4 Ball Golf: The Ultimate Guide to Pairs Play

4 Ball Golf, commonly known as “better ball” or “best ball,” is a dynamic pairs playing format in the vast world of golf.

In essence, two golfers form a team, each playing their own ball, but only the lower score of the two counts for the team on each hole.

This engaging format takes center stage in renowned tournaments like the Ryder Cup. Curious about the nuances? Keep reading for a comprehensive deep dive.

Basic Concepts and Terminology

Dive into the world of golf, and you'll quickly discover it's not just about swinging a club.

The game has its own unique language and set of rules, with terms and formats that can boggle a newbie's mind.

Let's break down some foundational concepts of 4 Ball Golf, from its distinct names to the two primary ways it's played.

Definitions: Four ball, better ball, and best ball

  • Four ball: This is the term often used to describe a type of golf match wherein two teams of two players each face off. Each golfer plays his or her own ball throughout the round, meaning four balls are in play. The term can be used interchangeably with “better ball” and “best ball”, though there are nuanced distinctions.
  • Better ball: Often synonymous with four ball, “better ball” refers to the scoring system used in these matches. With two players on a team, only the better (or lower) score on each hole counts towards the team's overall score. For example, if Player A scores a 4 and Player B scores a 5 on a hole, the team's score for that hole is 4.
  • Best ball: This term is sometimes used interchangeably with “better ball.” However, purists argue that “best ball” should refer to scenarios where one player's ball is chosen before the completion of a hole and only that ball is played for the remainder of the hole. This is different from “better ball,” where both players play out the hole entirely.

Understanding stroke play vs. match play

  • Stroke play: This is perhaps the most common format of golf and the one casual fans might be most familiar with. In stroke play, players (or teams, in the case of four ball) compete over a set number of holes, usually 18, with the goal of having the fewest strokes (or shots) at the end. Each stroke is counted, and the player or team with the lowest total at the end wins. In the context of four ball stroke play, remember that only the better score of the two players on a team counts for each hole.
  • Match play: Here, the game gets a bit more strategic. Instead of tallying up total strokes, players (or teams) compete on a hole-by-hole basis. The goal is to win individual holes by finishing with fewer strokes than your opponent. For example, if Team A finishes a hole in 4 strokes and Team B finishes in 5, Team A wins that hole.

In four ball match play, both members of each team play their own balls throughout.

The team with the lowest score on a hole wins that hole.

If both teams have the same lowest score, the hole is considered “halved,” meaning neither team wins the hole.

The outcome of a match play competition isn't determined by the total number of strokes but by the number of holes a player or team has won.

The game can end before the 18th hole if one player or team has won more holes than there are holes remaining.

For instance, if Team A is 5 holes up with only 4 holes to play, Team A is said to have won “5 and 4.”

Key Differences Between Stroke Play and Match Play in Four Ball

  1. Scoring Method: In stroke play, it's about the cumulative score over the entire round. In match play, it's about winning individual holes.
  2. Strategy: Match play often involves more strategy. A player might take more risks early on in a hole if their partner has already secured a good position.
  3. Outcome Determination: In stroke play, it's all about the total number of strokes. In match play, it's about the number of holes won.
  4. Psychological Aspect: In match play, momentum can shift quickly. One good hole can turn the tide of the match, making it both thrilling for players and spectators.

The Rules of 4 Ball Golf in Stroke Play

Venturing into the realm of 4 Ball Golf in stroke play introduces a delightful twist to the conventional game.

The format retains the essence of golf but amplifies the strategy and teamwork required.

Let's delve into the intricacies of the rules governing this exciting format, ensuring you're equipped with the knowledge to either watch or play with finesse.

The Team Dynamics: How pairs are formed and play together

  • Formation: Pairs can be formed based on various criteria. In casual play, golfers might simply choose their partners. In tournaments, pairings can be strategic, often decided by team captains or coaches to complement playing styles and strengths.
  • Playing Together: While each player plays their own ball, communication and strategy become paramount. Partners discuss shot selections, club choices, and course conditions. Sometimes, one partner might play conservatively if the other is in a challenging situation, ensuring at least one good score.

Scoring: How the team's score on each hole is determined

Each player in the pair plays their own ball from tee to green.

At the end of each hole, only the better (or lower) of the two scores is recorded as the team's score.

For example, if Player A scores 4 and Player B scores 5, the team score for that hole is 4.

Finishing holes: Only one player's completion required per hole

In four ball stroke play, both players in a team aren't required to finish every hole.

If one player has already posted a good score on a hole, the other might pick up their ball and not complete the hole, especially if they're in a tricky spot and their score wouldn't count for the team anyway.

This can also help with the pace of play.

Determining winners: Aggregate score over a set number of holes

After playing the set number of holes, usually 18, the team's scores are tallied.

Remember, for each hole, only the better of the two players' scores is counted.

The pair with the lowest cumulative score emerges victorious.

In the event of a tie, tournament rules may dictate a playoff or other tie-breaking procedures.

