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Basic forms of golf
May 21, 2018

There are two basic forms of golf play, match play and stroke play. Stroke play is more popular.


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Match play

Two players (or two teams) play each hole as a separate contest against each other in what is called match play. The party with the lower score wins that hole, or if the scores of both players or teams are equal the hole is "halved" (or tied). The game is won by the party that wins more holes than the other. In the case that one team or player has taken a lead that cannot be overcome in the number of holes remaining to be played, the match is deemed to be won by the party in the lead, and the remainder of the holes are not played. For example, if one party already has a lead of six holes, and only five holes remain to be played on the course, the match is over and the winning party is deemed to have won "6 & 5". At any given point, if the lead is equal to the number of holes remaining, the party leading the match is said to be "dormie", and the match is continued until the party increases the lead by one hole or ties any of the remaining holes, thereby winning the match, or until the match ends in a tie with the lead player's opponent winning all remaining holes. When the game is tied after the predetermined number of holes have been played, it may be continued until one side takes a one-hole lead.

Stroke play

The score achieved for each and every hole of the round or tournament is added to produce the total score, and the player with the lowest score wins in stroke play. Stroke play is the game most commonly played by professional golfers. If there is a tie after the regulation number of holes in a professional tournament, a playoff takes place between all tied players. Playoffs either are sudden death or employ a pre-determined number of holes, anywhere from three to a full 18. In sudden death, a player who scores lower on a hole than all of his opponents wins the match. If at least two players remain tied after such a playoff using a pre-determined number of holes, then play continues in sudden death format, where the first player to win a hole wins the tournament.

Other forms of play

The other forms of play in the game of golf are bogey competition, skins, 9-points, stable ford, team play, and unofficial team variations.

Bogey competition

A bogey competition is a scoring format sometimes seen in at informal tournaments. Its scoring is similar to match play, except each player compares their hole score to the hole's par rating instead of the score of another player. The player "wins" the hole if they score a birdie or better, they "lose" the hole if they score a bogey or worse, and they "halve" the hole by scoring par. By recording only this simple win-loss-halve score on the sheet, a player can shrug off a very poorly-played hole with a simple "-" mark and move on. As used in competitions, the player or pair with the best win-loss "differential" wins the competition.

Skins

What's known as the skins game is a variation on the match play where each hole has an amount of money (called "skin") attached to it. The lump sum may be prize money at the professional level (the most famous event to use these rules was the "LG Skins Game", played at Indian wells Golf Resort in California until 2008), or an amount wagered for each hole among amateur players. The player with the lowest score on the hole wins the skin for that hole; if two or more players tie for the lowest score, the skin carries over to the next hole. The game continues until a player wins a hole outright, which may (and evidently often does) result in a player receiving money for a previous hole that they had not tied for.

If players tie the 18th hole, either all players or only the tying players repeat the 18th hole until an outright winner is decided for that hole—and all undecided skins.

9-Points

A nine-point game is another variant of match play typically played among threesomes, where each hole is worth a total of nine points. The player with the lowest score on a hole receives five points, the next-lowest score 3 and the next-lowest score 1. Ties are generally resolved by summing the points contested and dividing them among the tying players; a two-way tie for first is worth four points to both players, a two-way tie for second is worth two points to both players, and a three-way tie is worth three points to each player. The player with the highest score after 18 holes (in which there are 162 points to be awarded) wins the game. This format can be used to wager on the game systematically; players each contribute the same amount of money to the pot, and a dollar value is assigned to each point scored (or each point after 18) based on the amount of money in the pot, with any overage going to the overall winner.

Stableford

The Stable Ford system is a simplification of stroke play that awards players points based on their score relative to the hole's par; the score for a hole is calculated by taking the par score, adding 2, then subtracting the player's hole score, making the result zero if negative. Alternately stated, a double bogey or worse is zero points, a bogey is worth one point, par is two, a birdie three, an eagle four, and so on. The advantages of this system over stroke play are a more natural "higher is better" scoring, the ability to compare Stableford scores between plays on courses with different total par scores (scoring an "even" in stroke play will always give a Stableford score of 36), discouraging the tendency to abandon the entire game after playing a particularly bad hole (a novice playing by strict rules may score as high as an 8 or 10 on a single difficult hole; their Stableford score for the hole would be zero, which puts them only two points behind par no matter how badly they played), and the ability to simply pick up one's ball once it is impossible to score any points for the hole, which speeds play.

