Golf – Standard Game Formats

Also known as Medal Play, Stroke play is the format of scoring where a golfer counts every shot over 18 holes. To win at stroke play you need to have the lowest score once your handicap has been deducted. (this known as your NETT score). If 2 or more players finish with the same number, a method of ‘countback’ is used to determine the winner (best score on the back nine, then last 6, last 3 etc)
It is the format most used in club competitions, although it is quite possible that this is being overtaken by the Stableford system (see below). The reason for this is that Strokeplay is the least forgiving of all of the game formats, as one disastrous hole can ruin the complete card, whereas in other formats each hole is in effect a separate entity.
Handicap allowance – Singles full handicap
Foursomes ½ of the total handicap of the partners.
Fourball ¾ of the full handicap for each partner.

Stableford is a points system which is becoming increasingly popular for club competitions, as it is a more forgiving form of scoring. Points are awarded after each hole depending on the nett score, and the winner is the player with the most points after the agreed number of holes in the competition (normally 18). The points are awarded as follows –
5 points for a nett albatross (3 under par)
4 points for a nett eagle (2 under par)
3 points for a nett birdie (1 under par
2 points for a nett par (level par)
1 point for a nett bogey (1 over par)
0 points for anything worse (2 over par or more)

Handicap allowance – as above for Strokeplay

Bogey / Par
In this context, Bogey and Par have the same meaning (see the ‘history’ section for the difference between the two!). In effect, the player(s) is playing against the course, and the nett score for each hole is compared with the par for that hole, and the player records a win (+), a half (0) or a loss (-). At the end, the holes are totalled to give an overall score in relation to the course par, normally expressed as ‘ 2 up’ or ‘3 down’. Note that, unlike Matchplay, you do not ‘lose’ before the completion of the 18 holes!
Handicap allowance – as above for Strokeplay

Matchplay is where players compete against each other rather than against the course as in all of the above formats. Matches can take the form of singles, fourballs and foursomes. In this format, the par of the course is immaterial – it is a straightforward matter of the player or side who has the lowest nett score on a hole. If a player/side wins a hole, they are said to be ‘one up’ etc. If the match reaches the point where a player/side is more holes up than there remain to be played, he/they have won (having probably been through the stage where they were ‘dormie’ [an equal number of holes up to those remaining]).

Matchplay is frequently used in club knock-out competitions and requires a result to be achieved. If the match is unresolved after 18 holes (or whatever the match is being played over), then extra holes are played until one player/side emerges as the winner. In inter- and intra-club competitions, matches can be halved.

Be careful to establish whether a matchplay competition is regarded as ‘qualifying’ (for handicap purposes). Normally this is not the case quite simply because a match can actually finish as early as the 10th hole. Some clubs do require cards to be kept, and in some circumstances (eg medal matchplay) the cards are returned and used for handicap adjustment purposes.