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A Guide to Playing Fourball in Golf
Published Jan 29, 2024
by Gil Larson

Fourball, a team format that’s very popular in the world of golf, offers a blend of camaraderie and competition that tends to appeal to players at all levels. In this format, two-player teams compete against each other, with each golfer playing their own ball throughout the round. The team’s score for each hole is determined by the lower of the two scores.

This format not only tests individual skills but also emphasizes strategic teamwork. Fourball is a staple in casual golf outings as well as prestigious tournaments like the Ryder Cup, where it adds a thrilling team dynamic to the competition.


The Fundamentals of Fourball

Fourball is distinguished by its unique approach to team play. Here, the focus is on each player’s contribution to the team’s overall performance.

The basic rule is simple: of the two players on a team, the one with the lower score on a hole counts as the team’s score for that hole. If one player scores a four and their partner scores a five, the team’s score for the hole is four.

This scoring method encourages teams to balance risk and reward on each hole, as a strong score from one player can offset a weaker performance by their partner. Understanding this balance is key to mastering Fourball, making it a game of both individual prowess and collaborative strategy.

Forming a Winning Team

Creating a successful Fourball team involves more than just pairing two good golfers. It’s about finding a cohesiveness that enhances both players’ strengths and mitigates their weaknesses.

When selecting a partner, consider complementary skills: a player with a strong long game pairs well with a partner who excels in short game and putting.

It’s also important to consider temperaments and playing styles. A risk-taker might benefit from a partner with a more conservative approach, balancing the team’s overall strategy.

Effective communication is crucial in Fourball. Teams should discuss their approach to each hole, deciding who will take on more risk based on the situation and each player’s confidence level. This type of strategic collaboration can make the difference between a good team and a great one.

Advanced Tactics in Fourball Play

To excel in Fourball, advanced players should employ a range of tactics tailored to this format. One key strategy is understanding when to play aggressively. If your partner is in a good position, it might be the time to take a riskier shot in pursuit of a birdie. Conversely, if your partner is struggling on a hole, adopting a more conservative approach to ensure a steady score can be wise.

Another tactic is to play ‘safe’ and ‘aggressive’ in turns, especially on holes where one player has a distinct advantage. This strategy ensures that the team consistently posts competitive scores while still capitalizing on opportunities to gain ground. Additionally, understanding the course layout and how it plays to each team member’s strengths can significantly influence your game plan in Fourball.

Betting in Fourball: Adding Stakes to the Game

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Betting in Fourball can significantly enhance the excitement and competitive spirit of the game. Various betting formats can be applied, each bringing a different dynamic.

A common approach is match betting, where teams bet on the outcome of the entire round or individual holes. Another popular format is skins, where each hole has a set value, and the team with the lowest score on a hole wins the skin for that hole. If the hole is tied, the value carries over to the next hole, increasing the stakes. Nassau is another betting format that splits the round into three separate bets: the front nine, the back nine, and the overall 18 holes.

These betting formats encourage strategic play, as the potential for winning or losing bets can influence how aggressively or conservatively players approach each hole.

Preparing for Competitive Fourball

Competing in Fourball, especially in tournaments, requires thorough preparation. This includes not only honing individual golf skills but also developing a deep understanding of your partner’s game. Practice rounds can be invaluable for learning how to best complement each other’s play. Mental preparation is also key, as the pressure of competition can affect decision-making.

Developing a game plan before the round, considering factors like course layout and typical pin positions, can provide a strategic edge. It’s also important to stay adaptable, as changing course conditions or the day’s performance may require adjustments to the game plan.

Fourball in Major Golf Tournaments

Fourball holds a special place in major golf tournaments, offering some of the most exciting and memorable moments in the sport. In events like the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, Fourball matches are key components that contribute significantly to the overall outcome. These tournaments provide excellent examples of Fourball strategy at the highest level, showcasing how top golfers adapt their play in team formats.

Analyzing these matches can offer valuable lessons in risk management, team dynamics, and pressure play. For instance, observing how professional golfers decide when to take risks and how they support their partners under pressure can be incredibly instructive for anyone looking to improve their Fourball game.


Fourball is a dynamic and engaging format that adds a rich layer of strategy and teamwork to golf. Whether playing a casual round with friends, participating in a club tournament, or placing friendly wagers, Fourball offers a fun experience.

As you prepare for your next Fourball match, remember the importance of complementary skills, effective communication, and adaptability. Don’t forget to have fun!