What is Four Ball in Golf | A High-Stakes Game of Strategy and Skill?

what is four ball in golf

Golfing is my absolute passion. There’s something about a perfectly executed putt or a long drive that just fills me with excitement. However, I must admit that not all golf terminologies come easy to me. I was recently invited to participate in a four-ball match and, like any curious golfer, I scrambled to Google “What is Four Ball in Golf”. 

To my surprise, the search results only managed to confuse me more! So, I put on my thinking cap and got to researching. After hours of studying, I can now proudly say that I understand the ins and outs of four ball golf matches. And let me tell you, dear readers, the game is exciting, challenging, and a true test of your skill. 

So, without further ado, let me enlighten you on the wonders of four-ball golfing, and hopefully, make you convert to this style of play.

What is Four Ball in Golf – Truth Revealed

“Four Ball in Golf? This is a classic game where two partners get to take on another team while playing their own ball. It’s like playing doubles in tennis but with golf clubs. Simple enough, right? 

Here’s where it gets interesting: At the end of each hole, your team’s score is the lower of the two scores. So if you hit a bogey and your partner gets a birdie, your team score is a birdie! And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, there’s a variation called Best-Ball.

Best-Ball is a whole different ball game where one player takes on two or three under specific rules of 4 ball golf. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Where is the Four Ball Golf Played?

I can tell you that the four ball match play format is not only exciting to play but also thrilling to watch. Some of the biggest professional team tournaments around the world, including the four ball Ryder Cup, 4-ball Solheim Cup, & the Presidents Cup, rely on this format to showcase the best golfers around. 

While there are other tournaments that use this four ball format as well, it’s safe to say that these big three are where you’ll find the most intense competition.

How Do You Play Four Ball in Golf?

Four Ball is one of the most exciting formats of golf out there. But how to play four ball in golf? It involves two-player teams where each teammate plays their own ball throughout the round. The lower score of the two teammates on each hole is recorded as the team’s score.

an image of four golfers on a golf course

Now, playing Four Ball golf can be both fun and challenging. I still remember the time when my teammate and I were playing against our competitors in a local tournament, and we were down by three after nine. But, we managed to pull off an incredible comeback in the second half, eventually winning the game by one shot. The energy and excitement of that moment still give me goosebumps!

Speaking of rules, the USGA and R&A have some specific guidelines for Four Ball play. For instance, the teams are allowed to confer with each other throughout the round to determine the best shot for their team. Also, each player is given a handicap, which is used to determine their net score.

How Does Four Ball Work in Match Play or Stroke Play?

The four ball golf format has two variations – match play or stroke play. In match play, you’re playing against another team, and in stroke play, you’re playing against every other team in the game.

In both formats, the lower score of the team members is considered the side’s score for a hole.

But how does scoring work in four ball golf? Here’s a breakdown

The side’s score for the hole is determined based on the lower score of the two partners.

  • If only one partner finishes the hole, then that partner’s score is taken as the side’s score. 
  • If neither partner finishes the hole, then the side loses the hole unless the opposing side already conceded the hole.

 A side in stroke play is disqualified if it fails to correct the error in time under Rule 3.3c.

Side’s Scorecard in Stroke Play

In Stroke Play, the side’s gross scores for each hole must be entered on a single scorecard. Incomplete scores or scores that are not clearly identified can lead to disqualification of that particular side. 

It is not enough simply to identify a score as the general score of the team. Under Rule 3.3b(2), only one partner must certify each side’s hole scores.

It is the responsibility of the Committee to determine the score that counts for each side for each hole, including any handicaps competition. In the case of only one score being entered for a hole, that score counts for the entire side. For a hole when the scores of both partners differ, the lowest gross or net score counts.

To make things clearer, let me illustrate the Side’s Scorecard in four ball golf stroke play as follows:

Hole NumberPartner 1 ScorePartner 2 ScoreGross Score
Total Score31

In this example, Partner 2 did not complete hole number 2, leading to a “No Card” score that would lead to disqualification if not remedied before the end of the round. Otherwise, it’s clear to see that the total score for the round would be 31, taking into account both Partner 1’s scores on hole number 2, based on a decision taken by the Committee.

