Tournament Formats

Every sport seems to have a variety of "mini games" associated with them, and golf has more than all the other sports combined. This section will provide some information on a few of the tournament formats.

  • ALTERNATE SHOT:  Also known as Foursomes, alternate shot is just what is sounds like. Teammates play just one ball between them and take turns hitting alternating shots until the ball is holed. Prior to playing the first hole, the teammates determine which player will tee off on the odd numbered holes leaving the other player with the even numbered holes.
  • BEST BALL:  Also known as Four Ball when competing in match play, each player on the team plays their individual ball until holed. The best individual score made on the hole is posted as the team's score.
  • BINGO, BANGO, BONGO:  In this side game a point is given to the first ball on the green, a point for closest to the hole, and a point for the first ball that is holed. This game is great when you have a wide spread of handicappers playing together in a foursome.
  • CHAPMAN:  Also known as Pinehurst, this 2 man-team format requires teammates to both tee off and then switch balls. After playing the second shots, the best ball is selected and an alternate shot format is played until the ball is holed with the player whose second shot was not selected hitting the teams third stroke.
  • CHICAGO:  In a Chicago format players start the round with a negative number of points based on their handicap. Scratch golfers start at -39 with each handicap stroke over scratch adding one point to the starting figure (i.e. 5 handicapper would start with -34, 8 handicapper -31, etc.). Golfers then try to get out of the hole by adding one point for a bogey, two points for par, four points per birdie, and eight points for an eagle. This fun format encourages players to take risks trying to score under par; especially considering a double bogey or worse is all worth zero points and doesn't bring down your score further. The player with the highest score (negative or not) wins.
  • DEFENDER:  Defender is a great three player game that is especially effective when playing with guys of similar handicaps. Prior to teeing off the group must establish an rotation; Player A defends hole one, Player B defends hole two, Player C defends hole three, Player A defends hole four and so on. If the defender successfully defends his hole by having the lowest score of the threesome then he is awarded three points while the other players are deducted one point each. If the defender is defeated by one of the other players then he loses three points while the other players each gain one point. If there is a tie between the defender and one of the other players then the defender gains one and a half points while the other players lose a half point each. Obviously this game can be played with four players as well, but it is one of the few games out there that works really well as a three player game.
  • LAS VEGAS:  Las Vegas is a fun game that really rewards birdies and at the same time can softenen the blow of a weaker player's score. Played in teams of two, the players scores are paired rather than combined in order to determine a team score. So if one teammate scores a six on the hole and the other teammate scores a four, the team score is a 46 (lowest score is always posted as the front number). If the other team scores a pair of fives, their score would be 55. The differential is calculated (55 - 46 = 9) and points are tracked throughout the round in order to determine the winning team; or points can have a monetary value (5 or 10 cents each for example) in which to pay out bets on.
  • LONE RANGER:  This game requires 3-4 players per team, minimum of two teams, to play in a best ball format. Each player plays their own ball with the twist being that each player takes turns (in a predetermined rotational order) being the 'Lone Ranger' for the hole. Two scores are recorded for the team; the Lone Ranger's score as well as the best ball score from the other teammates. The Lone Ranger rotation would work as follows: Player A is the Lone Ranger for holes 1, 5, 9, 13, and 17; Player B for holes 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, etc. It is a great game that puts some pressure on individual players and the format can be mixed in with a Las Vegas or Chicago scoring style for an added twist.
  • MODIFIED STABLEFORD:  Most well known as the format used in the PGA Tour event held at Castle Pines Golf Club near Denver, The International, a Modified Stableford awards extra value to strokes under par:


    • -3 points for Double Bogey or worse
    • -1 point for Bogey
    • 0 points for Par
    • 2 points for Birdie
    • 5 points for Eagle
    • 8 points for Albatross

      Handicaps can be employed into the system by grouping similar handicapped players together and modifying the scoring chart for each group to reflect the skill level according.

  • NASSAU:  Nassau is a very simple, yet popular game. It consists of three matches; the front nine, the back nine, and the entire 18. The contest can be played using stroke (medal) play or match play.
  • SCRAMBLE:  In a scramble all the players on the team tee off. The team selects the best shot and the other players pick up their balls and everyone on the team plays within one club length (no closer to the hole) of the best tee shot. After everyone hits their second shot, the best shot is again selected from which point everyone again plays within one club length (no closer to the hole) from the best spot. This is repeated until the ball is holed.


