What Is Medal Play In Golf?

Medal play in golf is scoring in its simplest form

Collin Morikawa with the Gold Medal and Claret Jug for winning The Open Championship at Royal St George’s Golf Club in 2021. What is medal play in golf article
Collin Morikawa with the Gold Medal and Claret Jug for winning The Open Championship at Royal St George’s Golf Club in 2021
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What is medal play in golf?

Medal play in golf is also known as strokeplay, and each player’s score in strokeplay is simply the total number of strokes that player takes to complete the round. The player’s medal score may be gross or net, depending upon whether the competition is using handicaps or not. If the competition is using handicaps, then the player’s score is adjusted by his or her handicap to get his or her net medal score.

Medal play is therefore distinct from matchplay. In matchplay each player takes on his or her opponents over a round aiming to win as many holes as possible. The player – or in the case when two golfers team up in formats such as foursomes or fourballs, the team – with the lowest score on the hole, wins. If the scores are equal on the hole then that hole is halved.

Medal play in golf is also distinct from Stableford competitions. Stableford is a popular format, especially on society or golf days. In Stableford competitions points are awarded for the score on each hole and these are totalled for the round and the player with the most Stableford points wins.

All of the men’s golf’s Majors – The Open Championship, US Open, US PGA Championship and The Masters – are competed for in medal play, as are the women’s Majors.

The US PGA Championship used to be a matchplay competition, but it changed to strokeplay in 1958. The leading team competitions, such as the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup, Solheim Cup, Presidents Cup and so on, are played as matchplay competitions.

Why is it called medal play in golf?

The most prestigious golf competitions these days, at club or professional level, tend to be played as strokeplay competitions. Often the winner was given a medal, and it used to be that the winner of the competition was called the Medallist. Thus strokeplay competitions also came to be known as medal competitions.

Roderick Easdale

Contributing Writer Roderick is the author of the critically acclaimed comic golf novel, Summer At Tangents. Golf courses and travel are Roderick’s particular interests. 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 also the author of five non-fiction 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.