How To Play A Foursome In Golf: Foursomes, Fourball, and Alternate Shot Explained

What is a foursome in golf? What’s the difference between a golf foursome vs fourball? How do you play them and what should your strategy be?

Over the course of this article, we’ll discuss these questions and get you on your way to playing a great round of Four-Ball or Foursomes golf.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Foursome in Golf vs Fourball – What’s the difference?
  • How To Play A Foursome in Golf (& Alternate Shot)
    • Rules and Strategy
    • Handicaps
  • How To Play Four-Ball Better Ball Golf

Let’s get into the swing of it!

How To Play A Foursome In Golf Foursomes Fourball and Alternate Shot All Explained 9

Foursome Vs fourball: Similar Names, similar Games

First things first. A Foursome in golf and a Four-Ball are the same things when talking about the number of golfers playing.

A Four-Ball by definition is self-explanatory. Four golfers with four balls – each golfer playing his own ball.

However, Foursomes has been used by The Home of Golf, Scotland for a different golf format that was played long before golf in America had even taken off.

To overcome this discrepancy, a Foursome in golf has adopted a secondary title in modern times; Alternate Shot.

This secondary title tends to be the terminology that Americans would use for this format of golf, although it is also fair to say it is a game rarely played Stateside.

The historical international events that do incorporate Foursomes golf are the four big team events between the USA and Europe/Great Britain and Ireland:

When the scores are detailed for any of these big four competitions, the pairs’ results are clearly defined as Four-Ball and Foursome in golf.

How To Play A Foursome In Golf Foursomes Fourball and Alternate Shot All Explained 5

It’s all semantics, but it remains a mystery why a Four-Ball has transformed into a Foursomes in the USA.

Time to dive into the make-up of the actual competitions that constitute Four-Ball and Foursomes (Alternate Shot) golf.

Related article: The 13 Best Golf Games For A Wide Range Of Handicaps

HOw To play A Foursome In Golf (& ALTERNATE SHOT)

Golfers compete in teams of two but using only one ball per team. They then take turns to hit shots until the hole is completed.

Team members must take turns to tee off. For example, Player A decides to tee off on the odd-numbered holes, then by default Player B must tee off on the even-numbered holes. 

Foursomes golf is, without a doubt, the hardest form of golf to play. You need a good and patient ally as a partner. Mistakes will be made but then your partner is the one who has to try and save the situation.

Experienced Foursomes golfers will say that there must be no apologies. ‘Sorry’ is not a word to use in Foursomes golf.

How To Play A Foursome In Golf Foursomes Fourball and Alternate Shot All Explained 8

It is hard to find a rhythm to your game; you may not hit a full iron shot, have a long putt or knee-knocking short putt for many holes.

A Foursome in golf requires that extra layer of thinking psychology as to how to help your partner play well, on top of dealing with your golf psyche and inner demons!

Generally speaking, the Foursome format is played in matchplay competitions but it can also be applied to medal play.

Medal play Foursomes are not for the faint-hearted! My recommendation is to stick to matchplay.

Why? Well, a blow-out will only cost one hole rather than bringing a round to a crashing hault if counting every disaster in a medal round.

handicaps in Foursomes: How to

Handicaps for Fourball is actually a pretty easy formula. Add the two handicaps of the team and then divide by two.

  • Example 1: Medal Play. Player A, 12 hcp, Player B, 16 hcp = Total 28 divided by 2 = 14 shots. This is how many strokes to subtract from your final score in a medal round.
  • Example 2: Matchplay. Players A & B as above. Players C & D hcps are 16 and 20 = Total 36 divided by 2 = 18 shots. Now subtract the lower handicap pair from the higher, in this example, the difference is 4 shots . . . and finally divide by 2 leaving Players C&D with two-shot holes in their matchplay game.
How To Play A Foursome In Golf Foursomes Fourball and Alternate Shot All Explained 2

Members at many of the UK’s finest traditional courses play regular Foursomes golf and expect to complete a round well inside 3 hours. Any longer and you would be hauled in front of the committee!

Two Open Championship courses are amongst this portfolio of clubs, Muirfield and Royal St Georges. A Foursomes round is a pre-requisite for any visitor to Muirfield looking to play 36 holes in a day.

It’s a fun game and you fly round the course giving more time to enjoy off the course.

That said, the majority of golfers prefer Four-ball play. Foursomes is regarded as only playing half the course and thereby missing out on the utilitarian value for money test.

Time to delve into detail all the options for the most popular format for four golfers, a Four-Ball better ball.

