Strokeplay vs Matchplay: Which is the better competitive format?

Strokeplay or matchplay? Which identifies the better player and which is more fun?

Matchplay or strokeplay: which is best?
Matchplay or strokeplay: which is best?
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Strokeplay or matchplay? Which identifies the better player and which is more fun?

Strokeplay says Fergus Bisset

In a knockout competition a couple of years ago my third round opponent, who’ll remain nameless, hooked out-of-bounds from the first tee. He topped his provisional, sliced another off the course then duffed his sixth before picking up. Meanwhile, I’d played two good shots to three feet for an almost certain birdie. I was just one up.

On the next, my second found the heart of the green. My opponent’s wayward approach struck a tree and ricocheted back to the fringe. He then skulled a chip that hit the flag three inches up and dropped into the cup – back to all-square. I played solidly all round, well under handicap. My adversary’s score would have been over 100, but owing to his ridiculous inconsistency and brazen good fortune, the match was tied at the last where he received a shot. From somewhere he produced two reasonable blows and recorded a regulation par. My birdie effort lipped out and I lost the match. In my mind, the result was not a fair representation of our respective performances.

For me, strokeplay is superior because it will always identify the golfer who’s played best on any given day. In order to win a strokeplay competition you must perform consistently over 18 holes. I can think of no better feeling in golf than returning to the clubhouse having compiled a great score.

When chatting to a colleague or friend about the game, they’re likely to ask what your best ever strokeplay score has been. They’re less likely to be interested in your biggest ever matchplay victory as it’s pretty much irrelevant.

Matchplay says Jeremy Ellwood

I’ll begin my side of this debate with a small concession – strokeplay is without question the most important format of the game. Regardless of whether you are a professional competing on Tour or an amateur vying for a good finish in the monthly medal, it is your performances in strokeplay competitions that will determine your stature within the game. So, as they say in matchplay, “you can have that.”

Tweak the question, however and the answer is very different. So instead let’s ask which format is more exciting?

There’s a good reason that more people watch the Ryder Cup than any other golf event. Matchplay is golf’s purest form in which one man or team takes on another, simple as that. Every shot you hit has a tangible affect on your opponent, giving it a level of importance that most single strokeplay moments do not carry. Pressure is created not by the challenge of the course but by the shots hit by each player. Quite simply, the winner is the grittier competitor.

For the majority of amateurs, matchplay is also more enjoyable. There’s nothing quite like the competitive vibe created when a few friends lay down some cash to be resolved by a fourball better ball match. And if all four of you play well, something unique happens. Golf transcends its usual, daily identity to become a team sport where a whole new set of nuances come into play. So for those of you who enjoy the excitement of a match and the camaraderie of team sport, I urge you to vote matchplay.

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?