Other Four Ball Rules

an image of two male golfers shaking hands

The Exception of Rule 11.2 in Four Ball

While the rules of this beloved 4 ball golf format may seem simple enough, there are a few nuances that could throw any player for a loop. One such instance is when Rule 11.2 does not apply. This occurs when a player’s partner has already finished the hole and the remaining player’s ball is in motion, in need of being holed to decrease their score by a stroke. 

However, if anyone intentionally deflects or stops the ball when there is no chance it can be holed, that person won’t receive any penalty. But, the player’s ball won’t count for their team’s score.
When Round Starts & Ends

a. When Round Starts
A side’s round begins once one of the partners has made a stroke to start their first hole. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s crucial to start things off on the right foot.

b. When Round Ends
Next, let’s discuss when a round ends. In match play, a side’s round can end in a few different ways. If either side has won the match, that’s it – the round is over [see Rule 3.2a(3)]. Similarly, if the match is tied after the final hole and the terms of the competition allow for a tie, that’s also the end of the round [see Rule 3.2a(4)].

In stroke play, things are a bit different. The round ends once the side completes the final hole, with both partners holing out or one partner holing out and the other choosing not to do so. And of course, if any mistakes need to be corrected under Rule 6.1 or 14.7b, that needs to happen before the round can officially end.
When the Hole is Completed

In match play, both partners must either hole out or have their next stroke conceded for the hole to be completed.

Alternatively, if one partner hits a golf ball straight & holes out or has their next stroke conceded, and the other partner either chooses not to hole out or has a score that cannot count for the side, the hole is completed
Also, the result of the hole may be decided if the other side’s score is lower than what the side can make. 

Stroke play only requires one partner to hole out for the hole to be completed.
Partners May Represent One or Both Sides

In four ball golf match play, if a partner arrives after the start of a hole, they may not play until the next hole unless no one has started the hole. 

In four ball golf stroke play, the arriving partner must wait until the other partner completes the hole before starting.

But even if they can’t play, an arriving partner can still offer advice and support to their teammate. It’s all about teamwork and communication [Rules 23.5a and 23.5b].
Player’s Actions in Partner’s Play

1. Partner is allowed to take any action regarding the player’s ball

In four ball golf, players are allowed to take actions concerning their partner’s ball that partner is allowed to take before making a stroke. This includes marking the spot of the ball and lifting, replacing, dropping, and placing the ball. 

Also, a player and their caddie may help their partner in any way that the partner’s caddie is allowed to help. This can include giving and receiving advice and taking other actions allowed under Rule 10. However, players and their caddies must not provide any help that the partner’s caddie is not allowed to give under the Rules. 
It’s important to note that in stroke play, a ball cannot be left on the putting green to help either of the partners. This goes against Rule 15.3a

2. Players are responsible for their actions

When you’re playing a four ball golf match, it’s crucial to remember that your actions can affect your partner’s game. Whether it’s improving the conditions for their shot or accidentally causing their ball to move, any breach of the rules by you will result in your partner receiving the penalty [Rule 23.9a]. This applies not only to your actions but also to those of your caddie. 

If your caddie does something that would be considered a breach of the rules if done by your partner or their caddie, your partner is still on the hook for the penalty [Rule 23.9a(2)].
Side’s Order of Play

One of the most important things to remember is the order of play. Partners are allowed to choose the order in which they play, regardless of who teed off last. However, if one player has conceded a stroke, they cannot continue to play on that hole, as this would give their partner an unfair advantage. This rule applies for both match play [Rule 6.4a] and stroke play [6.4b], so make sure you and your partner are on the same page.
Partners can Share Clubs

In Four Ball Golf, partners are allowed to share clubs. Rule 4.1b(2) states that as long as the total number of clubs is under the PGA club limit, partners are free to swap and share clubs. This can prove to be particularly useful in match play, giving teams more options and flexibility.

This rule stands for the 4 ball golf format but can you share clubs on the golf course in competition play? Follow this guide to know more. 
Limitation on Player Standing Behind Partner During Strokes

In addition to the limitations in Rule 10.2b(4), when your partner takes a stroke, you can’t stand on or near the line of play behind the ball to gain information for your next stroke.  Don’t get caught out – the penalty for breaching Rule 23.8 is a General Penalty. To know more about when the penalty applies to one partner only or when it applies to both partners, go through Rule 23.9

Disqualification Penalties

(1) Disqualification when one of the partners breaches. Both partners are disqualified if they receive a penalty of disqualification within any of these four ball rules:

