How Does Golf's Four Ball Format Work?

We explain what the golf format actually is.

Fleetwood, Hovland, Thomas and Cantlay pictured at the Ryder Cup
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Four balls is when a pair of golfers form a team and whichever of the pair makes the better score on each hole counts as the team score for that hole.

How Does Golf's Four Ball Format Work?

Four balls is a team format where a team of two golfers each play their own ball.

The teammate with the lower score on each hole provides that team’s score for that hole.

For this reason, the format is also often called Fourball Better Ball (4BBB) as the better score of the pair is counted each time.

The format can be used in strokeplay or matchplay such as in the Ryder Cup (opens in new tab) or Solheim Cup.

Related: What is the difference between strokeplay and matchplay? (opens in new tab)

Each team is responsible for recording their gross score on a hole on a single scorecard and identifying which player shot this. (This is because the net score could be different for each player depending upon their handicaps.)

Spieth and Thomas preparing for a four ball match at the 2018 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

On each hole the team can elect to record both players’ score or only one.

If one player cannot better the score of their partner then he or she need not hole out.

Under the World Handicap System, each player will get 85% of handicap allowance in four balls strokeplay or Stableford competitions. In four balls matchplay it is 90%.

Related: What is foursomes? (opens in new tab)

Although each player has to play their own ball, in several respects the players are treated as the same player.

Thus a player may, for example, mark his partner’s ball, or lift and clean it, or drop it under penalty. (If these are done incorrectly, the player whose ball it is is the one who is penalised.)

Similarly a player and the player’s caddie may also give help to the partner in the same way that the partner's own caddie would be allowed to do.

One partner can also act for the team in actions such as conceding a shot or a hole.

Or indeed in playing a hole. If one partner fails to turn up on time, his or her partner can play alone for that team until the latecomer does turn up.

Partners may also play in the order the side considers best when it is one of their turn to play.

So if Alex and Bill are a fourball team, and Bill would have the next putt as his ball is the furthest away from the hole, the team can elect that Alex plays first, and then Bill, if they so wish.

Contributing Writer Golf courses and travel are Roderick’s particular interests and he worked as 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 is a member of Trevose Golf & Country Club and has played golf in around 20 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.