How Does Golf Countback Work?

Both the simplicity and the hidden complexity of this tie-breaker is revealed.

How Does Countback Work
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Have you ever wondered what happens if two players cannot be separated after the conclusion of a competition? Well, if this does happen, then there is something called countback, which will find a way to separate the tied players after the round has been finished.

It does not involve playing any more holes, only number crunching by the competition secretary. The way it is calculated though can vary according to club rules, or the rules of a particular competition. 

Basically, 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, the 10th to 18th holes, rather than the final nine holes a player might have played, which may be different if it was a shotgun or two-tee start.

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.

What Is Countback

Countback is the fairest way to decide an outcome.

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

In multi-round 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 are used and totalled, making it nice and straightforward. However, in a handicap stroke competition, calculating countback can get a little bit more complicated.

Rather than using the net scores on each hole, standard practise is to deduct handicaps in proportion. Therefore, 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 shots on parts of the course where they do not normally get them.

Matt Cradock
Staff Writer

Matt joined Golf Monthly in February 2021 covering weekend news, before also transitioning to equipment and testing. After freelancing for Golf Monthly and The PGA for 18 months, he was offered a full-time position at the company in October 2022 and continues to cover weekend news and social media, as well as help look after Golf Monthly’s many buyers’ guides and equipment reviews.

Taking up the game when he was just seven years of age, Matt made it into his county squad just a year later and continues to play the game at a high standard, with a handicap of around 2-4. To date, his best round came in 2016, where he shot a six-under-par 66 having been seven-under through nine holes. He currently plays at Witney Lakes in Oxfordshire and his favourite player is Rory McIlroy, despite nearly being struck by his second shot at the 17th during the 2015 BMW PGA Championship.

Matt’s current What’s In The Bag?

Driver: Honma TW747, 8.75°

Fairway Wood: TaylorMade Rocketballz Stage 2, 15°, 19°

Hybrid: Adams Super Hybrid, 22°

Irons: Mizuno MP54, 5-PW

Wedges: Cleveland 588 RTX 2.0 Tour Satin, 50°, 56°, 60°

Putter: Cleveland TFI 2135 Satin Cero

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x