Everything you need to know

Golf is one of the most flexible sports around, with many different ways to win. Whether you’re competing at the highest level or just playing for fun with your mates, everyone can find a format they enjoy.

We explore some of the most popular golf scoring systems to help you choose one that matches your skill level and personality.

Stroke play
The most common golf format is stroke play. It’s called this because every stroke counts towards your final score. The player with the lowest number of strokes at the end of the game wins, so you need to be able to hold your nerve to excel at this. If you’re playing off a handicap, you simply subtract this from your total score. 

Best for: Experienced competitive players who want to test their skills against others of a higher or similar standard.


Match play
Fans of the Ryder Cup will recognise this format, where each hole is played for individually and either won, lost or halved. 

This characteristic of match play, where players compete hole by hole with the objective of winning more holes than the opponent, is a popular format because every hole is a fresh start. 

To win in match play, one player needs to be ‘holes ahead’.  For instance, winning a match "5&4" signifies that one player is five holes ahead with only four holes remaining, making it impossible for the opponent to recover. 

Similarly, a "10&8" outcome means a player has secured a ten-hole lead, with eight holes left, decisively determining the winner well before all 18 holes are played.

This differs from the Ryder Cup as the winning team is determined by the accumulation of points from matches won or halved.

Best for: Players who prefer a head-to-head competition that can be enjoyed as part of a team or individually. 


Scramble is a fun and relaxed format of golf that’s ideal for groups of players with varying skill levels. All players tee off, and the team chooses the best shot. All players then hit from that spot, and the process repeats until the ball is in the hole. 

This format encourages teamwork and can be a great way to introduce beginners to the game as they won’t necessarily be playing their own ball constantly.

Best for: Corporate golf days or golfing weekends for friends with mixed abilities.


Nine holes
If you’re too busy to play a full 18 holes, the nine-hole format is a neat compromise that allows you to enjoy a round of golf in a shorter amount of time. Plus, it’s less pressure and you may be more inclined to take risks with your shots. 

Best for: Those who want to fit in a quick game after work or for beginners who might not be ready for a full 18 holes just yet.


Last but not least, there's the infamous skins game format. This is where the stakes are raised as each hole is worth a sum of money. 

The player with the lowest score on the hole wins the money for that hole. If, say, there’s four of you playing and you each put £18 in the kitty, each hole is worth £4. If no one wins the hole outright, the money (skin) is carried over to the next hole, and so on.

Best for: Those who enjoy a bit of friendly rivalry and a chance to win some money.