The USGA and R&A sanction a "Modified Stableford" system for scratch players, which makes par worth zero, a birdie worth 2, eagle 5 and double-eagle 8, while a bogey is a penalty of −1 and a double-bogey or worse −3. As with the original system, the highest score wins the game, and terrible scores on one or two holes won't wreck an entire game, but this system rewards "bogey-birdie" play more than the original, encouraging golfers to try to make the riskier birdie putt or eagle chipshot instead of simply parring each hole.[16]

Team play


·         Foursome: defined in Rule 29, this is played between two teams of two players each, in which each team has only one ball and players alternate playing it. For example, if players "A" and "B" form a team, "A" tees off on the first hole, "B" will play the second shot, "A" the third, and so on until the hole is finished. On the second hole, "B" will tee off (regardless who played the last putt on the first hole), then "A" plays the second shot, and so on. Foursomes can be played as match play or stroke play.

·         Fourball defined in Rules 30 and 31, this is also played between two teams of two players each, but every player plays their own ball and for each team, the lower score on each hole counts. Fourballs can be played as match play or stroke play.


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Unofficial team variations

·         Scramble: also known as ambrose or best-shot; each player in a team tees off on each hole, and the players decide which shot was best. Every player then plays their second shot from within a clublength of where the best shot has come to rest (and no closer to the hole), and the procedure is repeated until the hole is finished. This system is very common at informal tournaments such as for charity, as it speeds play (due to the reduced number of shots taken from bad lies), allows teams of varying sizes, and allows players of widely varying skill levels to participate without profoundly affecting team score.

·         Champagne scramble: a combination of a scramble and best-ball, only the first shot of each hole is a scramble; all players tee off, decide on the best tee shot, then each player plays their own ball starting at that point until they hole out, without deciding any further "best shots". The best score amongst the team's players is counted.

·         Better ball or best-ball: like fourball, each player plays the hole as normal, but the lowest score of all the players on the team counts as the team's score for the hole Greensome (also known as Scotch Foursomes): also called modified alternate shot, this is played in pairs; both players tee off, and then pick the best shot as in a scramble. The player who did not shoot the best first shot plays the second shot. The play then alternates as in a foursome A variant of greensome is sometimes played where the opposing team chooses which of their opponent's tee shots the opponents should use. The player who did not shoot the chosen first shot plays the second shot. Play then continues as a greensome.

·         Wolf (also known as Ship, Captain & Crew, Captain, Pig): a version of match play; with a foursome an order of play for each player is established for the duration of the round. The first player hits a ball from the tee, then waits for each successive player to hit (2nd, 3rd and 4th). After each player hits the 1st player has the option of choosing a partner for the hole (the 1st player is the Wolf for that hole) usually by calling Wolf before the next player hits. Once a partner is picked, each two-some (the Wolf and his or her partner vs the remaining two players) scores their total strokes and the winning two-some is awarded 1-point each for winning a hole and zero points for tying. The next hole, the rotation moves forward (e.g. the 2nd player is now hitting 1st and the Wolf and the previous Wolf hits last). A Wolf can decide to go alone to win extra points, but they must beat all other players in stroke play on that hole. If alone, the Wolf is awarded 2-points for going alone after everyone has hit or 4 points for declaring Lone Wolf before anyone else hits. If the Lone Wolf loses, to even one player, the 3 other players get 1-point each. The winner is the player with the most points at the end of the round. Strategically, care must be taken not to let a low-handicap player run away with all the points by being constantly paired with the Wolf Shotgun starts are mainly used for amateur tournament play. In this variant, each of the groups playing starts their game on a different hole, allowing for all players to start and end their round at roughly the same time. All 18 holes are still played, but a player or foursome may, for instance, start on hole 5, play through to the 18th hole, then continue with hole 1 and end on hole 4. This speeds the completion of the entire event as players are not kept waiting for progressive tee times at the first hole. This form of play, as a minor variation to stroke or match play, is neither defined nor disallowed by strict rules and so is used according to local rules for an event.


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