What Is Best Ball in Golf? How to Play, Rules and Strategy

man playing golf

There are so many ways to play golf. You can play it alone or with a group of people, from individual and team formats to match-play and stroke formats. Basically, you have endless options to enjoy a game of golf or even a round of golf. Now among these many options, best ball is one of the most popular team formats that you can enjoy.

But what is best ball format?

Best ball is a team format in gold where each team only counts the lowest score for each hole. This format usually features two to four players per team. The reason why this format is so popular is that it is great for players of various skill levels and abilities. Many communities in golf also play it and it can feature low scores if you want to.

A round of best ball is one of the best ways to train beginners to play golf. Even the most seasoned and experienced golfers can enjoy this format a lot. In this article, we are going to talk a lot more about best ball format, from keeping score to strategy, and of course, much more.

How to play best ball in golf

If this is your first time trying to play best ball in golf, don’t worry, this format is pretty easy to learn and play. Later on, you can use best ball to make your golfing session better and spicier. Here is a quick explanation of what you can expect from a round of best ball in golf:

Best ball golf rules

Under the best ball format, each player on each team plays their own ball for the entirety of each hole. The best ball refers to the lowest score for each team on each hole and you count the score while discounting other scores.

So, for example, if one player has a score of five on the first hole, but their teammate has a score of four, then the team score will be four for this hole. As you can see only the best ball is being counted.

The number of players

In a best ball format, a team may consist of anywhere from two to four players. However, there are some differences in how you are going to play the game depending on how many players are there in a team.

For example, in a two-person team in best ball format, a round of golf can be played as stroke or match play (we will talk about other formats below) against another two-person team in a game of foursome.

Three-person and four-person teams in best ball format are limited to stroke play only in that golf group and are limited to a maximum of four players.

Keeping score in best ball

Fortunately for you, keeping score in best ball is really easy because most scorecards come with five or more lines that can track each player’s score hole by hole. Each player can record their own score for each hole for the entirety of the round.

On the fifth line of the scorecard, you can write the team’s low score for each round of hole. In the name field on the fifth line, you can write Team Score and move hole-by-hole while recording the lowest individual score for each hole that you play.

Keep in mind that it is not necessary to keep track of everyone’s score on the scorecard when you are playing in a tournament. Because what you have to do under the rules of a best ball tournament is to assign the score to count to the person who scored it.

How handicaps work in golf

It is common in best ball tournaments for participants to have a registered handicap before they can compete. A handicap is used to measure a participant’s golfing skill level so the competition will be balanced for everyone, especially when there are two players of different skill levels.

The handicap is an estimate of what the player averages in a round of golf. So to make it simpler, let’s say there is a golfer with a 12 handicap, which means they should, on average, shoot about 12 strokes over par.

Next, each hole on a golf course is ranked based on the difficulty from one through 18, with one being the most difficult hole and 18 being the easiest. So using the same example, when applying a golfer with a 12 handicap to the golf course, their score will be reduced by one stroke on all of the 12 hardest holes.

These 12 strokes are then recorded with a black dot in each of the squares to keep track of their individual score. By understanding how handicaps work in golf is key to devising a strategy best for your playing style in a best ball tournament.

Best ball strategy

To get the most out of your game in a best ball tournament, especially one that involves handicap soring, here are some suggestions for you.

Order of play

The thing in golf is that some players are better at teeing off first while others are better at teeing off after someone else. Knowing this, it’d be best for you to discuss who goes first with your teammate(s). This way, each player can be prepared to do their best.

One suggestion that I have is to have your best player go first in order to get a good shot off the tee.

Partner playing ability

For this part, there are multiple ways to go about it. One option for you is to find a player who has the same ability as you. If it is a handicapped tournament, you and your teammate will receive strokes on almost the same holes.

On the other hand, you can try finding a player who has better abilities than you to make sure you have a higher chance of a better score on the hole. In this case, finding a player who has lesser abilities than you will make sure that you will have more available handicap strokes.

Both options here are viable for you. Everything comes down to the difficulty of the golf course itself and how compatible you are with your playing partner.

Best ball vs scramble

Both best ball and scramble are common two-team formats in golf tournaments. However, while the two formats have some differences, both are often confused with each other.

As mentioned before, in best ball, each golfer plays their ball throughout the round. Then, the team records the lowest individual score for each hole and uses that as their score.

In scrambles, each person on a team will hit their tee shot on each hole. Then each team determines the best tee shot, and every player on the team plays their own ball from that same location, regardless of the other shots.

This whole process is done again until the ball is in and one score is given for the team.

Additional golf formats

I have said before that there are many options when it comes to playing golf. You have all kinds of formats that you can play with anyone, no matter their abilities. Here are some common formats that you can find in many games:

Match play

According to the United States Golf Association, a match play is a form of play where a player (or players) plays directly against an opponent (or opponents) in a head-to-head match.

A point is recorded on each hole and awarded to the player with the lowest score. That player will be declared as the winner of the hole and receive a status of 1 up. If a tie on a hole happens, no points should be awarded, and the hole is going to be declared as halved.

A team or player who has more aggregate holes won than there are holes left to play will be declared as the winner. So, for example, if a player is 4 up on another player and there are only three holes left to play, that the player wins the match.

The match is then concluded as there are simply not enough holes left to play for the losing player to catch up. So the player with 4 up is the winner of the match 4 and 3 (4 up and 3 holes left to play).

Stroke play

This format is significantly different from match play because each player is competing against every other player in the tournament. A tournament where match play is a team or player competing against another team or player.

In stroke play format, you note every stroke on each hole, and count the total number of strokes in a match to determine the final score.

Fourball or best ball

Fourball is another name for best ball. People use this format in two-person match play golf tournaments. The same rules apply here. The term fourball itself refers to the four balls that are in play at the same time.

When enforcing the rules to match play, the team with the lower score wins the hole. The winner of the match is the team that won the highest number of holes.

Foursome or alternate shot

golf course

Foursome is another two-person match play tournament in gold. There are only balls that are in play at the same time for four players. Teammates alternate shots in every hole.

So the game goes like this. Player A and B are playing in the same team. Player A hits the first shot into a bunker. Then, the player B takes the second shot, trying to get the ball out of the bunker.

Later on, player A makes the putt to get a team score of three. On the next hole, it will be player B’s turn to hit the tee shot. Then they alternate their shots again. This is why this format could lead to high scores and might not be easy for many players.


Many players consider this format as a fun high-scoring format. The goal of this format is to record the lowest score possible on each hole. The difference here is that each score has its own point value, and the winner of the tournament is the player who has the highest score.

Typical stableford scoring looks like this:

  • Double Eagle (3-under par) = 8 points
  • Double Bogey or worse (2-over par or worse) = -3 points
  • Bogey (1-over par) = -1 point
  • Birdie (1-under par) = 2 points
  • Eagle (2-under par) = 5 points
  • Par = 1 point

Don’t let the scoring system fool you, however, because this format is great for beginners. Beginners who tend to record more bogeys or even double bogeys than birdies and pars will love this format. Furthermore, Stableford format versatile. Meaning you can alter the scoring format as you need.

Now that you have learned all the most common formats in golf, now it’s time to try them all. Try to experience as many formats as possible to see which one is your favorite.