May 18, 2022

Foursome VS Fourball in Golf

Foursome VS Fourball – let’s break it down! Golf has a lot of jargon, to say the least. Just like any other sport, there are a whole plethora of words that are used to refer to in-game technicalities.

It’s all enough to overwhelm most novices and can even confuse some veteran players as well. An example of this is the difference between foursomes and fourball in golf, two things that are often misconstrued. 

A fourball is a pair playing format in the game of golf. It is also known as better ball and best-ball and simply refers to a variation of the game that deals with 3-4 players. 

On the other hand, a foursome can generally mean the same thing more or less and depending on who you ask.

In Scotland though, the Home of Golf, a foursome, refers to a completely different type of playing format, one that has been used long before golf expanded beyond the Scottish shores.

Several major tournaments utilize foursomes that are usually played between the USA and Europe/Great Britain and Ireland. In fact, the pairs’ scores that are detailed for any of these big four competitions are clearly defined as fourball and Foursome in golf. 

Confusing perhaps but don’t worry.

Foursome VS Fourball

In the article below we’ll go further in-depth on the differences between the two types and how they are respectively played!

What is a Foursome?

Golf Foursome

More commonly known as Alternate Shot, Foursomes is a golf format where a pair of golfers form a team and play a single ball between them. They each take alternate shots with this ball, hence the name. 

It is often considered the hardest form of golf out there since it requires exceptional skill and teamwork to win the day. Whereas in traditional golf, the golfer usually relies on himself or herself to further the score or handicap, here it requires reliance on someone else and any mistake done by your partner is one that falls on you to correct.

How To Play:

In the game, all the holes are numbered. 4 golfers are split into teams of two and one of the teams tees off.

The one to tee off will take shots at all the even-numbered holes while the team to come after must take shots at only the odd-numbered holes.

Either player can take an action for their side, such as marking, lifting, or replacing the ball. The player can do this regardless of whose turn it is. A partner can also act for the team as a whole in conceding a shot. 

In most cases, the foursome format is played in matchplay competitions but it can also be applied to medal play. Medal play is infamous for its difficulty and as being the cause of many fights.

There is another Scottish variation of this game that’s known as Greensomes. In this format,  both members of the team get to tee off. After they select which one of the drives to play with and that’s the ball they use for the rest of the hole, taking alternate shots with it. 

When all is said and done, the game, when played sensibly, is actually a quick way to finish a round. Most golfers though prefer playing fourball since they believe the foursomes format only utilizes half of the course.


The formula for the handicap in a foursome match is simple and straightforward. In foursomes, the team’s handicap is half of the two players’ combined handicap.

In a matchplay example:

Player A scored a handicap of 12 and Player B scored a handicap of 16 which totals 28. Divided that by 2 which equals 14 shots.

12 + 16 = 28

28 / 2 = 14 shoots

Players C’s and D’s handicaps are 16 and 20 which equals 36.

Divide that by 2 and you have 18 shots

16 + 20 = 36

36 / 2 = 18 shoots

Now subtract the lower handicap pair from the higher,

18 shots – 14 shots = 4

and finally, divide by 2,

4 / 2 = 2

This leaves Players C and D with 2-shot holes in their matchplay game.

In a medal play example:

Player A scored a handicap of 14 and Player B scored a handicap of 16 which totals 28. Divided that by 2 which equals 14 shots.

14 + 16 = 30

30 / 2 = 15 shoots

This means 15 strokes will be subtracted from your final score in a medal round.

What is a fourball?

Golf Fourball

Where foursome had 4 golfers sharing a single ball, in fourball each player gets his or her own ball. It is said that golfers tend to enjoy this format more since it gives them more of a chance to explore the course, getting their money’s worth as a result.

How To Play:

As stated above, 4 players would get one ball each. Though the mechanics might differ depending on the time of the game you intend to play, keep in mind that the score that you record on each hole is the lowest net score of the two players.

Considering how easy the gamers are to pick up, it’s actually one of the best ways to play golf and socialize at the same time. It is also used as a team-building activity that officemates, friends, or aspirations tournament winners like to engage in.

Better Ball Matchplay 

The matchplay is the perfect game when engaging in large groups. The rules are fairly straightforward to follow even for newbies. 

4 golfers will assemble themselves into pairs with each player getting his or her own ball. Like in any matchplay, the lowest score on a hole wins. If ever those two teams have the same low-best ball, then the hole is halved. The teams will then proceed until one pair has more holes than there are left to play, this makes them the winner. 

For example:

Team A goes 3 holes up on the 16th green. This is considered a win since there are only 2 holes left (there are 18 holes in a standard round) and the match is recorded as a 3 & 2 win.

There is a chance of a tie between the two teams but if this is only a friendly game then both can just agree it’s a draw. 

Most golf clubs will have at least one matchplay competition that runs throughout a particular season. If a tie occurs in this scenario though, a high-stake playoff will occur until there’s a clearly-defined winner.

Handicap Allowance:

Playing Handicaps apply in a fourball better-ball matchplay as per the recommendations of the new World Handicap System (WHS).

Under these guidelines, the lowest handicap player receives no shots. Then the shots received by the other three players in the group are the difference between the handicaps divided by either 85% or 90%.

The final percentage is in the hands of the competition organizer or decided upon by the golfers if it was only a friendly game.

Stableford Rules

Another possible way to play a fourball better-ball is under the Stableford rules. It’s a game that can be found in most courses all over the world.

Like before, the lowest nett score is needed but this time, it will be assigned Stableford points that relate to this score. It helps to keep the rules and the actions’ corresponding points on a piece of paper so you can have it handy.

The traditional points scoring system is:

  • 5 points for a nett Albatross (Known as Double Eagle in the USA)
  • 4 points for a nett Eagle
  • 3 points for a nett Birdie
  • 2 points for a nett Par
  • 1 point for a nett Bogey
  • Zero points for a nett Double Bogey or Worse

If a tie occurs in an official setting, then a countback system is put into place. The rules vary depending on the course but the following are the general and most common principles used:

  • Best points score on Back 9 holes (10-18). If still a tie, then
  • Back 6 holes. If a tie,
  • Back 3 holes. If still a tie,
  • 18th hole score

If the tournament is a 36-hole event, then the countback will be based on the second 18 holes with the same amount of countbacks specified in the bullet points above, if required.

If this is a friendly setting, then you can still apply these rules or save yourselves from the mat and agree to accept a draw.

In conclusion…

And that was all the difference between foursomes and fourball in golf. Of course, we can’t deny that all was too much information to take in one sitting. But know that as you play the game, and interact with other golfers, the rules of these variations will soon become second nature to you. 

When all is said and done, golf is a game to be enjoyed with others. It’s supposed to be fun and exciting and maybe even a little frustrating. All good sports feel that way time and time again. And although knowing all the rules and terminologies is important, don’t let them get in the way of a good time.

About the author 

Linda Parker

My name is Linda Parker, I’ve been around golf since I was born, and I’ve been golfing since I was four years old!

I’m here to share my love of the game with you, so please do let me know if you have any questions!

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