Match Play Golf: Format, Handicap System And Rules

Two golfers are shaking their hands on the golf course after their match play.

Match play golf is a head-to-head competition between two players, with each hole a new battle. Learn the rules and format from our detailed guide here.

Match play golf is a golf format where players compete against each other in a hole-on-hole match rather than playing one or more full rounds of golf:

  • A player or team wins a hole by completing the hole in fewer strokes (including both strokes made and penalty strokes)
  • The match is won when a player or side leads the opponent by more holes than remain to be played.
  • A “4&3 victory” occurs when one team is four holes ahead with only three holes left to play.

Match play can also be a singles match (where one player plays directly against one opponent), a Three-Ball match, or a Foursomes or Four-Ball match between two sides of two partners each. The player who wins the most holes wins the match. 

Match play handicap system

In a handicap match, the player with the lowest score on each hole is declared the winner. Handicaps determine the number of shots each player receives on each hole.

According to the World Handicapping System (WHS), golfers in individual match play are recommended to receive a 100% allowance of the difference between their handicaps. The lowest-handicapped player gets a 90% allowance in a four-ball better ball.

For example, in a match between two golfers with handicaps of 12 and 20, the one with a score of 12 gives eight strokes to their opponent. These strokes are taken on holes 1 through 8 based on the stroke index. Even if the 20-handicapper scores a bogey (net par) and the other player scores a par, the hole would still be halved due to the extra strokes granted beforehand.

If a player violates the rules during match play, the general penalty is losing a hole for each two-stroke violation in stroke play. However, not all rule violations incur this punishment, so it is important to double-check if you are unsure.

Match play format

Team Match play is an excellent format for season-long tournaments in which golfers compete in a series of one-on-one matches, with the winner advancing to the next round.

In this format, golfers can pick up their ball and concede a hole if they are having difficulty, which makes the game more relaxed and enjoyable.

Additionally, match-play matches typically finish faster than traditional medal play, which involves four golfers competing against each other.

Before a match begins, golfers declare their handicaps, and the difference between them is calculated. The golfer with the higher handicap is given extra strokes on a certain number of holes equal to the difference between the two handicaps.

For example, if player A has a handicap of 5 and player B has a handicap of 10, then player B would be given an additional stroke on holes with difficulty ratings of 1 to 5. 

This means that even if player B takes more strokes than player A on one of these holes, they would still split the hole rather than giving away a full point.

Match play golf rules

Most golf tournaments are typically held under the Rules of Stroke Play, including Medals, Bogey, Par, and Stableford. Nevertheless, many golf clubs run Match Play contests, including Club Knockouts that span an entire season.

You must know the distinctions between Stroke Play and Match Play golf to avoid any costly penalties or repercussions. Not being informed can result in a disqualification if not properly addressed beforehand.

Until recently, the R&A strictly barred any tournaments that combined Match Play and Stroke Play due to their strikingly different rules.

Despite the New Rules of Golf not promoting the combination of Match Play and Stroke Play due to their different regulations, The R&A and USGA recognize that occasionally individuals will do it anyway. Thus, when a player either deliberately or unintentionally combines these two forms during a game and requests clarification afterward, they are willing to provide guidance.

Rules of the game

In team play, the best score among each group is commonly utilized to decide who between them emerges as the winner in every hole.

A player wins a hole when:

  • The player finishes the hole with fewer strokes than the opponent, taking into consideration all penalty shots.
  • The opposing player concedes the hole.
  • When your opponent breaks the rules, they will be penalized with a loss of hole.

If the opponent’s ball is in motion and needs to be holed for a tie yet has been deliberately deflected or stopped with no realistic possibility of being holed (for instance, when the ball has gone past the hole and is not able to roll back), then it can be assumed that the result of this particular hole is decided; thus, enabling you as a player to come out victorious.

