Should The Club Championship Be Stroke Play Or Match Play?

Fergus Bisset and Jeremy Ellwood debate which format is best

Club Championship
Should The Club Championship Be Stroke Play Or Match Play?
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

GM regulars Fergus Bisset and Jeremy Ellwood debate which is the best method of finding your club’s champion golfer for the year

Should The Club Championship Be Stroke Play Or Match Play?

Stroke play

Says Fergus Bisset

At my club, four rounds of stroke play decide the club champion for the year. I wouldn’t have it any other way as it establishes the best player and the rightful winner.

The vagaries of match play mean better players can easily lose out over an 18-hole sprint. A lesser golfer could produce a blinding performance and knock out the favourite, only to be beaten soundly in the next round as their form returns to normal.

It can be then that you end up with two unlikely candidates making it through to a disappointing final, not really representative of the talent in the field. It sometimes happens in the WGC Match Play!

In stroke play the cream will rise to the top.

When Martin Slumbers announces the “Champion Golfer of the Year” on the final green of The Open Championship, there’s no doubt the honour is hard won, fully deserved and justified. That player has beaten all in the field to come out on top.

At a slightly lower level (although it means a great deal to those involved,) it’s the same at a club championship. The winner should have beaten all entrants to earn their title as champ.

A good thing about a stroke play championship is that more members will be involved competitively to the very end of the event.

There might be a finals day when the last round of the men’s, women’s, juniors and senior’s championships are all played.

That means more people around the club to watch the final stages, better atmosphere and more chance of a party afterwards.

Each club has knockout tournaments, and these have an important place. Always throwing up some unlikely results, they’re great fun but should be used to find “match play” rather than “club” champions. For the latter, only stroke play will do.

Should The Club Championship Be Stroke Play Or Match Play?

Match play

Says Jeremy Ellwood

The one thing you learn travelling around various clubs is that there is no set format for the club championship.

At some it’s stroke play over a varying number of rounds; at others its straight match play; at others still it’s a combination of the two, most typically stroke play qualifiers leading into a knockout phase.

There is obviously no right or wrong, and I’ve never been a member of a club where match play plays any role in deciding the club champion. But I’ve often thought I would prefer that.

Much as out on tour, a bit more variety would make for a nice break from a steady diet of club medals and Stablefords.

But while there is a reluctance about too much match play on tour for fear of the ‘wrong’ players progressing through from a TV perspective, wouldn’t it be great at club level if the format allowed a few more members to become potential contenders?

Yes, the best players should still win, but they might not do so quite as often as in stroke play where their greater consistency comes to the fore.

A less good player on a hot streak or someone who mixes birdies with too many doubles might just prevail in match play, whereas a stroke play triumph will probably always just elude them.

My best ever finish in a 36-hole stroke play club championship was 3rd one year when bad weather sent scores soaring in round two, but that’s about the best I could ever have done.

I may be deluding myself, but if the stars had aligned when I was in good form, I like to think I might just have had a bit more of a chance in match play.

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?