Match Play


Match play is a form of Golf where a you play against an opponent head-to-head and score by counting the number of holes you won or lost. The common forms are singles match play – one person playing against another – and 4BBB matchplay – a team of two players against another team of two, scoring the best ball of the team.

Match play used to be common for events like the Club Championships, where you played some stroke rounds to see if you could qualify for the real Championships Match Play event.
Instead of adding your score for the total round, match play is scored hole-by-hole – the winner of the hole being the player who holes his ball in the lowest number of strokes.
That player is scored “one-up”, “two-up”, “one down” and so on until the match is won by the player who is more holes up than there are holes left to play. A hole is said to be “halved” if both hole the ball in the same number of strokes. A match where neither player is “up” is said to be “all square” or “halved”.
If the match gets to a point where one player is “up” by the same number of holes left to play, the score is called “dormie”, like “dormie 3”, and the player’s opponent has to win all the remaining holes to finish “all square” and not lose the match.
Once one player is more holes up than there are holes left to play, the match is won, and there is no need to continue playing to the end.  Scores are referred to as, eg “4 and 3” (ie 4 holes up with 3 to play), “1-up”, “all square” etc.
In inter-club representative match play events, players normally only play a maximum of 18 holes, finishing with a win, a loss or a half. In club/championship events where a result is required, players continue playing past the 18th hole if all square after 18 until one player gets to be “1-up”.


There are two common forms – Scratch Match Play and Handicap Matchplay.
In Scratch Match Play, no account is taken of a player’s handicap – the hole is won or lost on the basis of the actual number of strokes taken by each player.
In Handicap Match Play, strokes are given on some holes to one player based on the “Match Index” for the hole. The handicap allowance is calculated by subtracting the lowest handicap from the highest handicap. The lowest handicapped player goes to scratch, and the other player gets strokes on the holes match indexed below or equal to this difference.
Bill has a playing handicap of 6 and Bob a playing handicap of 16. Bill will go to scratch and get no extra strokes on any hole.  Bill however gets a “handicap” of 16 – 6 = 10, and so will be given an extra stroke on every hole where the match index is 10 or below.
Note that the match index has nothing to do with the actual difficulty of a hole, but is statistically allocated to distribute strokes in the fairest way for the match. For this reason, if you are using the standard match indices, you must always start your match at Hole No 1.
When playing 4BBB handicap match play (the most usual form of 4BBB matchplay), your team of two (you and your playing partner) will be playing head-to-head against your opponents’ team of two. Each hole is scored by the better “nett” score of each team on that hole, as for normal 4BBB.
To adjust handicaps, the same calculation is made – take the lowest handicap from the other players’ handicaps to see how many strokes each player can be given.
Tom A (handicap 7) and Lex A (12) are playing 4BBB handicap match play against Sid B (13) and Fred B (21). Subtracting 7 from each player’s handicap leaves Tom A on scratch, Lex A on 5, Sid B on 6 and Fred B on 14.
If they are playing a hole with a match index of 8, neither Tom A nor Lex A get a stroke on that hole, and neither does Sid B, but Fred B gets given one stroke and subtracts one stroke from his actual stroke count for that hole.
Note that if the handicap difference for any player is more than 18, that player gets one stroke on each hole (for the 18) then an extra stroke on those holes with an index below or equal to the “surplus”.  For example, A has a handicap of 9 and B a handicap of 35. Subtracting 9 leaves B on 26. Note that 18 + 8 = 26, so B gets given a stroke on every hole plus another stroke on each hole with a match index 8 or less.
Golf Australia suggests the following as the match indices to be used for each of the 18 holes. Holes 1 to 9: Index – 18, 8, 12, 3, 14, 6, 10, 1 and 16 and Holes 10 to 18: Index – 5, 11, 2, 15, 7, 13, 4, 17 and 9. You should however always use the match indices published by the Club where you are playing. At MGC, these are printed on the “non-electronic” score cards available at the Club.


Although the Rules of Golf still apply, there are a number of rule differences that apply to match play that don’t apply to stroke play. You can read about a few of the differences in the post “Match Play or Stroke Play”.
One of the most commonly noticed difference is that in match play you can “concede” –
  • A player may concede a match at any time prior to the start, or before the finish of that match.
  • A player may concede a hole at any time prior to the start or before the finish of that hole.
  • A player may concede his opponent’s next stroke at any time, provided the opponent’s ball is at rest. The opponent is considered to have holed out with his next stroke, and the ball may be removed by either side.
  • A concession may not be declined or withdrawn.
If a stroke has been conceded (eg a short putt) but they go ahead and putt anyway and miss, it does not matter. The concession has been made and nothing that happens after the concession can alter their score.
The only time that a concession of a hole is not valid is when the result of the hole has already been decided, even if the players are not aware that this is the case. For example, if A concedes a hole to B and it transpires that B had played a wrong ball during play of the hole the hole was already lost before the concession was made (Decision 2-4/9).
Be extremely careful before conceding a hole to an opponent, especially when they are claiming to have won a hole because of a Rule that you were not aware of. Decision 2-4/12 provides a good example; in a match between A and B, A putts out of turn, B incorrectly claims that A loses the hole for putting out of turn, A protests but concedes the hole. Although there was no basis for B claiming the hole, A’s concession stands because it cannot be withdrawn.
Once a match has been decided it cannot be conceded. So, if a player wins a match and then realises that he is not able to play in the next round he may not concede the match to the beaten opponent. The winner’s next round opponent would win the match by default (Decision 2-4/19).
Finally, be aware that concessions can be implied; so picking-up an opponent’s ball-marker implies the concession of their next stroke; saying “let’s move on to the next hole”, when you cannot find your ball implies concession of a hole; lifting your ball and shaking hands with your opponent implies the concession of the match.


As a result of some of the rule differences, the tactics used when playing match play can be quite different from stroke play.  In match play, your actual score on a hole doesn’t matter, so long as it is less than your opponent’s score.  In stroke play, though, you are playing against the whole field, so you have to play for the lowest score you can, as you don’t know what other players are scoring.
This article is meant to be only a brief introduction to some of the differences a golfer will find in match play over the more usual stroke play. If you are interested in playing match play and want to learn more, it is recommended that you read authoritative articles by some of the top golfers and coaches.  
Order of play is more important in match play than in stroke play. There is no penalty, but your opponent may require that you replay your shot. Also, match play is a lot about putting pressure on your opponent, so it is often better to give him the opportunity to miss first anyway if you have, say, a make-able putt.
As an example, in match play, your opponent plays out of turn.  There is no penalty, but if he played a good shot, you can immediately ask him to re-play the shot, hoping the next shot won’t be as good. If he had played a bad shot, you would likely not mention that he played out of order.
Rules expert Barry Rhodes ( has produced a downloadable document that may be of interest to those that play, or are anticipating playing, match play golf – ‘So You Are Going to Play Match Play!’  Go to for details.