  • SCRAMBLE DESCRAMBLE:  This is the game everyone hates me for coming up with. The same concept as a scramble is used, however the WORST shot each time has to be selected to play from. Therefore, if everyone on a team holes a putt except one guy then the putt is no good and you play from the missed shot. This format is better suited for two man teams as opposed to four, espeically considering bogey is a good score here.
  • SHOOT OUT:  Shoot out is played with one more player/team than holes being played (any number of holes can be played). For example, 19 players/teams would participate in an 18 hole match and ten players/teams in a nine hole match. After each hole, the player/team with the highest score is eliminated. In the case of a tie (which will often happen while the field is large) a "chip off" is done and the player/team furthest from the hole is eliminated. Obviously the goal is to be the last player/team standing on the final green and declared champion. When played in teams, alternate shot is generally the format. Obviously this game takes quite a bit of time early on in the match, but is a very fun format to compete in.
  • SPLIT SIXES:  Another great game for a threesome to employ. Six points are available on each hole with four points being awarded to the player with the best score, two points for the second best score, and zero points to the player with the worst score. If there is a tie for the best score then the points are divided evenly 3-3-0 or 2-2-2 depending on the whether it was a two or three player tie. If there is a tie for second place then the points are divided up 4-1-1.
  • STABLEFORD:  Not quite as popular as the Modified Stableford format, Stablefords encourage players to accumulate points using the following scoring format:


    • 0 points for Double Bogey or worse
    • 1 point for Bogey
    • 2 points for Par
    • 3 points for Birdie
    • 4 points for Eagle
    • 5 points for Albatross

      This format can be taken a step further by incorporating the handicap system. If a 24 handicap player were participating, they would be given 24 strokes during the round - one stroke on each of the 18 holes and two stokes on the six most difficult rated holes on the course (holes with a handicap rating of 1-6). A 10 handicap player would receive strokes on the ten most difficult holes (holes handicap rated 1-10) and no extra stokes on the other eight holes. The net score when then be applied to the scoring system above.

  • WOLF:  Wolf is a popular betting game played in a best ball format with each player in the foursome taking turns being the Wolf for a hole. As the Wolf you always tee off first and have three options for the hole: 1. Before teeing off you can go "Lone Wolf" and take on the other three players with the Wolf winning or losing triple the points. 2. After your tee shot you can decide to take on the other three players with the Wolf winning or losing double the points. 3. After hitting your tee shot you watch as each player tees off and try to decide on a partner for the hole. The catch is you have to select your partner after you have seen his tee shot but prior to seeing the next player's tee shot. If you don't like what you see from the first two players you automatically get the third players as your partner. These matches are worth one point or whatever the base bet is.
  • Ambrose Competition: is another name for a scramble, but one in which a team handicap is used. All players tee off, the best shot is selected and all players hit again from that same spot. The best second shot is selected, and all players hit from that same spot, and so on until the ball is holed.

    If the scramble is called an "Ambrose," it means that handicaps are used in play, with a fraction of the total handicaps of the group members serving as one handicap for the group.

    For example, if it's a 2-person scramble, the handicaps of the two players are added together and divided by 4. For a 3-person scramble, divide by 6; for a 4-person scramble, divide by 8.

    The Ambrose format is very popular as it allows all standards of golfers to mix and play together with equal enjoyment irrespective of ability. It also helps to promote teamwork as one score is recorded per hole and generally minimises the amount of time looking for lost balls.

    The Ambrose format may vary according to the competition but a general, popular format is the main features of this method of scoring.


    Groups of two players (2 person ambrose) or four players (4 person ambrose) work as a team. Each player hits off the tee, the best shot is selected and all other players pick up their ball and place it, within one handspan, alongside the best ball. Each person then hits a second shot from the same spot. The best shot is again selected. This continues until the ball is in the hole. On the putting green the best ball is marked and the other balls are played from this position.

    One score is thus recorded on each hole. This is the sum of the best shots used throughout the hole.

    In an ambrose format you would expect your gross score to be under or very close to the par of the course. This is because the best shot from the team is chosen for each shot. In other words your group has four chances to hit a good shot. It certainly takes the pressure off the less skilled golfers and is a good team building format.

    There is often one additional requirement. During the course of the round all player's drives must be used on a set number of occasions.Generally this is three. So if you have a beginner golfer in your group it may be prudent to use their drives early in the round so as to not put pressure on them as the rounds concludes.

    Key Features of Ambrose

    • The minimum number of drives per player may vary according to the specific format you are playing. A minimum of 3 drives is common and fair without being too onerous. If the golfers in your competition are more beginner than intermediate a relaxing of this rule to 2 drives (or even 1) may be appropriate
    • If your best ball is played from within a hazard then each of the player's balls must be played from within that hazard
    • If you are in a team of 3 players (for 4 person ambrose) then most formats will allow a fourth putt to be taken by any of the team members
    • Your end score is adjusted for the handicap of the players in your team
    • If you are in a team of 4 golfers (playing 4 person ambrose) then the combined handicap of all players is calculated and divided by 8 to arrive at the team handicap. This is then subtracted from the Gross Score of the Team to arrive at the Net Score
    • If you are in a team of 3 golfers (playing 4 person ambrose) then the combined handicap of all players is calculated and divided by 6 to arrive at the team handicap. This is then subtracted from the Gross Score of the Team to arrive at the Net Score
    • If you are in a team of 2 golfers (playing 2 person ambrose) then the handicap of the team is calculated by combining the handicaps of the 2 players and dividing by 4 to arrive at the team handicap. This is then subtracted from the Gross Score of the Team to arrive at the Net Score
    • A typical winning score is in the mid 50s as a Net Score. It is rare (but possible) that a winning score is under 50

    Also Known As: Scramble, 2-man scramble, 3-man scramble, 4-man scramble.