Do we play too much fourball golf?

Does playing in fours simply take too long? It's more sociable, but it might take five hours...

Do we play too much fourball golf?
Do we play too much fourball golf?
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Does playing in fours simply take too long? It's more sociable, but it might take five hours...

One of the biggest issues in golf today is the average length of time it takes to complete a round. With golfers facing time pressures from work and family, the five-hour round is anathema to many. A factor contributing to a round’s duration is the number of players in each group on course, and that prompts the questions – is there too much fourball golf, and is it detrimental to the game?

A number of the country’s more traditional clubs promote, if not require, two-ball or foursomes play. Some might see these clubs as stuck in the past. But a round at a “two-ball” course will seldom take much longer than three hours, making it possible to squeeze a game into half a day, or perhaps an evening in the summer months. Few would criticise that. How many people would be inclined to take up membership, or play as a visitor, if a club could guarantee a speedy round?

Playing in twos or threes can also be beneficial to your golf. If the game is flowing, with less waiting for partners or the group ahead, it’s easier to get into a rhythm, and there’s less time to dwell on potential disasters or earlier mistakes.

But the predominance of fourball play is self-perpetuating. At a busy course, where a round is bound to take four and a half hours plus, you’re inclined to play in a fourball to limit the amount of waiting endured. Everyone has a similar mentality, so fourball prevails.

And fourball play is highly sociable. Four pals, or perhaps two couples, a friendly better-ball match, a drink and a meal in the clubhouse – many play golf for this more convivial side of the game and their requirements must be considered.

At a time when many clubs are struggling to make ends meet, maximising visitor and society income is imperative. A key way to do that is to have as many tee times as possible taken up by four paying punters. Few clubs could afford to turn such business away.

What we think? We do play too much fourball golf. But financial pressures, and the requirement to cater for a broad spectrum of golfing tastes, make a return to the “good old days” of widespread foursomes and two-ball golf impossible for most clubs.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?