Four ball and foursome golf

An introduction to the four ball and foursome golf formats and rulesIt can be a little bit confusing learning the game of golf. There are seemingly endless rules and an entire bag loaded with equipment that you will need to acquire an in-depth understanding of in order to find success.

To make matters worse, not only are there loads of rules to follow, but also a number of formats that you will need to learn in order to enjoy the game to its fullest.

While there is plenty to learn, today we will help improve your understanding of two prominent formats that you may come across in your quest to grow in the game of golf. Read on for a guide to understanding the Four Ball and Foursome golf formats.

Four ball and foursome golf formats

First, when will you need these?

Good question. You might not ever need them. It all depends on your relationship with the game. If, for instance, you usually play by yourself in the earliest hours of Saturday morning you are almost definitely never going to come across either of these formats.

However, if you are a tournament player or just someone that likes to spice up their weekend foursome, then you will be able to get plenty of use out of both of these formats.

Ok cool, so tell me about them

Sure thing. Both Four Ball and Foursomes are team based formats that require no more or less than four players to participate. For both, players will couple together in teams of two to compete against the opposite couple.

Generally speaking, both formats are measured via a match play stroke system. For those unfamiliar with match play, it is a scoring system in which players compete for the victory of individual holes. For instance, the team with the lower score on the first hole will proceed to the second hole with a score of “one up”. If on the second hole the team that had lost the first shoots a lower score, the match will then be “all square.”

Because of the way that match play is scored a team could potentially take fewer strokes than their competition and still lose the game.

The scoring system proceeds in that fashion until the round is complete, or until one team has won enough holes that they cannot be beaten based on the number holes left remaining.

The rules of Four Ball and Foursome golf are very similar but for the sake of clarity, we will examine them separately.

Four ball golf rules

In the Four Ball format every player plays their own ball for the entirety of the round (thus, the four balls). The lowest score is counted for each team, and likewise the team with said score wins the point.

In other words, the rules of this format are actually the exact same as the rules of a regular round. Even still, team members can still strategize with one another in order to attain the best possible results.

For instance, players on the same team as one another may decide how they play the hole based on how their partner is doing. If your partner is in a good position, you may feel more comfortable taking an aggressive approach to the hole by aiming for hard to reach pins or trying to hit a par five green in two strokes rather than the traditional three.

This is a format that you will generally not see very much of in tournament play as it can be a little bit lengthy. It is, however, an excellent way to spice up your foursome’s gambling.

You will also encounter Four Ball on the professional tour during the Ryder and President’s Cups.

Foursome golf rules

The Foursome, or alternate shot format is a little bit more popular on the amateur tournament scene. For this format, members of a team take turns hitting shots.

One player will tee off, then their partner will hit the subsequent shot from the fairway. This format is generally fairly quick (or at least quicker than Four Ball) and it is also much more dependent on team work.

Like Four Ball you may easily incorporate this format into your weekly rounds, assuming of course that you have the right number of players. This type of format is also quite typical of the popular “Member-Guest” tournaments, or other such events that are popular at clubs everywhere.

This is also a format that you will see on the professional tour on the Ryder Cup or President’s Cup.

Handicaps in foursome and four ball golf

If you encounter these formats in a formally competitive capacity you will most likely be subject to the handicap system. For those that are unaware of the golf handicap, it is a system that allows players of all skill levels to comfortably compete against one another.

For instance, a player with a handicap of fifteen (which generally means that they shoot somewhere in the neighborhood of 87 – 90) will be given roughly fifteen strokes on a player with a handicap of zero (which generally means that they shoot around par).

The USGA generally recommends that teams be made up of a player with a high handicap, as well as one with a lower handicap. However, there are no rules in place that mandate this.

Regardless, the handicap of a team will help determine who they play against, and it will also affect what flight their scores are considered within.

Essentially, the system is in place to ensure that players of all skill levels have a chance at victory.

Additional four ball and foursome strategy

While I already touched briefly on the limited ability to strategize in the Four Ball here are a few additional things to incorporate into your strategy for either format.


It sounds a little bit cheesy I know, but your ability to work as a team is going to make or break you. That means that you will need to make the decision to get along and strive for lower scores rather than personal glory.

A good example of teamwork (or rather lack of teamwork) in team format golf occurred during the 2004 Ryder Cup where world number one (Tiger Woods) and world number two (Phil Mickelson) were paired together in a group.

Since they were the two best players in the world at the time, the assumption was that they would be unbeatable, but quite the opposite was true. They were defeated with relative ease by the European rivals and it is widely thought that their own personal rivalry was entirely to blame. Naturally, we can’t know for sure how Phil and Tiger actually feel about one another but a simple review of the tape reveals that throughout the course of that round they could hardly even stand to look at one another, let alone collaborate as teammates, and it might very well have cost them the match.

Play to your partner’s strengths

This is particularly prudent for Foursomes or best ball format. Make sure that you are setting your partner up so that they are in a position to hit shots that play to their strengths. For example, if you know that your partner works best from the left side of the fairway, try placing your shot there to set them up for a good scoring opportunity. Remember that when they succeed you do as well.

Learn to bounce back

Things change pretty quickly in team matches so try not to dwell too much on a missed opportunity. Maintain a confident state of mind and proceed to each shot confident in your ability to execute it well.

This is a particularly important attitude to bring to the match play scoring system that is so often associated with these formats, where the mistakes of one hole are not reflected in your aggregate score. Shake off your misses (and the misses of your partner) and bring your very best attitude to every shot.


As you can probably see, the Four Ball and Foursome golf formats aren’t terribly challenging to learn, and they can also be a lot of fun. Whether you are looking to participate in a unique tournament or you just want a way to spice up your weekend matches, Four Ball and Foursomes are both excellent formats to consider.

Good luck on the course!