What is the difference between foursomes and greensomes?

These formats are very similar, so we explain the difference between foursomes and greensomes

difference between foursomes and greensomes
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

What is the difference between foursomes and greensomes?

The key difference between foursomes and greensomes comes down who plays the tee shots. Both formats are played in teams of two, and this format can be applied to strokeplay or matchplay, medal or Stableford.

In foursomes the two players on the team play one ball between them and play alternate shots with it – the format is also known in some parts of the golfing world as Alternate Shot for fairly logical reasons. One player tees off the odd-numbered holes and the other on the even-numbered ones, and they play shots alternatively throughout the hole.

In greensomes both players in the team tee off with their own ball and then the players on the team decide after these drives have been played which of the balls they will continue playing. The format then becomes alternate shot, so whoever hits the tee shot that is being used, the other playing member has to play the second shot.

Advantages of foursomes

Foursomes is a two-ball game. So if your club has tee-time slots when only two balls are allowed, but four of you want to play together at that time, this is the perfect solution.

Played properly, foursomes should also make for a quick round. The player not teeing off should walk down the side of the fairway to about the length they expect their partner’s drive to end up. This speeds up play, as not only do the two other players, in effect, act as a forecaddies in locating the drives, they are also in position to play their team’s second shot promptly.

Strategy and tactics

Opinions differ as to the ideal partnership. Some believe that pairs of golfers with similar games work best, especially on a course that these players are familiar with, such as their club one. That way they will be playing into greens from the same sort of lengths and angles that they normally would. 

Others will say that divergent games are the best as, with clever strategy, you can aim to get some of the best of both worlds. For example, if one players fades the ball and the other draws it, careful planning of who plays where on the doglegs may bring an advantage. Or if one player's strength is in approach play, and the other's is in putting, you can devise a strategy which is likely to end up with the better approach-shot player playing the majority of the approach shots.

In greensomes, a common tactic is for the player who tees off first to play conservatively for the fairway to allow the second player to really attack the hole with the reassurance that the team already have an acceptable tee shot to fall back on if that second ambitious shot goes awry. This strategy is particularly prevalent on risk-and-reward holes.

Handicap allowances

Under the World Handicap System, working out handicaps for Greensomes and Foursomes is slightly different to the previous system.

The first thing is work out each player’s Course Handicap, rounding to a whole number. Once you have done that, then you can work out the Foursomes or Greensomes handicap for the pair.

For a Foursomes handicap, it is 50% of combined Course Handicaps. For a Greensomes handicap, it is 40% of the higher handicapper and 60% of the lower Course Handicap, rounding to a whole number after calculation. For example, if Player A is off 16 and Player B is off 11, then Player A will have a Handicap Allowance of 40% and Player B 60%. This will equal 6.4 and 6.6, which added together gives the team 13 shots.

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.