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How to Play

What is Match Play in golf?

Rules and how to play Match Play.

Match Play




2 or 4


Individual or Team

Match Play is one of the oldest games in golf. It's extremely simple to play, and can be modified endlessly to accomodate various formats of individual and team golf. In match play, every hole is worth one point. A match is won when one individual or team has accumulated more than half of the available points (9.5 for 18-hole match play). A match can end as early as after the 10th hole, and can also end in a tie after 18 holes.

How do you play match play?

  1. Establish the participants: Match play is typically played one-on-one or in two teams of two.

  2. Calculate playing handicaps: In the most common match play formats, singles and four-balls, playing handicaps are calculated for each individual. To calculate an individual playing handicap, subtract the low course handicap of the group from each other player. The result is the player's playing handicap, used to determine which holes the player receives a stroke. In other match play formats, individual and team handicap calculations may differ. This table from the USGA provides details of how to calculate handicap allowances for other formats.

  3. Win the hole: To win a hole in match play, a golfer or team must have the lowest score among all players on that particular hole. If there is a tie, each player or team is awarded a half point for the hole. 

  4. Keeping score: The score of the match should be kept by both sides, and is stated as the number of points the side is "up" or "down" by at any point in the match. For instance, if Side A wins the first hole of a match versus Side B, the score of the match for Side A would be "Up 1" and "Down 1" for Side B.

  5. Winning the match: Once a player or team has gained a lead that exceeds the number of remaining holes, the match is over. The final "score" of the match is determined by how many points the winning side has, and the point at which the match ended. For a match where Side A is leading by 3 with only 2 holes remaining, the final score would be "3&2". When the match ends after the 18th hole and there are no holes remaining, the final score is simply the size of the lead. For instance, if Side A has a 1 hole lead after 18 holes, the final score would be "1 Up".

Variant: Singles

This is the one-on-one version of match play, popularly played during the final round of the Ryder Cup and President's Cup. The individual with the lowest score on each hole wins the hole.

Variant: Four-balls

This is the most common team match play format, also played at the Ryder Cup and President's Cup. In this variant, each individual plays their own ball. A team wins a hole if one or both of the players on the team scored the lowest score on the hole.

Variant: Foursomes

This variant of match play involves teams of two, each playing one ball and alternating their shots. Player A drives the ball, Player B hits the second shot, and so on. A team wins the hole if their score on the hole is lower than the other team. Teams typically must alternate which team member hits the tee shot on every other hole. 

Other Variants

Match play can be paired with many popular formats like Chapman, Greensomes, and even a Scramble. This table from the USGA provides details of how to calculate handicap allowances for other formats.

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