Jan 03, 2024
POSTED BY: Nicholas Venditti

What Is Four-Ball in Golf?

Golf is one of the oldest and most popular sports around, which explains its many variations. One such variation is four-ball golf, a fun new way to enjoy the game. Unfamiliar? You're in the right place. We'll take you through everything you need to know, from specific rules to handicap regulations.

What is the Four-Ball Format?

First, the basics. The four-ball format in golf, sometimes known as ‘best ball,’ ‘better ball,’ or ‘4BBB,’ is a variation on the traditional game similar to scrambles, alternate shots, match play, and many others. 

The US Golf Association defines four ball as a form of play involving partners where you and your partner compete on one side against the other. Each partner has their own ball, and your side's score is the lowest score between the two on the same hole. Since there's no combined total, you don't need to count both scores as you go. 

Unlike shamble or scramble, wherein you could use the help of your partners' golf shots to improve your score, with four ball, it's all down to you. In most cases, two pairs will compete against one another, hence the name ‘four-ball’. However, it isn't always the case that these pairs are playing against one another. 

Before we get into further detail, let's take you through the four key formats you'll find in four-ball play. 

Four-Ball Stroke Play

Arguably, this is one of the more straightforward ways to play four-ball golf. With stroke play, each player has their ball. Then, after 18 holes are completed, the gross score is counted and compared with the rest of the field. If this stroke play style is continued over multiple days, it's common for pairings to be rearranged based on the performances on the leaderboard.

The key to a successful stroke play game of four-ball is to ensure your scorecards are kept correct and orderly. Things can get deeply chaotic otherwise. Key things to remember, as spelled out by the USGA, include that it must be clearly indicated which score is attributed to which individual player and that the recording of multiple scores on the same scorecard is not penalized. 

Four-Ball Match Play

In many ways, match play is similar to stroke play, particularly in that both players in a partnership don't need to complete the course, as only one score is counted. However, there are some significant differences to consider. The most prominent example of this is the order of play.

For example, you and your assigned partner can play the holes in any order. Each hole is won by the team whose member achieves the lowest score

Four-Ball Tournaments

Although other variations on the original game exist exclusively in the world of amateur golf, four-ball tournaments have been a staple in professional golf for years. The most significant example is the world-renowned Ryder Cup, where multi-day four-ball golf tournaments have been a staple for decades.

This three-day competition is considered one of the most entertaining parts of the entire cup, especially when it's time for Team USA against Team Europe. The four-ball format is also popular at The Presidents Cup, shown in conjunction with the Ryder Cup. The four-ball format adds another competitive twist to the traditional sport that many find exciting.

Amateur Tournaments

Of course, it isn't just professional tournaments that enjoy the four-ball format. It isn't used as frequently as other play variations, such as scramble, primarily because it isn't as easy. However, it's common to see the four-ball format implemented for the more popular amateur tournaments. The USGA even has its own Four-Ball Event every year, bringing together the best players from across the country. 

These events occur at multiple venues, with the only qualifying criteria being that each player must have a handicap of 5.4 or less. Most member guest tournaments will also feature four-ball format play of some kind, so it's best to familiarize yourself with the rules beforehand. 

What Is the Difference Between Four Ball and Foursome?

Despite the similar names, there are numerous differences between four-ball golf and foursome games. They're almost entirely different in every way, aside from the use of pairs. Golfers play in teams of two, and only one ball is used per team. Each pair will take alternate shots until the hole is completed. 

A combination of foursome and four-ball does exist, otherwise known as Chapman or Pinehurst. In this instance, each pair plays a ball from the tee and then plays their respective partner's ball for the second shot. The teams then select which ball they wish to continue to complete the hole with, taking alternate strikes as they go. 

How To Play Four Ball

If you still aren't clear on how to play four-ball or how the rules work, let's break it down. Two people partner with one another against a rival pairing. Each pair plays their own course. The lower score of the two partners after completing a hole is counted against the opposing team for each respective hole. 

To put this into context, imagine in one pair, player A completes the hole in six shots, whereas player B completes the hole in four shots. They would record four as their overall score. The second pair, players C and D, finished their respective holes in five and three shots, respectively. They would then record their score on their scorecard as three. Since this is lower than four, pairing players C and D would win that hole. 

One key thing to remember with this game is that only one player needs to complete any given hole. So, for example, if it's clear from the start that one player will find it much easier to complete a particular hole than their partner, they can take that one individually. Although it may sound complicated at first, once you get out, you should start to realize how simple it can be. 

How Do Handicaps Work in Four Ball Competitions

If handicaps are required, it must be recorded on the scorecard. If you aren't already familiar, handicaps are a numerical measure to even the playing field when there are players of widely varying abilities. Both the USGA and the R&A use the World Handicap System to calculate these handicaps. The lower the handicap, the better the player.

Rules regarding handicaps for four-ball games vary depending on whether the game is in match play or stroke. In match play, the player with the lowest handicap must play from scratch, whereas all other players' handicaps are reduced appropriately. For stroke play, each respective side is granted a percentage handicap for the course. Usually, this is 90% for men, and for women, it's 95%. 

Handicaps are sometimes used as a point of qualification for professional tournaments. For example, as mentioned above, for the Four-Ball Event held by the USGA, a player must possess a handicap of 5.4 or less. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does 4 Ball Mean in Golf?

Four-ball refers to an entertaining variation of the traditional game of golf wherein two pairs are pitted against one another, each with their own ball. 

Final Thoughts

Though it can seem like a lot of information, once you start playing four-ball golf yourself, you'll quickly understand why it's so popular and how much fun of a twist it can be on the traditional game. Before heading out onto the course, browse our entire collection for everything you could possibly need, including golfing gear and the best apparel!