How Does Golf Countback Work?

Countback is a common way to separate tied players after a golf competition has finished, but how does it work?

How Does Countback Work
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

How Does Golf Countback Work?

Countback is a way to separate tied players after the conclusion of a competition. It is a method which does not involve playing any more holes but number crunching by the competition secretary.

The way countback is calculated can vary according to club rules or the rules of a particular competition. But here follows an explanation of the standard method.

In an 18-hole event, ties are separated by the best score over the final nine holes. These are the final holes on the standard scorecard. Thus they are the course’s 10th to 18th holes rather than the final nine holes a player played, which may be different if it was a shotgun start or a two-tee one.

If the best score for the last nine holes does not separate out a winner, then the final six holes are used, and, if that still fails to provide a definitive outcome, the final three holes. If a tie still persists then the score on the final hole is used.

In 27- 36- 54- and 72-hole events the last 18 holes are first used for countback. If this cannot separate a tie, then the countback method for 18-hole events is then applied, as described above.

In a Stableford competition the point scores for each hole is used and totalled, and as such is nice and straightforward. But in a handicap strokeplay competition is gets a bit more complicated.

Rather than use the net scores on each hole, standard practice is to deduct handicaps in proportion. Thus for countback on the last nine holes half the handicap is applied.

As most courses alternate the stroke indexes between the front and back nines, this rarely has a noticeable effect on a back-nine countback. But, when it gets down to a third of the handicap for the final six holes and a sixth for last three holes, players can then start to get shot on parts of the course where they do not normally get them.

Roderick Easdale

Contributing Writer Golf courses and travel are Roderick’s particular interests and he was contributing editor for the first few years of the Golf Monthly Travel Supplement. He writes travel articles and general features for the magazine, travel supplement and website. He also compiles the magazine's crossword. He is a member of Trevose Golf & Country Club and has played golf in around two dozen countries. Cricket is his other main sporting love. He is the author of five books, four of which are still in print: The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse; The Don: Beyond Boundaries; Wally Hammond: Gentleman & Player and England’s Greatest Post-War All Rounder.