4 Ball Golf in Match Play Competitions

Switching gears from stroke play, 4 Ball Golf in match play competitions infuses a heightened layer of suspense and strategy into the sport. Instead of the usual accumulation of strokes, teams go head-to-head on each hole, making every shot critical. Delve deeper to uncover the rules, strategies, and dynamism this format introduces to the timeless game of golf.

Head-to-head team competition

Match play, especially in a four ball setting, is all about direct confrontation.

Two teams of two players each face off in a thrilling duel, where each hole becomes a mini-battle.

The emphasis here isn't on the total number of strokes over the round but on outperforming the opposing team on as many individual holes as possible.

This direct competition means that a team can have a bad hole but immediately bounce back on the next, keeping the excitement alive till the very end.

Scoring: Winning holes based on the lowest score among team members

In this format, all four players (two from each team) play their own balls.

Once the hole concludes, it's the lowest score among the team members that's compared.

Whichever team's player has the lowest score wins the hole for that team.

For instance, if on Team A, one player scores a 4 and the other a 5, and on Team B, both players score a 5, Team A wins that hole thanks to the score of 4.

If the lowest scores are equal between teams, the hole is ‘halved', meaning neither team secures a point for that hole.

Importance of strategy and pair dynamics in match play

While talent and skill are prerequisites, strategy becomes the kingpin in match play.

Pairs must frequently communicate, weighing risks and rewards for every shot.

For example, if one player is in a prime position on the green, their partner might take a riskier approach, knowing they have a safety net.

Alternatively, if one player is in trouble, the other might opt for a more conservative play to ensure a competitive score for the hole.

This dynamic interplay between partners adds a dimension of psychological and tactical depth that's unique to this format.

Every decision is amplified by the knowledge that the outcome of a single hole can dramatically shift the momentum of the match.

Understanding your partner's strengths, weaknesses, and current state of play is crucial.

There's a level of trust involved, knowing when to rely on your partner and when to step up and take charge.

These nuances make 4 Ball Golf in match play a fascinating spectacle, both for players and audiences.

Furthermore, the format's head-to-head nature means strategies can also be reactive.

Teams might adjust their approach based on their opponents' plays.

If the opposing team is struggling, a safe and steady play might be the order of the day.

Conversely, if the opponents are on fire, it might necessitate bolder moves.

Famous 4 Ball Golf Tournaments

The world of golf is graced with an array of prestigious tournaments, but when it comes to team competitions, a few stand tall, shining as beacons of camaraderie, rivalry, and unparalleled skill.

While individual accolades in golf are sought after, there's a unique allure to tournaments where teamwork and strategy intertwine.

Let's journey through some of the most celebrated 4 Ball Golf tournaments, diving into their histories, significance, and unforgettable moments.

Spotlight on the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, and Presidents Cup

The Ryder Cup is a biennial tournament between teams from Europe and the United States.

Established in 1927, it has since become a hallmark event, bringing together the best male golfers from both sides of the Atlantic.

The competition format includes foursomes, singles, and, of course, four-ball matches, with players battling not for prize money, but for pride and the honor of their home turf.

The Solheim Cup mirrors the Ryder Cup but is dedicated to women's golf. It pitches the top female golfers from the United States against their counterparts from Europe.

Inaugurated in 1990, the Solheim Cup has played a pivotal role in elevating women's golf, offering a platform for remarkable talent to showcase their prowess in the team format.

The Presidents Cup, on the other hand, sees the U.S. team pitted against an International team comprising players from the rest of the world, excluding Europe.

Initiated in 1994, this event occurs in non-Ryder Cup years, ensuring golf enthusiasts are treated to top-tier team action annually.

The significance of these tournaments in the golfing world

These tournaments hold a special place in the heart of the golfing fraternity.

Beyond the spectacular shots and tense putts, they symbolize unity, where individual brilliance merges with team spirit.

It's not just about personal glory; it's about rallying together for a shared cause, representing not just oneself but an entire region.

These events offer a refreshing departure from the usual solitude of golf, adding layers of strategy, camaraderie, and emotion that are palpably felt both on and off the green.

For many players, being selected to represent their region in these tournaments is an honor that rivals, and sometimes even surpasses, winning individual titles.

The atmosphere is electrifying, with fans draped in their team's colors, singing, chanting, and cheering in a manner more akin to soccer matches than the typically reserved ambiance of golf.

Moreover, these tournaments have also served as catalysts for growing the sport.

The global attention they receive not only amplifies the profiles of the participating golfers but also inspires budding players worldwide.

They serve as proof that golf is as much about collective spirit as it is about individual talent.

Memorable moments and top performances

Over the years, these tournaments have birthed moments that are etched in golfing lore.

Who can forget the “Miracle at Medinah” during the 2012 Ryder Cup?

Trailing significantly, the European team mounted one of the most staggering comebacks in the history of sports, clinching the Ryder Cup in dramatic fashion.

In the Solheim Cup, the 1996 edition stands out when Dottie Pepper of the U.S. team showcased fierce determination, clinching critical points and infusing her team with infectious energy.

