four golfers on course

How Do You Play a Four-Ball Golf Match?

Four-ball is a variation of the traditional game of golf.  It is sometimes called Better Ball or Best Ball.  In this format two persons partner with each other against another two-person team.  Each golfer plays his or her own course but the difference comes in the scoring.  The lower, or better, score of the two partners is counted against the other team on each hole.


The first team is comprised of Terry and Lynn, “Team Terry-Lynn”.  The second is Pat and Chris or “Team Chris-Pat”.  All four persons play the hole separately.  At the conclusion, Terry scored 4 and Lynn hit 6.  Team Terry-Lynn records the score of 4 for that hole.  On the same hole Pat shot 6 and Chris shot 3 so Chris-Pat writes 3 for the hole.  Team Chris-Pat wins that hole.  The two teams continue all through the round of golf with each team playing all the holes separately but choosing the lowest score to see who wins the hole.  At the end of the round the team member whose overall score is lower is the one submitted to see which team won the whole match. 

Each side uses a single scorecard.  If it is a handicapped competition, each partner’s handicap is listed.  Each score entered must be identified by the person who played that round.  If there is no clear identification, the team can be disqualified.  There is no penalty for entering more than one person’s score on the card but at the end the gross score of one team member must be shown.  The team cannot just show a single gross score.  Of course, the score must be certified but only one team member need take care of that task.

There are a few nuances: 

  • Only one partner needs to complete the hole.  So, if it fairly obvious which team member will win the whole, the other person need not finish that hole.  That can speed up the round if time is a concern.
  • If neither partner completes the hole, it depends on whether you are playing in a match or stroke. 
    • In match play where each team wins points for the best hole, the side where neither team member completed the hole simply means they lose the point for that hole.  The exception would be if the other team conceded the hole to the other team. 
    • In stroke play, where the total points counts to the total score, the side is disqualified.  Again, there is an exception.  The mistake can be corrected under Rule 3.3c. 
  • If both scores for a hole are identical, either score will be counted toward the end game total.  The Committee is the decision maker.


A handicap is a numeric method to even the field for players of unequal abilities.  Better players have lower handicaps.  The United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A) have agreed on a new World Handicap System (WHS) introduced in 2020.  This is being implemented to help unify the various systems that have developed through the years and to make it easier for international golfing events, including the Olympics.

The rules for handicaps vary depending if the four-ball game is in match play or stroke.

  • In match, play the player with the lowest handicap plays from scratch and all the other players’ handicaps are reduced accordingly.
  • In stroke play, each side is allowed a percentage handicap for the course.  For men it is 90% and for women 95%.

Professional Four-Ball

If you follow golf, you will realize that there are some prestigious tournaments that incorporate four ball in team competition.  Some of those include Ryder Cup (since 1961), Solheim Cup (since 1990), and President’s Cup (since 1994).  In the amateur team tournaments, the Curtis Cup allows four ball, but the Walker Cup does not. 


As in every game, especially in competition, there are some techniques that will help you do your best.

  • Focus – Concentrate on the hole you are on. I know that sounds simple and it is probably one of the more difficult elements.  However, as much as possible, try to avoid thinking about your last hole score or that awful dogleg on the next hole.  Just try to center your attention on this hole and its specific elements.
  • Play your own game – Just because you have a partner doesn’t mean you need to change how you attack the course. Stick to what you know works for you. 
  • Know your position – If you have an idea of where you (or your team) are in the scoring, you won’t need to worry about catching up on the back nine.
  • Competition – Similar to poker, golf can be a mind game with your opponent. Going back to the first bullet point, don’t lose focus.  Play your own game and don’t let someone else play with your psyche.  At the same time, pay attention to your competition.  If they are nervous, their shots can be tenuous.  That can be to your advantage if you are set on winning the match.
  • Play the full game – Don’t give up. Consistently quitting in the middle of the round because your teammate’s score is the one to be counted can leave you sabotaging yourself.  Besides, anything can happen.  That is part of the excitement of the sport.
  • Plan – Even a par score can win you the hole. Don’t try to be the hero.  Play each hole on its own and select your clubs to your own best advantage.
  • Have fun – You started this sport because it was enjoyable. Don’t let competition spoil that for you. 

So, if four-ball golf sounds like something you would like to try, contact us at Back2Basics Golf.  We are here to help you find more ways to enjoy this sport.  Our concern is for the individual player and we can offer suggestions and equipment that will help you improve your game and its enjoyment.


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