General Breach RulesMatch Play OnlyStroke Play Only
Rule 1.2Rule 3.2cRule 3.3b(2)
Rule 1.3Rule 3.3b(3)
Rule 4.1aRule 5.2b
Rule 4.1cRule 23.2b
Rule 4.2a
Rule 4.3
Rule 5.6a
Rule 5.7b
Rule 6.2b

(2) If both partners commit a breach, the side is disqualified. Both partners are disqualified if they get a penalty of disqualification under the following rules:

General Breach RulesMatch Play OnlyStroke Play Only
Rule 5.3Rule 3.3c
Rule 5.4Rule 6.1b
Rule 5.7aRule 6.3c
Rule 5.7cRule 14.7

Note: If one player breaches a rule, their score on that hole doesn’t count for the team. This is true for all 4 ball golf rules that don’t result in disqualification. And if both partners breach the same rule on the same hole in four ball match play, the team loses the hole.

Unknown Facts to Know: How many dimples are on a golf ball

How Do Handicaps Work in Four-Ball Golf?

According to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club regulations, in stroke play competitions, each player is allowed 85% of their handicap allowance, rounded up or down as needed. What this means is that if you have a handicap of 18, your allowed handicap will be 15 (18 x 0.85 = 15.3, rounded down to 15).

an image of two golfers walking and talking on a golf course

But what about match play rules? In this case, the handicap allowance is 90%, calculated on the difference between your handicap and that of the lowest handicapped player in the game. The total must also be rounded up or down as needed.

To make it even clearer, let me give you an example. Let’s say you have a handicap of 12 and you’re playing with someone who has a handicap of 5. The difference between your handicaps is 7 (12 – 5 = 7). Multiply 7 by 0.9 and you get 6.3. Rounded up or down, your allowed handicap will be 6, meaning you’ll have to give your opponent one stroke per hole.

Four Ball vs. Foursomes | Which is Your Favorite?

So, there you have it, folks. We’ve covered “What is Four Ball in Golf ?” but what’s the difference between FourBall vs. Foursomes? To quickly recap, the golf 4 ball format is where each player plays their own ball, and the lowest score on each hole counts toward the team’s score. Whereas in Foursomes, you and your partner share one ball, alternating shots until the hole is finished. It’s like a game of chess, where strategy and communication are key.

Four ball golf is great for players who want to showcase their skills individually while still having a support system on the course, while Foursomes challenges players to work together and strategize every shot.

In the end, golf is about having fun and enjoying the game with others. Whether you’re playing Four Ball or Foursomes, just remember to have a good time and enjoy the opportunity to hit the links.

And always remember, releasing the golf club smoothly is the key to a great swing. Trust me, I’ve seen it all. So, go out there, have fun, and keep releasing that club.

Don’t forget to follow Golf Ace Nation for all your golfing needs – we’ve got you covered from tee to green. Happy Golfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Why is a Four-ball called a Four-ball?

Four-Ball gets its name from the fact that there are four balls in play at one time in a match. This name first appeared in the 1908 R&A’s Rule Book. It was not until 1952 that Four-Ball Stroke Play was added to the rules.

Q. What is the penalty for violating the “one ball” rule in golf during a “four ball” match?

In golf, if a player violates the “one ball” rule during a “four ball” match, they must use a conforming ball throughout the round. If a player deliberately alters the ball before making a stroke, it is a breach of Rule 4.2a and they will be disqualified.

Q. Is a four-ball the same as an alternate shot?

A four-ball is not the same as an alternate shot. While both formats involve teams of two players, four-ball features each player playing their own ball throughout the entire hole, with the lower of the two scores being counted for the team. In contrast, alternate shot (also known as foursomes) requires teammates to alternate hitting the ball until it is holed, with each player taking turns off the tee. 

Q. How many players are in a four-ball?

A Fourball is a golf format that consists of two teams of two players each. Therefore, there are four players in a Fourball game. Each player plays their own ball throughout the round and the lowest score on each hole counts as the team’s score. Fourball is a popular format for friendly competitions and tournaments.

Q. Can you play a fourball with 3 players?

No, you cannot play a four ball with 3 players. A four ball game involves teams of two players competing against one another where each player plays their own ball and the lowest score for the team counts. With only three players, it is not possible to have two teams of two players. If you have three players, you could instead play a three-ball better ball game, where each player plays their own ball, and the best score of the three counts towards the team score.

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