Her passion became a defining image of what the Solheim Cup represents.

The Presidents Cup has its share of iconic moments too, like in 2003 when the event concluded in a tie for the first time.

With daylight fading and the teams locked in a draw, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods went head-to-head in a playoff.

The duo matched each other shot for shot in fading light, and in a show of sportsmanship, the captains decided to share the cup rather than continue the next day.

Tips and Strategies for 4 Ball Golf

Navigating the intricate web of 4 Ball Golf isn't just about mastering the swing or putting with precision.

It's a game that beckons players to think deeply, strategize wisely, and synchronize seamlessly with their partner.

Stepping onto the green with a coherent game plan, built on trust and mutual understanding, can be the key to unlocking victory.

Let's delve into some strategies and tips that can elevate your 4 Ball Golf gameplay.

Choosing the right partner: Complementary skills and teamwork

Finding the perfect partner is much like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle; the fit has to be just right.

It's not always about pairing up with the best player available, but rather someone whose strengths offset your weaknesses and vice versa.

If you're an excellent long-game player but sometimes falter on the greens, teaming up with a putter extraordinaire can be a match made in heaven.

Moreover, the psychological dynamics are paramount.

Opt for a partner you gel with, someone who uplifts your spirits during challenging times and celebrates the highs.

Golf is as much a mental game as it is physical, so being in sync emotionally can make a world of difference.

Effective communication between partners

Open dialogue is the lifeblood of a successful 4 Ball partnership.

Discussing strategy, reading greens together, or even something as simple as deciding who tees off first can impact the game's flow.

Regularly check in with your partner about their comfort level with particular shots or if they have insights about the course's quirks.

It's also vital to foster an environment where both players feel valued.

Acknowledge good shots, provide constructive feedback, and maintain a positive demeanor, even when things aren't going as planned.

Remember, in 4 Ball Golf, you win together, and you learn together.

Balancing risk and reward on different holes

Every golf course is a labyrinth of opportunities and challenges.

Some holes might be more forgiving, luring players to take risks, while others demand caution and tact.

In 4 Ball, the beauty lies in having two players, which means two chances to navigate each hole.

Strategically decide who takes the riskier shots and who opts for the safer plays.

For instance, if one player has a penchant for aggressively targeting par-5s in two, while the other plays conservatively, use this to your advantage.

On a hole where birdie seems attainable, let the aggressive player take their shot, while the conservative player ensures a safe play to keep the worst-case scenario at bay.

Understanding the course layout is also crucial.

If there's a hole with a notorious water hazard or out-of-bounds area, discuss the approach beforehand.

Will one of you try to carry the hazard while the other plays it safe? Or will both opt for a conservative strategy, ensuring at least one decent score on the card?

The key is to constantly evaluate the risk-to-reward ratio.

Sometimes a gutsy play can lead to a significant gain, and other times, it's better to play it safe and rely on your skills to get you closer to the pin on subsequent shots.

The Future of 4 Ball Golf

The winds of change are ever-present, and the realm of golf is no exception.

As we gaze into the horizon, 4 Ball Golf stands poised at an exciting juncture, potentially reshaping its contours and solidifying its place in the annals of golfing history.

With innovations bubbling up and the game's trajectory ascending, let's dive deep into what the future might hold for this fascinating format.

Innovations and changes to the format

The beauty of 4 Ball Golf lies in its adaptability.

While the core essence remains untouched, there's room for tweaks to make the game even more engaging.

One such innovation could be a time-based format where teams are not only battling against each other's scores but also the clock.

This would inject a sense of urgency, pushing players to strategize faster and make on-the-spot decisions, adding an extra layer of excitement for spectators.

Another potential change could be introducing varying degrees of handicaps based on the combined skills of the duo.

This ensures a more level playing field, allowing emerging players to compete more fiercely against seasoned pros.

It could lead to more unexpected outcomes and thrilling finishes.

Moreover, advancements in technology, like augmented reality and wearable tech, could make their way onto the golf course.

Imagine smart glasses that provide real-time data on wind direction or slope gradients, or wearables that analyze swing mechanics instantly.

Such innovations could reshape the strategy and approach players adopt in 4 Ball matches.

Its place in future golfing events and tournaments

The allure of 4 Ball Golf is undeniable, with its blend of individual prowess and team dynamics.

Given its increasing popularity, it's plausible to foresee its inclusion in more international tournaments and maybe even the Olympics.

As global audiences warm up to the format, there's potential for a dedicated 4 Ball World Cup, attracting the best duos from across the globe.

Moreover, its team-based nature makes it a perfect fit for charity events, where celebrities and professionals can pair up, drawing massive crowds and generating significant funds for worthy causes.

The format's versatility also lends itself to mixed-gender tournaments, breaking traditional norms and championing inclusivity in the sport.


As the world of golf evolves, 4 Ball Golf stands out as a testament to teamwork, strategy, and the spirit of competition.

With its unique blend of individual skill and collaborative play, it promises not only to entertain but also to shape the future of the sport.

Here's to many more thrilling rounds and unforgettable moments on the green!