What Is Best Ball in Golf? How to Play, Rules and Strategy


Golfer in a white T-shirt and tennis shoes prepares to tee off with his driver.

There are many different ways to play a game of golf. From individual and team formats to stroke and match-play formats, there is no end to the number of ways you can enjoy a round of golf. One of the most popular team formats is ‘best ball’.

So, what exactly is best ball in golf?

Best ball is a team format in golf where the team counts the lowest individual score for each hole. The format features 2-4 players per team and is great for players of all skill levels and abilities. It is a format commonly played among the golfing public and can feature low scores.

A round of best ball is a great way to introduce new golfers to the sport, as well as entertain more seasoned golfers. Throughout this article, we’ll break down the ins-and-outs of playing best ball, the rules, keeping score, strategy and much more.

How to Play Best Ball in Golf

Golfer in light blue shirt prepares to hit the ball at the golf range.

Best ball is a pretty easy format to learn and adds a little spice to your average round of golf. Here is a quick synopsis of what to expect when you play best ball during a round of golf:

Best Ball Golf Rules

Under the best ball format, each player plays their golf ball for the duration of each hole. The lowest score or best ball, for the team on each hole, is counted while the other scores are discounted.

For example, Player 1 has a score of 5 on the first hole but their partner has a score of 4. The team will record the lower score of 4 for the first hole.

The Number of Players

Best ball team play can include anywhere from 2-4 people but there are some differences in how the game is played depending on the size of the teams.

Two-person best ball can be played as stroke or match play (read below to learn more about other formats of play) against another two-person team in the same foursome.

Three-person and four-person best ball teams are limited to stroke play only in that golf groups are limited to a maximum of four golfers.

Keeping Score in Best Ball

Keeping score in best ball is pretty easy as most scorecards come with five or more lines with which to track each player’s hole-by-hole score. Each golfer will record their score for each hole for the duration of the round.

A fifth line on the scorecard is utilized to note the team’s low score for each hole. In the name section on the fifth line, write ‘Team Score’ and go hole-by-hole recording the lowest individual score for each hole played.

It is not necessary to record everyone’s score on the scorecard when playing a tournament. All that is required under the rules of a best ball tournament is to assign the score to count to the person who scored it.

How Handicaps Work in Golf

Many times, best ball tournaments require participants to have a registered handicap to compete. A handicap is a measure of a person’s golfing ability designed to level the competitive balance between two golfers of differing abilities.

The handicap is an approximation of what the golfer averages for a typical round of golf. As a very simplified example, a golfer with a 12 handicap should, on average, shoot about 12 strokes over par.

Each hole on a golf course is ranked in difficulty 1 through 18, with 1 being the hardest hole and 18 being the easiest. Thus, when applying a golfer’s 12 handicap to the golf course, their score is reduced by one stroke on each of the 12 hardest holes.

These 12 strokes are noted with a black dot in each of the squares set aside for recording the golfer’s individual score. Understanding how handicaps work is key when determining a strategy for playing in a best ball tournament.

Best Ball Strategy

Golfer with golf cleats prepare to putt in the golf ball.

Strategy is vital to competing in a best ball tournament, especially if it involves handicap scoring. Here are a few suggestions to help you bring home the victory:

Order of Play

Some golfers are better at teeing off first while others are better at teeing off after someone else. Discuss with your playing partner(s) their preference for teeing off so each person can be prepared to play their best.

One suggestion is to have the best player hit first to secure a good shot off the tee.

Partner Playing Ability

There are several ways to go here. One option is to find a golfer of equal ability to yourself. If it is a handicapped tournament, then you and your partner would receive strokes on roughly the same holes.

Conversely, finding a golfer of better abilities than your own ensures a greater probability of a better natural score on the hole while a partner of lesser abilities ensures more available handicap strokes.

A case can be made for either option here, it just comes down to the difficulty of the course itself and how much you like your playing partner.

Best Ball vs Scramble

Best ball and scramble are two team formats commonly used in golf tournaments. Despite their differences, the two are often confused with each other.

As noted before, the rules of best ball call for each golfer to play their ball throughout the round, and the team records the lowest individual score for each hole as their team score.

Scrambles on the other hand call for each person on the team to hit their tee shot on each hole played. The team then determines the best tee shot and every member then plays their ball from that location and the other shots are disregarded.

This process is repeated until the ball is holed and one score is recorded for the team.

Additional Golf Formats

Golfer uses his iron to hit his golf ball on a clear day.

The game of golf is filled with many different playing formats designed for players of all abilities. Here are just a few more common formats:

Match Play

Per the United States Golf Association, “match play is a form of play where a player (or players) plays directly against an opponent (or opponents) in a head-to-head match.”

A point is awarded on each hole to the player with the lowest score and that player is said to have ‘won the hole’ and their status in the match is ‘1 up’. In the event of a tie on a hole, no points are awarded and the hole is said to be ‘halved’.

A player or team wins the match when they have more aggregate holes won than there are holes left to play. For example, Player A is ‘4 up’ on Player B with 3 holes left to play.

Here the match is concluded as there are not enough holes left for Player B to claim to still win the match. Thus, Player A is determined to have won the match 4 and 3 (4 up with 3 holes to play).

Stroke Play

This format is significantly and fundamentally different from match play in that each golfer is competing against every golfer in the tournament, where match play is a player or team competing against another player or team.

In stroke play, every stroke is tallied on each hole and the total number of strokes determines the player’s score.

Fourball (Best Ball)

Another name for best ball, fourball is a format utilized in two-person match play tournaments. The same best ball rules apply and the term ‘fourball’ implies that four balls are in play at one time.

When applying the rules to match play, the team with the lowest score wins the hole and the winner of the match is the team with more holes won than holes left to play.

Foursome (Alternate Shot)

Four golfers gather on the green to putt in their golf balls.

Foursome is another two-person match play tournament format in which only two balls are in play for four players. In this format, teammates alternate shots throughout the round.

For example, Player A and B are partners. On the first hole, a Par 3, Player A hits the first shot into a greenside bunker. Player B takes the second shot hitting the ball out of the bunker and onto the green, five feet from the hole.

Player A makes the putt for a team score of three. Player B then hits the tee shot on the second hole and each player will continue to alternate shots throughout the round of golf. This format is not easy and can lead to high scores as every shot counts.

Stableford

This is a fun high-scoring format to play in your next round of golf. The goal here is the same, record the lowest score possible for each hole. The biggest difference is each score is assigned a point value and the winner of a Stableford tournament is the golfer with the highest score.

Typical Stableford scoring looks like this:

  • Double Eagle (3-under par) = 8 points
  • Eagle (2-under par) = 5 points
  • Birdie (1-under par) = 2 points
  • Par = 1 point
  • Bogey (1-over par) = -1 point
  • Double Bogey or worse (2-over par or worse) = -3 points

This is a great format for beginner golfers who tend to record more bogeys and double bogeys than pars and birdies. Additionally, the Stableford scoring format (point values assigned) is not set in stone and can be altered to the preference of the golfers playing.

So, now that you know what best ball in golf is, as well as the many other formats of play, get out to your local golf course and sign up to play in a tournament!

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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