One of the greatest tests of golf is playing in an alternate shot tournament. It’s also known as “Scotch” format which I think was named appropriately… because after a round chances are, you will need to drink some scotch!
Alternate shot is arguably the best test for two golfers. My guess is that it’s 10X harder than a scramble or a best-ball tournament as you will see in the next section. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a ton of fun if you’re up for the challenge.
Keep reading to learn more about this unique format, common variations, and rules.
Alternate Shot Golf 101
Alternate shot (also known as foursomes, Scotch ball, or alt golf) is a golf format composed of teams of two players. The same ball is used on each hole and team members switch hitting tee shots on odd or even holes.
For example, if player A tees off on the first hole, he will also tee off on odd numbered holes (3, 5, 7, 9, etc.). While player B will tee off on even holes only. That’s right, only one tee ball per hole vs. two tee balls in a Chapman golf tournament.
A player will not hit a shot twice in a row in this type of format.
This makes it very challenging to get into a groove while playing golf. It’s hard to only hit a few shots every hour and expect to play your best (at least for most amateur golfers). Not to mention, it’s hard to score well.
While it’s one of the most popular golf tournament formats in pro golf, it’s much harder than a best ball match play competition. Most amateur golfers struggle with the team score, especially if penalty strokes happen.
But if you’re up for the challenge, foursomes golf is a great way to test you and your partner’s game. This format is traditionally a match-play event where you’re paired with another team. This helps speed up the pace of play compared to stroke play. (You’ll see alternate shot a lot in member guest tournament playoffs.)
Alternate shot make for some great memories in big events like the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. It’s awesome to watch the best players in the world have to hit their teammates’ shots, especially after less than perfect drives.
Variations of Alternate Shot
Like a lot of formats, there are different variations of alternate shot. The first is known as Chapman or “American Foursomes” and is a combination of alternate shot with four ball.
Each player tees off, then they switch balls (Player A hits B’s second shot, vice versa). After both second shots are hit, they choose one ball to finish the hole with and take alternate strokes. Click here to learn more about Chapman golf tournaments.
Another version is known as greensomes or “Scotch foursomes.” This is a slightly easier version than standard alternate shot as both players tee off on every hole. Teams select the best ball and then play normal foursomes until the hole is complete.
A final version is known as bloodsomes or gruesomes. It’s the same format as greensomes with one diabolical twist – the opposing team selects which ball is used after both tee shots are hit. I’ve never seen something like this in a tournament (yet) but I think it would be as challenging as the greenskeeper revenge format.
Handicaps in Foursomes
Handicaps in foursomes get a little tricky and actually vary based on whether it’s a stroke play or match play event.
Let’s say Team A has a combined handicap of 30 while team B has a handicap of 20. 30-20 equals 10 and you would divide that number by two (since they are two player teams) to get five.
Team A would get a stroke on the five hardest handicap holes – which you can find on the scorecard. If both teams make the same score on those five holes, team A would actually win them based on handicap.
But the handicap system changes for stroke play events. This is much easier – simply average the two players handicap and it will be subtracted from the total score. This will create a gross score and net score as most events has both divisions.
Alternate Shot Golf Rules
The rules are pretty straightforward and follow traditional match play rules. A team can either win, lose, or half the hole.
If it’s a stroke play event (which is quite rare), the team would need to finish every hole. Only one player needs to certify the score at the end of the round.
The most important rule is that players must alternate after each stroke is made. A player should never hit a shot twice in a row.
Additionally, if a team needs to hit a provisional, it is played by the player who should hit the next shot. For example, if player A tees off but hits a questionable drive, player B would hit the provisional.
According to the USGA (Rule 22.2), here are the three other rules to remember.
- “Either partner may take any allowed actions for the side before the stroke is made, such as mark the spot of the ball and lift, replace, drop, and place the ball, no matter which partner’s turn is to play next for the side.
- A partner and his or her caddies may help the other partner in any way that the other partner’s caddie is allowed to help.
- Any action taken or break of the Rules by either partner or either caddies applies to the side.”
Alternate Shots Strategies (How to Play Alternate Shot in Match Play)
As you can imagine, alternate shot format is not easy since you’re only playing one ball per hole! If you or your partner hits a bad tee shot, it’s not always easy to get the ball back in play.
Here are a few alternate shot strategies to help you perform better in these tricky tournaments:
- Play the same golf ball in practice rounds. This is very important if you two typically play different types of golf balls.
- Stay patient with each other. As you know, golf is a game of bad shots sprinkled in with some good ones. You’re going to hit plenty of both so make sure to stay patient and not berate your partner after a bad swing or putt.
- Research the holes ahead of time to create a solid game plan. You want to make sure that the right person is teeing off on odd or even holes. For example, if player B is a big hitter, have them play the par 5 tee shots so the team has a better chance of getting on or near the green in two shots.
FAQs About Alternate Shot Tournaments
Do you have more questions about alternate shot (aka foursomes) golf tournaments? If so, keep reading to learn how to play well in these types of events.
What is an alt shot?
It’s named this way as players alternate the order of hitting shots. Golfers do not hit a shot twice and must alternate between player A and B throughout the round.
Is foursomes the same as four-ball?
No, four-ball tournaments are made of four golfers but each player is hitting the same ball the entire hole. Partners compete for better ball scoring and the lowest score of the team is taken. Compared to foursomes where only one ball is used on the hole and players alternate hitting shots.
Is an alternate shot the same as Chapman?
No, in a Chapman event both players hit tee shots and second shots. But on the third shot, the format switches to alternate until the next hole.
Why are alternates called foursomes?
This is another name that is somewhat confusing (kind of like best ball, where every golfer plays their own ball in the hole). The reason it’s named foursomes is that four players are in the group. This is why it’s commonly known as alternate shot or a variation is played.
Who hits provisional in alternate shot?
If player A hits their tee ball and it requires a provisional they do not hit the second shot. Instead, player B would hit the provisional as the possible penalty shot does not count in the order of play.
How do penalty shots work in foursomes?
Penalty shots do not affect the order in a foursomes match.
For example, if you hit a ball out of bounds on the tee shot, your partner would hit the next shot even if it’s the third shot of the hole. The same rule applies to provisional balls as well.
Can you switch golf balls in alternate shot?
No, this is another reason why alternate shot format is so challenging. Players are forced to use one type of golf ball for the entire round and can’t switch based on who is hitting. This is why it’s important to play practice rounds with the golf ball you will use in competition.
How is foursomes scored? Is it stroke play?
Foursomes are most commonly scored as a match play event. Your team is typically paired with another team in traditional match play for the round. But stroke play and handicaps can be included as well.
Do pros play in foursomes?
Yes, this golf format has created all kinds of great memories in big events like the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Walker Cup, and Presidents Cup.
Final Thoughts on Foursomes Golf Tournaments
After writing about all different formats in golf I can say hands down this is the hardest format for everyday golfers. Since you only get one tee ball on each hole, it can make for a long day on the golf course.
Even if your team hits it well off the tee, it’s still not easy scoring well with approach shots and putts. If you find yourself in one of these events, make sure to stay patient and game plan ahead of time. Having the right player tee off on odd or even holes can make a big difference in total score.
Finally, make sure to clarify rules and scoring before teeing off on the first hole. If you need an easier format, we suggest a shamble or scramble type of event – even the weakest driver can still have fun.