Match Play Rules for Golf

By Denise Sullivan
The Solheim Cup is an example of match play which focuses on holes won, not total strokes.
The Solheim Cup is an example of match play which focuses on holes won, not total strokes.

Under traditional stroke play scoring, the winner of a match is decided through a tally of the total strokes for each player over an entire round. Match play scoring uses the number of holes won by each player to determine a winner. This can help inconsistent players because they are not penalized as much for poorly played holes. A triple bogey in match play can only cause a player to lose one hole, but it can me more damaging in stroke play.


One point is awarded to the player who has the lowest score on each hole. If the two players have the same score, the hole is halved and neither player receives a point. The match ends when one player is up by more points than the number of remaining holes. For example, if a player has a four-point lead and there are only three holes left to play, the match is over because the trailing player cannot possibly make up the difference. Playoff holes can be added to the match if the score is tied after regulation.


Either side may concede at any time during the progress of a match. Once an individual hole has started, a player may elect to concede a hole to save time. The opponent's ball must be at rest when the player or side concedes the hole. The conceded hole is scored as if the winning side's next stroke went into the cup. The concession is automatically accepted once offered and cannot be revoked by the conceding player.


Three ball match play scoring is used when there are three players involved. Each player competes against the others in two separate matches. Match play scoring can also be used with teams instead of individual players. In best ball match play, the lowest score by any player on the team is recorded as the team's score for that hole. The most common team best ball format is four ball, which consists of two teams of two players.


The United States Golf Association issues difficulty ratings for every hole on a sanctioned golf course. These ratings are used to determine which hole scores should be adjusted when the two sides of a match have different handicaps. Add one stroke to the stronger side's score on each hole, starting at the most difficult hole and working your way down the ratings until you have adjusted one hole for each point of difference between the two sides' handicaps.

About the Author

Denise Sullivan has been writing professionally for more than five years after a long career in business. She has been published on Yahoo! Voices and other publications. Her areas of expertise are business, law, gaming, home renovations, gardening, sports and exercise.

Photo Credits

  • Ian Walton/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
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