The Rules of Match Play Golf Explained

The Rules of Match Play Golf Explained The Rules of Match Play Golf Explained

When playing a round of golf, the standard way of scoring allows for whoever shoots the lowest score in any given round wins.  This means that every good shot, as well as every bad shot, counts.  This is known as stroke play, and although this can be a fun way to play golf, when you have a group of two or four players, there is another way in which you can play in order to have variety within your game.

This system is known as Match Play.

The basic premise of match play is as follows.



The scoring system is based upon holes won, rather than by overall score.  So, for example, if you are playing as two groups of two and one group shoots a 4, and the other group shoots a 6, then the group who shot a 4 won the hole.  This means they are now one-up.  Instead of keeping an overall score, you just put on the scorecard a +1 symbol.  If that same group then wins the next hole, you would then increase that score to +2.

From there, if both groups tie the next hole, then on the scorecard then you would just carry over the +2.  This is not like skins, where the score roles over to the next hole and builds up.  You are only basing the score off of each individual hole.  You keep score like this until the score is higher than the number of holes remaining.  For example, if you have just finished the 15th hole, and one group is up by a score of +4, then the game is over, as there is no way the other group can win 4 points with only 3 holes remaining.  The only way you get to the 18th hole in this format is if either group ends up by only 1, or if both groups are tied.



When it comes how you approach each hole in Match Play, it can become a little different, especially when you get to later holes.  If you are ahead, you might play a little bit more conservative, which will make your opponent take a more aggressive style in order to attempt to get ahead of you.  This makes it a higher risk/reward proposition for your opponent, and will either end the match sooner or will prolong it, depending upon the results.

On the opposite side, if you are losing in a match play format, this might make you become more aggressive with your shot selection, as you know that a simple par might not do the trick concerning winning the hole.  This could cause you to shoot more at the flag directly, rather than laying up, which could turn out really well or disastrously, depending upon how you hit each shot.

When playing golf under these rules, it will bring a whole new dynamic to your shot selection than what you typically will play under normal conditions.  These new dynamics could cause you to look at each hole a little differently, and in turn, in future rounds where you are playing stroke play, you might learn a couple of new strategies which will help you lower your score.  In addition, if there is a shot you have been wanting to attempt, but didn’t want your score affected to adversely from a bad outcome, then attempting that shot in a Match Play format is ideal.  This way, if it is a bad idea or shot, you will only lose one point for the hole, rather than a few strokes during a stroke play matchup.

Penalties and Concessions


There are two other big differences between match play golf and stroke play, which are key to knowing how to play an effective round.

The first aspect is knowing how to deal with penalties.  Within stroke play, anytime a penalty is committed, there is a two-stroke penalty.  Although this can hurt, these are strokes which can be made up throughout the course of the round.  However, within match play, if a penalty has occurred, that means the player or team which committed the penalty will automatically lose the hole.  This is a much bigger deal, as there are only 18 points available total in a match play round, compared to the 66-80 strokes within any given round.

The other most common thing you will see different in a match play round is the idea of conceding putts.  This is normally done when a player on the other team has a putt which is 3 feet or closer to the hole.  It is expected and common courtesy to give them that putt, rather than force them to make that putt during the round.  It still counts as a stroke; so, if a player has a 20 foot putt, and lags it to within 1 foot, and that 1 foot putt is conceded, it still counts as two strokes.  However, this helps speed up the game.  The only time you might not implement this is in when you are playing on the 17th or 18th green, and they need that putt to win – it’s always best to ensure they make that putt, rather than just having it conceded to them.


When it comes to playing a round of golf using match play format, there are always house rules which can be applied, as long as they are all understood ahead of time by all players involved.  You can give out tickets for mulligans, as well as give out special rewards for those who hit the drive the farthest on a par 5 or closest to the pin on a par 3.  If you have three players in a group, you can also play to where if one player gets ahead, then the other two can combine on a team and play best-ball against the one player until it become tied back up, then it goes back to normal.  Then, whoever is ahead at the end of 18 holes is the winner.

With so many different possibilities and variations available, match play golf can be a great way to increase your strategy when it comes to playing golf.  Do you have any other variations you have played with?  If so, please share with us, and please let us know the next time you go out and play match play, and let us know how it goes!

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