Types of Golf Games

Mix it Up: How to Play Different Types of Golf Games

There are a million different reasons to love the crazy game of golf. 

But I would argue one of the top reasons is that it never gets old, as no two days are the same. Unlike baseball, football, or basketball, you can always play a different golf course to mix it up.

Playing a new course presents tons of new challenges. It means new greens, different shots, and usually makes you stay more mentally engaged than playing the same course over and over again. Not to mention, you always have new pins, different weather, and you never know when your swing will show up.

While there are hundreds of thousands of golf courses worldwide, you can also mix up your format as well. There are so many types of golf games that you could play a different style every single round.

While most golfers stick with traditional formats like match and stroke, there are so many other creative ways to play a round with your buddies. So if you’re wondering what else is out there and want to breathe some life into your golfing games, check out some of these formats. 

Types of Golf Games

Before diving into the formats you might not have heard of yet, let’s talk about the two most conventional golf tournament scoring methods.

Stroke Play Rules and Match Play Rules

The most common types of play in the great game of golf are match and stroke play. These are very straightforward compared to some of the other scoring methods we’ll discuss in this post.

For stroke play, it’s what you see the guys on the PGA Tour doing week in and week out and what you’re likely playing now. Stroke play is nothing more than just counting every single stroke (no mulligans). At the end of the round, you add up the front nine and back nine strokes for your total score to par.

Match play is different but still a very popular scoring method and also a lot of fun. Here’s the thing, with stroke play every shot counts. But with match play, it doesn’t matter nearly as much and is also the scoring method used in team competition like the Ryder and Presidents Cup.  

With match play, the most you can win or lose any hole is by one. For example, if I’m playing against someone and they make a 6 and I make a 4, I only win the hole by one.

On the next hole, the player who won or has honors hits the first tee shot. You can also concede a hole outright if you hit a few OB off the tee or give them putts as well.

Finally, as the round progresses, there is no guarantee that you even finish the 18 holes. For example, if someone is three up with two holes to play and you can’t win more than one per shot, there is no way to win. But you can also split a match if you end up tied after 18. From there, you can do sudden death or call it a tie. 

Scramble

Now that you have more clarity on the two most common strategies, let’s talk about some different golf formats. First up is the scramble format, an all-time favorite that is loved by golfers around the world. 

Here’s how a scramble team format in golf works.

  • On the tee, everyone in the group (which is usually a foursome but could just be a twosome) tees off. 
  • Then, you choose the best tee ball and all players in the group hit the shot from there. The ball must be placed within one scorecard of the original ball and must remain in the same grass (if it’s in the rough, it has to stay in the rough).
  • Then, you choose the best ball for another approach, chip, or putt until the ball finds its way to the bottom of the cup. 
  • Best score wins the event.

This is one of the most common formats in casual tournament play as it doesn’t place a ton of pressure on one specific teammate. The only way to make this more challenging is to have a minimum number of drives for each golfer. 

For example, some events will make it so that each player has to use at least one or two tee shots. That way, you can’t just hit the bombers tee off and never play anyone else’s. 

If you’re playing in a scramble format, expect a low score to win (like low 60s or high 50s even). This is because every putt has four opportunities, which gives you a chance to read putts and make more birdies and eagles.

But it’s a good opportunity to bring new golfers into a tournament without having to rely too heavily on any single person’s contribution.  

Texas Scramble

This is a normal scramble with a slight twist to make it more challenging. Instead of playing anyone’s tee shot, you have to play at least four of everyone’s. That means you can only take up to six of one person and have to play a minimum of four tee balls for anyone else. 

This brings strategy into play and will make you think twice about whose ball to choose depending on where you’re at in the round and how each golfer is playing.  Sometimes you might have to choose to skip your drive (even if its good) for the next hole, especially if you’re a bomber on a par 5.

Types of Golf Games

Shamble

You might be thinking, “What is a shamble in golf” anyways? 

No worries if you’ve never heard of this type of golf game but I will say the shamble golf format is one of the most fun one on this list. A shamble is a format similar to a scramble (as the name implies) but has one major difference. 

With a shamble, all four players in the group tee off like normal. Then, you select the best golf shot and each player plays their own ball from there.  

Scoring will depend on the event but a variety of methods can be used. Here’s a few common ones:

  • The best score is the team score
  • Two or three low balls combined equal the total score 
  • The Lowest score with the highest score equal the total score 
  • Get rid of the low and high score and use the two middle scores 

As you can see from the different scoring breakdowns, this is a fun format and can get interesting if the high score is involved. Scores won’t likely be nearly as low as a traditional scramble either as each player is scoring their ball from the approach shot in. That means no getting reads from competitors and learning the breaks on the greens.

Alternate Shot

This format is designed for two players and is much harder than the previous ones. With the alternate format, only one player tees off and then the other person plays the next golf ball. Usually, player A tees off on even number holes and player B tees off on odd number holes.

From there, you alternate until the ball is holed out. As you can imagine, this makes it extremely difficult to score well if one (or both) of your team isn’t hitting it well. It makes it easy to bring in big numbers as you don’t have a partner to rely on for a backup shot.

