Competitive Golf Tournament Formats (Golf Coach’s Tips)

Golf Tournament Formats in A Competitive Setting with Advice from Tell Me More Golf Coaches

As the leader of the Golf Instructor Team here at Tell Me More Golf, I will be breaking down the different types of golf tournament formats so that you understand these fun golf experiences.

Golf tournaments are the heartbeat of competitive golf. They offer golfers a chance to test their skills and experience the thrill of competitive golf.

But for those new to the game or even seasoned players, navigating the diverse landscape of golf tournament formats can be as challenging as sinking a lengthy birdie putt.

Types Of Golf Tournament Formats

The world of golf tournaments is rich and varied, offering formats to suit every player’s preferences. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common tournament formats.

Stroke Play

Stroke play is the classic, individual golf tournament format where players complete each hole with the goal of finishing the round in the lowest number of strokes possible. The player with the lowest score wins. This is the most common format of golf scoring.

Match Play

In match play, players compete hole by hole, with the goal of winning more holes than their opponent. With this scoring format, the number of strokes that a player wins a hole by is irrelevant as each hole is only assessed as a win/lose/tie. The player who wins the most holes is declared the winner of the match.

Modified Stableford

In this format, players earn points based on their scores on each hole. Points are awarded for birdies, eagles, and pars, and deducted for bogeys and worse. The player with the highest number of points wins at the end of the round.

Four-Ball (Better Ball)

Four-ball (AKA Better Ball) is a foursome tournament format. In four-ball, teams of two players compete. Each player plays their own ball, and the team records the lowest score on each hole. It’s a popular format for team events of all skill levels.

Alternate Shot

In alternate shot tournaments, teams of two alternate with each shot. Golfer one will hit their tee shot, golfer two will hit the second shot from the location of golfer one’s tee shot, and so on. Alternate shot can be played with stroke play or match play scoring.


How Do Golf Tournaments Work?

The mechanics of a golf tournament involve a series of steps, from registration to scoring:

  1. Registration: Players sign up for the tournament, typically paying an entry fee and providing relevant information such as their handicaps.
  2. Tee Times: Organizers set tee times, determining when each group of players will begin their rounds.
  3. On-Course Rules: Players adhere to specific tournament rules, which may include local rules set by the organizers in addition to classic golf rules set by the USGA or other governing bodies.
  4. Scoring: Scores are recorded for each hole, and tournament officials may use gross or net scoring, depending on the format.
  5. Prizes: Prizes or awards are presented to winners in various categories, such as low gross score, low net score, or team champions. There are sometimes prizes for other metrics too, such as longest drive.

Team Golf Tournaments

Team-based golf tournaments add a layer of complexity and camaraderie to the game. Here are some popular team formats.

Four-Ball (Best Ball)

Four-ball, also known as best ball, is a fun tournament format where players compete in teams of two. Each team member plays their own ball, and the team of two records the best score for the team.


In foursomes, teams of two compete in an alternate shot format. Player A will tee off on odd numbered holes, and player B will tee off on even numbered holes. This format is typically scored as match play, where the team with the most holes won (rather than the lowest total number of strokes) wins.

Four-Man Scramble

Four person teams hit their tee shots, then choose the best shot and all play from there. This best-ball format rewards teamwork and strategy. This can be scored in match play or stroke play format.


Types Of Golf Scramble

Scramble tournaments are preferred by many golfers due to their inclusive and fun nature.

There are a few common scramble formats often used in tournaments:

Texas Scramble

The Texas Scramble is a classic scramble format known to be accessible and fun for golfers of different skill levels. In this format, each player tees off, and the team selects the best tee shot. From there, all players hit their next shots from that spot. This process continues until the ball is holed.

In a competitive setting, tournament organizers often impose rules such as a minimum number of drives from each player used during the round. This rule ensures that one player doesn’t dominate the tee shots.

Step-Aside Scramble

The Step-Aside Scramble format adds a twist to the classic Texas Scramble. In a step-aside format, each player will tee off and the team will select the best ball. The twist is that once the best shot is selected, the golfer who hit it must “step aside” and allow the other players to take the second shot. This process continues until the ball is holed.

This format encourages fair play by ensuring that every team member contributes to the team’s success. It also adds an element of strategy. Teams must decide when to use the strengths of each player and when to “step aside” a particular player based on their skills and distance control.


What Is A Golf Invitational?

A golf invitational is a prestigious and often exclusive golf tournament that differs significantly from standard open competitions. They typically have very strict entry criteria, such as handicap restrictions or specific achievements, and therefore field a list of skilled and elite golfers. Think of famous golf tournaments such as the Ryder Cup.

Key characteristics of golf invitationals are as follows:

  1. Invitation or Qualification: Participants in golf invitationals are typically invited by the event organizers or must meet specific eligibility criteria. These criteria can include factors like handicap requirements, past tournament performance, or membership in a particular club.
  2. Limited Field: Golf invitationals often have a limited field of participants. This smaller field size enhances the sense of exclusivity and allows for a more intimate and competitive atmosphere.
  3. High Prestige: Invitationals are renowned for their prestige and the honor associated with being invited. They are often considered significant events in the golfing calendar.
  4. Varied Formats: While stroke play is a common format for invitationals, you may also find unique formats like match play or team events. The format can vary depending on the specific invitational.
  5. Unique Prizes: The prizes and awards in invitationals can be quite distinctive and luxurious. Trophies, prizes, and recognition are typically of a high standard.


Best Ball Format In Golf

The best ball format, also known as four-ball, is a team format that offers a blend of individual performance and team dynamics.

Each player on a team plays their ball throughout the round, and the team records the lowest score between the two players as the team score on each hole.

It’s a format that encourages aggressive play while maintaining an element of teamwork.

This format is often confused with scramble formats, where each player plays a shot and the team then hits from the best shot location. Remember that in best ball, each golfer plays his or her own ball throughout the round.

Frequently Asked Questions

What other formats are there besides medal (stroke) play?

Besides medal play, there are various other golf tournament formats, including match play, scramble, stableford, and modified stableford, among others.

What is a golf tournament called?

A golf tournament is often simply referred to as a “tournament.” However, it can also be called a “golf competition,” an “outing,” or an “event.”

What are golf competitions called?

Golf competitions are commonly referred to as “tournaments.”

What type of tournament is competitive golf?

Competitive golf encompasses a wide range of tournament formats, including stroke play, match play, team events, and more. The specific format can vary depending on the competition.

What are the 4 major professional golf tournaments?

The four major professional golf tournaments, often referred to as “major championships,” are The Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open Championship (often simply called “The Open”), and the PGA Championship. These tournaments are widely regarded as the most prestigious events in professional golf.



Golf tournament formats are as diverse as the golfers who play the sport. From the solitary pursuit of stroke play to the camaraderie of team events, there’s a tournament format for everyone from high handicapper to professional. Understanding these formats can seem complicated at first, but utilizing this guide curated by our team at Tell Me More Golf should give you the confidence to select the right golf format for you. So, sign up for a tournament and get out on the golf course!


Patrick Corley Tell Me More Golf Instructor and Coach
Patrick Corley
From a golf scholarship to a Southern California University, to a private golf coaching career and an instructor position at a nonprofit organization, I’m here to help you get better at golf! With my 50+ years of golf experience; I bring you Tell Me More Golf. A golf coaching website that helps your game with instructional golfing content that’s ultimately geared toward making you a better golfer and having more fun!
Our golf instructor team brings it all to you, so enjoy!

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