 your team score is a 4.

3.     Alternate Shot

You are part of a two-person team. You must alternate hitting shots until you finish the hole. You and your partner will share one golf ball. This is the most challenging golf format. The Ryder Cup is played with a combination of individual, Best Ball, and alternate shot matches.

4.     Chapman (Modified Alternate Shot)

Chapman is a fun format this is easier than a normal alternate shot event. You are part of a two-person team. You and your partner tee off. You hit from your partner’s drive and your partner plays from your drive. At this point (after 2 shots), you select the best spot and play alternate shot until you finish the hole.

5.     Captains Choice

You are part of a two-person or 4-person team. On each shot, you get to choose the best shot, and everyone plays from that location. This is the easiest golf format and is often used in events with inexperienced players.


Combine Scoring and Format

Let’s review some “real-life” examples.

  • Individual Net Match Play – you will play one person at a time and compete to win holes. Golf Handicaps (net) will be used, so the better player will have to give strokes to the player with a higher handicap.
  • Gross Best Ball Stroke Play (2-player) – two-player teams will compete to shoot the lowest 18-hole score. On each hole, the best score for that hole will count as your team score. Golf handicaps will not be used.


Variety is the spice of life. Try different formats with your golf buddies. Good luck and play well!


Bonus idea:  Planning a golf event soon?  Get a subscription as a prize for the winners!


Author: Ray Dingledine

Ray has played golf for over 30 years and competed at the collegiate level. He now enjoys coaching his local high school team and playing in amateur events.

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