For example, if the first player hits out of bounds, then the second player has to tee off hitting three off the tee. A lot more strategy is involved, as each hole is vital to the overall team score!

Chapman

While the alternate shot format is fun to watch on TV, it’s very challenging for most golfers to play well. But the easier version (and more fun) is known as the Chapman game, also known as the Pinehurst format as well. Similar to the alternate shot, this is a 2-man team event with alternating shots.

Here is how the Chapman format works:

  • Both players hit a tee shot on every hole as normal
  • Then, player A hits’ player B’s second shot and player B hit’s player A’s second shot. This is where things get really fun.
  • Once both players have hit the first two shots (assuming the ball isn’t in the hole yet), the two need to decide who’s ball they will play for the rest of the hole.
  • From there, each player will alternate shots until the ball is in the hole.
  • Lowest score wins!

Here is a quick example to clarify this 2-man team event:

  • Player A and B tee off and both hit the fairway on a par 4.
  • Player A hits B’s ball and vice versa.
  • Player B finds the green while player A finds a deep bunker.
  • They choose the birdie putt that player B left and since player B was the last to hit the shot, player A putts.
  • If he misses, player B putts.
  • And if he misses, player A hits the next shot.
  • Repeat for the next 17 holes.

This format is very fun as long as you and your partner are on the same page. Now is not the time to play the “blame game” and get mad when they leave you a tough shot (I know from experience). 

Instead, play for strategy and give yourself as many chances for both of you to have a birdie putt. Since you only play one golf ball after the third shot, this makes par 5s more challenging and par 3s easier to score.  

Stableford Scoring

The Stableford scoring system is unlike any other on this list but is another popular favorite among golfers worldwide. With a Stableford system, each score is made by points awarded to a fixed score on a specific holes. 

Each golfer basically plays the stroke play version of their own golf ball and then calculates the score. But unlike traditional stroke play, the highest score wins (which only happens by shooting low scores on the course). 

Here is a breakdown to understand how the traditional scoring system works: 

  • Four strokes under (which is basically impossible): Six points
  • Three strokes under (aka double eagle or hole in one): Five points
  • Two strokes under (aka an eagle) : Four points
  • One Stroke under (birdie): Three points
  • Even par: Two points
  • One stoke over (bogey): One point 
  • Two strokes over (double or worse): Zero points 

The only thing you and your group need to clarify before the round is what score equals what point. Since most golfers won’t score with the traditional scoring system, you would likely play modified Stableford version.

For example, if you’re playing with a lot of high handicap golfers, you can change it so that zero points start at triple bogey and if you make double, you still get a point.

Click here to read our in-depth overview of Stableford scoring.

Four-Ball (4 Ball Golf)

So what is 4 ball in golf?

Four-ball, also known as foursome or best ball in golf, is a simple and straightforward format compared to some of the other formats. The best ball golf rules are easy, each player plays their own ball and the better of the two scores count.

But one way you can make this format more interesting is to try it as match play instead of traditional stroke play.  This team event is a fun way to play if you have a foursome where each player has similar handicaps. Lowest score wins!

Ryder Cup

Just typing the word “Ryder Cup” got me excited as I’d argue it’s the most entertaining form of golf on TV, especially since the team event only happens bi-annually. It’s so much fun to see the best golfers from Team USA and Team Europe compete head to head for three straight days.  

The cool thing is that you can try to create that team magic in your group as well, using the Ryder cup format. In a traditional Ryder Cup event, there are three formats over three day including foursomes, football and singles. 

So if you’re out with your golf buddies on a trip and want to mix it up, you can add this format (or modify accordingly). Prior to starting, make sure you clarify each team and the format for the day. Then, select each team and make the most of it over the next few rounds based on the different formats above. 

Mixed Format

Finally, you can always create your own format and combines the ones you like most as well. For example, if you had 2-3 groups on a golf trip, you could do split up six holes for different formats and each foursome is a team. This helps not put too much pressure on one player either.

Here’s a quick example:

Hole 1-6: Scramble

Hole 7-12: Shamble

Hole 13-18: Total strokes

Or, if you want to do two man team events, you can do six holes best ball, six alternate shot, and the final six in Chapman format. As always, the lowest score wins and the 6-6-6- format makes for some fun golf matches.

You get to mix it up and have fun on every hole you play!

Final Thoughts on Team Events

As you can tell, there are tons of different formats to keep you and your group entertained for years to come. This is just one of the many reasons to love this great sport, there is no one way to do it and mixing up formats and having team events is a blast.

The biggest thing I’d suggest is that you and your group(s) are always on the same page with the format and rules before teeing off on the first hole. Otherwise, things can get awkward after 18 holes and don’t want any friendly arguments about who won the match. 

So the next time you see a course having a tournament style you’ve never heard of, why not sign up and have some fun. 

If you’re looking for our top 10 gambling games, make sure to read our full post here. We’ll cover skins games, more competitions and a variation of other tournaments! Or click here, to find out about another exciting format called a Calcutta.

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