What is Match Play in Golf and What Are the Rules?

What is Match Play in Golf and What Are the Rules?

Getting to Know Match Play for Novice Golfers

The premise of the game of golf is quite easy for people to understand, even those who are pretty much entirely unfamiliar with the game outside of what they see on TV.

You aim to get the ball from the tee to the cup in as few strokes as possible. That part of the overall picture of the game is easy to comprehend, but even people who started enjoying the game themselves a good while ago may still not know that there’s different variations of it.

It’s unlikely you’d hear it from a beginner or anyone else who’s entirely focused on keeping their score respectable as they learn the fine touches of the game.

However, a more novice player may ask ‘what is match play in golf?’ That’s a fair question, and it certainly does differ from standard stroke play. Let’s define the difference between match play and stroke play and match play rules here today.

If you’ve ever watched the popular Ryder Cup between International and American golfer teams you’ve seen match play in action, and then maybe you’re more in the know about what is match play in golf than you thought.

Based on our experience, nine times out of 10 a novice golfer is one who’s especially keen to take their game to the next level and put their ‘new-to-the-game’ identity far behind them. That’s perfectly natural, of course, as this is a great game and improving your ability with it becomes a compulsion for most of us.

Here at Palm Desert Country Club we’re fortunate to have one of the nicer courses in the Coachella Valley here in California, so take advantage of the convenience of booking a tee time online here and sign up for lessons with one our residents pros who can get you on the fast track to being the best golfer you can be.

What is Match Play in Golf?

With stroke play, you gain a score for each hole and then you take the sum of those numbers to give you your score for the round. With match play golfers will play either individually or as a team, and the golfer or their team will earn 1 point for each hole where they’ve posted a lower score than their opponent(s). Each hole has 1 point up for grabs, and so one player or team will always get one point while the opposing players or team will always get zero points.

At the end of the round the player or team with the highest number of holes won is the winner. That’s the basics of what is match play in golf, but there’s more to the specifics of it with match play rules. For starters, if 2 or more players (and belonging to different teams if you are playing in teams) are tied with the same score for a hole then it Is considered ‘halved’.

A halved hole in match play golf means that neither player (or team) gets the point and the score each had for the previous hole is carried over to the next one. If a player or team should have a lead that is so large that it is a higher number than the number of remaining holes then a match play golf game is over and that golfer or team is the winner. For example, if you’re up by 4 points on your opponent with 3 holes to play the game is over.

Of course, you’ll still play it out but the game is over for all intents and purposes because it’s impossible for your opponent to tie or exceed your current score.

Match Play Handicaps and Strategy

Handicaps – Another difference between match play and stroke play is in how handicaps are calculated. In comparison to stroke play, for example, a -10 handicap for one player and a -19 handicap for another would become a ‘scratch’ (zero handicap) for the -10 handicap player and the -19 handicap would become a 9 in match play golf.

With team play, the match play handicap is calculated differently yet again.

  • Team A has Glen with a -10 handicap, and Ronald with a -15 handicap
  • Team B has Bill with a -19 handicap and Gary with a -30 handicap

In match play, Team A’s Glen will play as scratch, while Ronald will take one stroke off his score on the five hardest holes.

Team B’s Glen gets one stroke off his score on the nine hardest holes, while Gary will take 2 strokes off the two hardest holes and 1 stroke off the other 16.

Strategy – Match play tends to make golfers golf more aggressively, both to get the lowest score for the whole and claim the point as well as to close the distance for themselves or their team if they’re a ways behind in match play scoring. It is important to be aggressive wisely if you’re going to do this, as you may end up disadvantaging yourself.

The best guideline is to pick your spots when it comes to trying to do more than you’d be comfortable with in match play. For example, if you’re down by 2 points or so and your opponent hits a poor tee shot and then a poor approach shot then maybe that’s the time to try and do a little more to ensure that he or she doesn’t have the chance to redeem themselves and you’re sure to win the hole.

Gather up a few of your friends and have a round of Match Play here at Palm Desert Country Club.

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