A hole is tied (also known as “halved”) when:

  • When the player and their opponent finish the hole with an equal number of strokes, whether they are successful attempts or penalty strokes,
  • When the player and their opponent mutually agree, a hole may be treated as tied; however, this agreement must only occur after at least one of them has made an initial stroke.

A player wins a match when:

  • The player is ahead of the opponent by more holes than the holes remaining.
  • The opponent concedes the match
  • The opponent has been disqualified.

If a match is tied after the final hole:

  • The game goes on until one player is victorious, hole-by-hole.
  • Unless the Committee decides to make other arrangements, the holes are meant to be played with the same success as they were in the initial round.

Role of Committee in Match play

According to the Rules of Golf, the Committee is the person or group responsible for overseeing a tournament or golf course. The importance of the Committee cannot be understated as it ensures that the game is played correctly and fairly.

The Competition’s Committee will determine the outcome of a match play in accordance with their established Terms and Conditions such as:

  • If the final result is recorded on an official scoreboard or any other easily traceable location,
  • When the result is reported to an individual recognized by the Committee.

Moreover, during professional tournaments where the score is knotted at completion (generally 18 or 36 holes), competitors will continue to play until one player ultimately comes out on top.

It’s not that simple, though, during team competitions like the Ryder Cup; if no winners are decided after sudden death, both teams receive half a point as their final score. With events spanning multiple days and different formats taking precedence throughout them all, totaling up each side’s accumulated points determines who conquers in the end.


In match play, a concession is when a player acknowledges that their opponent has played an unbeatable shot and decides to concede the hole rather than continuing to play it out. This is usually considered as a “gimme” putt that can occur at any point during the hole, including before either player has hit their shot.

Unlike Stroke Play, where a player must conclude every hole by holing out, Match Play allows them to concede a stroke to collect the ball without going through with their putt.

Reasons why to choose concession

There are several reasons why a player might choose to make a concession. For example, if their opponent’s ball is very close to the hole and the player cannot make their shot, they may concede the hole to save time and focus on the next hole. 

In other cases, a player might concede a hole if they believe that continuing to play would be futile, such as if their opponent’s ball is in a position that is nearly impossible to reach.

A player may concede the opponent’s next stroke, a hole, or the match:

  • Once the opponent has finished playing a hole with their score, including the conceded stroke, any person can remove the ball.
  • Any concession made applies to the following stroke if an opponent’s ball is still in motion from the previous stroke. Unless they hole it, in that case, the concession no longer stands.

The player may concede the opponent’s next stroke by deflecting or stopping the opponent’s ball in motion only if that is done specifically to concede the next stroke and only when there is no reasonable chance the ball can be holed.

Concessions are an essential part of match play and are based on the principle of sportsmanship.

Players acknowledge their opponent’s superior play and respect the game by conceding a hole. It is also a way to speed up play, allowing the match to move on to the next hole rather than continuing to play out a hole that has already been decided.

Match play competition

Match play can be a fun and exciting way to compete in golf, as it adds an element of strategy and head-to-head competition. It is also a popular format for team golf competitions, such as the Ryder Cup.

In a match-play competition, the players are typically divided into brackets, with the winner of each match advancing to the next round. The player who wins the final match is declared the competition’s overall winner.

One of the key strategies in match play is to play aggressively, as winning individual holes is more important than achieving a low overall score. Players may also use different strategies depending on the situation, such as trying to win a hole with a long drive or playing defensively to ensure they don’t lose the hole.

Overall, match play is a popular and exciting variation of golf that adds an extra layer of strategy and competitiveness to the game. Whether you’re playing in a friendly match or a major tournament, match play is a great way to test your skills.


Matchplay in golf is a thrilling and intense game in which two players or teams compete head-to-head, with each hole representing a separate point. The player or team who wins the most holes wins the match.

While stroke-play golf is perhaps more familiar to many golfers, match play adds an extra level of strategy and competition, making it a popular choice for many tournaments and casual rounds. Whether a seasoned pro or a beginner, match play is a great way to test your skills and have fun on the course.

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