How to Score: Golf Tournament Formats
As we collectively emerge from lockdown, golf tournaments will be where many of us reconnect with old friends, and compete with long time rivals. As a relatively “safe” way to engage with groups of people, golf tournaments are a great way for businesses that have struggled through the pandemic to raise funds, or for charities to make up for lost donations. Whether playing to top up the coffers of a local non-profit, or to find out who’s practiced the most during Covid, here’s a breakdown of the seven most common golf tournament formats presented as a little refresher before you hit the links.
One of the most popular golf tournament scoring systems, best ball employs a straight-forward scoring system that doesn’t require a lot of planning or strategy on the course. It is, undoubtedly, important to pick a good partner (if you’re able), but beyond that small detail, game play is a breeze.
Best Ball is all about simplicity. Usually played in two-person teams, you could theoretically extrapolate that up to a foursome if need be. Each golfer plays their own ball, and completes the hole as normal (there’s a reason Best Ball is a go-to choice for golf tournaments). At the end of the hole, the team records the score of whichever golfer scored the lowest on that particular hole. This allows each player to play a full round of golf, as normal, without having to do any extra math or scorekeeping out on the course. And if the players don’t care about what their actual score is for the round, you can technically do less work than normal as you won’t be writing down half (or a quarter) of the team’s numbers on the scorecard.
Bingo Bango Bongo
We’ve written before on BBB in our Golf Betting Games article from last summer. It is a little bit more complex than Best Ball, but as an inconsistent golfer myself, the entire idea of being awarded points for a single good shot is extremely appealing.
Bingo Bango Bongo rewards players for winning mini-games on each hole. And, unsurprisingly, these mini-games are the source of Bingo Bango Bongo’s unusual name.
Bingo: The first player to get their ball on the green
Bango: The player whose ball is closest to the pin once everyone’s balls are on the green
Bongo: The first player to get their ball into the cup
Each B is worth a point, and points are tallied after each hole. The most interesting aspect of BBB is how much strategy is involved out on the course. Notice that the rules for Bingo and Bongo above say “the first player” and not “in the fewest strokes”. This means that on any given par 4/5, the player with the shortest drive gets the first shot at scoring a Bingo. And the player furthest from the hole gets the first chance to putt for a Bongo.
When combined with the rules of golf, BBB can be a very complex game of knowing your friends, knowing your course, and, perhaps above all, knowing yourself.
Chapman is far harder to put into words than it is to put into practice out on the course. Like Bingo Bango Bongo, Chapman is widely used as a wagering game, but is also great for golf tournaments where golfers have a wide range of ability. Unlike BBB, however, a lot less on-course strategy is needed to successfully pull off a victory.
Chapman is played in teams of two golfers, and starts off relatively normally. It will be easier here if we identify these players as Golfer A and Golfer B. After Golfer A and B hit their tee shots, Golfer A walks to Golfer B’s ball, and Golfer B walks to Golfer A’s ball (or, more simply, you play your teammate’s tee shot). Both players take their second shot from the position of their teammate’s ball, and decide whose second stroke put the team in a better position to win the hole.
If Golfer B hits a great second, Golfer A’s ball is picked up and play continues, alternate shot, from where B’s ball landed. The player whose ball was not selected (in this case Golfer A) plays the third shot, Golfer B shoots the fourth, and so on until the team holes out. Strokes are tallied and a score is recorded. Class dismissed.
Foursomes (Alternate Shot)
Thankfully Foursomes does not take nearly as many words, or an algebra problem, to explain. Like Chapman, Alternate Shot is beneficial to unevenly-matched pairs, and can really help boost a struggling golfer’s day out on the course.
Foursomes can be explained in one sentence (this one doesn’t count). Teams of 2 decide who should take the first tee shot, and then alternate shots from there.
This method of play ensures blisteringly quick rounds (because there’s only one ball in play for every two golfers), and is a relatively simple way to set up a tournament with lots and lots of players. As with everything, there are more complex rules about dealing with handicaps and gameplay that have been covered more extensively here.
Another relatively straight forward tournament style is match play. While the hyper vigilant analytics nuts among us might balk at the thought of playing for 1’s and 0’s, Match play is the second most common tournament scoring system on our list, and one of the few that is professionally sanctioned. Match Play scoring was used by the PGA Tournament up to 1958, and is still used by the Ryder Cup, President’s Cup, and WGC Match Play in Austin.
In Match Play, golfers play solo or in teams where the winner of the hole receives one point. Players continue golfing until they finish 18, or not enough holes remain to catch the other player/team. In Match play, a Golfer is said to have won “6 and 5” if they are winning by 6 points with only 5 holes to play.
Scramble is a prolific tournament style that is the go-to for charities and golf clubs trying to attract golfers keen on an entertaining day out on the course. Scrambles are like a hybrid between Chapman, Foursomes and Best Ball, that really takes the best parts of each. Scrambles are relatively quick to play, and are participative enough that golfers paying good money to play 18 holes don’t go home feeling suspiciously energetic.
In a Scramble, teams can range from 2-4 players. Just like in Chapman, Players take turns teeing off as usual, but instead of playing the other golfers’ balls, in a Scramble, the team (or captain) chooses the best shot, and that is the location from which all golfers on that team play their second shot. So on and so on until the first player on that team holes their ball.
Scrambles work because each player has the opportunity to contribute to every hole, and the low-pressure stakes of play (especially in a four person Scramble) help relieve some of golf’s most notorious frustrations.
Usually, we wouldn’t even mention Stroke Play, as we would basically just be writing the most widely-known rule of the game. However, in these unprecedented times, a refresher might be required for those of you who haven’t golfed since 2019.
As you might know, the single most common means of keeping score in golf is via Stroke Play, whereby each player records how many strokes (hence the name) it takes to hole their ball. At the end of the game, strokes are added up, and the player with the lowest score wins. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything else to say about stroke play, as this is how a vast majority of professional tournaments, country clubs, friendly foursomes and individuals keep score.
If you have somehow forgotten this, just know that we’re here for you, and are ready to help.
Tournaments in 2021 and Beyond
Like most sports, golf has had a bit of a weird time in the last year-and-a-half. Unlike other sports, however, golf’s solitary nature means that many of us were lucky enough to be able to safely practice, play, and stay in shape even in the most strict lockdown conditions.
Of course, tournaments in 2021 will have to tip-toe back into the limelight they once dominated in summers past with restrictions on crowd size, dinners, or award ceremonies conducted by each. Still, it will be amazing to once again play alongside those extended friend groups/ clubs, and compete against people we’ve only ever seen on Zoom.