HOw To play Four-Ball Better Ball Golf

Four-Ball golf offers a vast array of game options but the most popular will always be a better ball competition. These are often abbreviated to a 4BBB.

How To Play A Foursome In Golf Foursomes Fourball and Alternate Shot All Explained 10

Once again you have a partner but this time you each play your ball. Your score that you record on each hole is the lowest nett score of the two players.

Example: Both players score a 4 on a hole, but one player has a stroke allowance because of their handicap to score a nett 3. This is the best ball score for this hole.

#1: Matchplay four-ball better ball

A perfect format for a heads-up game or a team format when playing as a larger group.

Very straightforward, the lowest score on a hole wins, the hole is halved if both teams have the same low-best ball.

You continue until you have a winner when one pair is further ahead than holes left to play.

Example: Team 1 goes 3 holes up on the 16th green – game over as there are only 2 holes left. They win at this point and the match is recorded as a 3&2 win.

If the match is tied in a friendly game, then you retire to the bar to share the spoils.

Most golf clubs will have at least one knockout matchplay competition that runs throughout the season. If games are tied after 18 holes, then you have to go through the drama and stress of a sudden-death playoff until a winner emerges.

How To Play A Foursome In Golf Foursomes Fourball and Alternate Shot All Explained 11

Handicap Allowances for Four-Ball Matchplay

The new World Handicap System (WHS) recommends that the following Playing Handicaps apply in Four-Ball better ball matchplay:

The lowest handicap player receives no shots. Then the shots received by the other three players in the group is the difference between the handicaps divided by either 85% or 90%.

The final % figure is down to the competition organizer or debated by the golfers if a friendly game.

When calculating the shots received, you round up starting from .5. If a calculating comes out at 12.5, this rounds up to 13 shots. Got it.

Difference from
Lowest Hcp Golfer
85% Shots
90% Shots
Difference from
Lowest Hcp Golfer
85% Shots
90% Shots
545 232021
8 77262223
10 99282425
Four-Ball Better Ball Matchplay Shot Allowance Chart

Come on, it is very unlikely that a Scratch (zero) handicap golfer will be playing in a match with a 36 handicap – but who knows?

How To Play A Foursome In Golf Foursomes Fourball and Alternate Shot All Explained 12

#2: Four-Ball better ball Stableford

The same principle, the lowest nett score is recorded and assigned Stableford points that relate to this score. This is a very popular pairs event played at most golf clubs throughout the world.

The traditional points scoring system is:

  • 5 points for a nett Albatross (Double Eagle for USA readers)
  • 4 points for a nett Eagle
  • 3 points for a nett Birdie
  • 2 points for a nett Par
  • 1 point for a nett Bogey
  • Zero points for a nett Double Bogey or Worse

As a pair, you are having a shocker if you ‘blob’ on any hole. A blob is zero points.

You don’t have to be Einstein to work out that the winning team is the pair with the highest Stableford score.

How To Play A Foursome In Golf Foursomes Fourball and Alternate Shot All Explained

If there is a tie in a club competition or Open event, then a ‘countback’ comes into play. Countbacks may vary at different venues, but the general rule is as follows:

  • Best points score on Back 9 holes (10-18). If still a tie, then
  • Back 6 holes. If a tie,
  • Back 3 holes. If still a tie,
  • 18th hole score

Hopefully, at one stage a winner will be found, otherwise, the competition committee face a headache!

If the competition is a 36 hole event, then the countback will be based on the second 18 holes with the same extra bolt-ons, as above, if required.

Playing with your buddies, you have agreed on a friendly wager. Rather than putting it all on the one match, the preferred option is to run with 3 splits:

  • Best Front 9 holes
  • Best Back 9 holes
  • Best Overall

If your friendly wager was say $10/player, the split maybe $3 for front and back nine holes and $4 for the overall. This works well to keep a pair that is struggling early on in the game with a chance to claw back their losses on the back 9 holes.

There is a full handicap allowance in the Four-Ball Better Ball Stableford format.

How To Play A Foursome In Golf Foursomes Fourball and Alternate Shot All Explained 3

#3: four-ball better ball medal

An unlikely choice for a friendly game between mates. Medal play is far too stressful even with a partner to back you up.

But it may be a regular staple in a golf club competition calendar. A pretty simple scoring concept recording the best nett score on every hole and adding up the total at the end for your team score.

Full handicap allowance in the Four-Ball better ball medial format.

foursomes/four-ball golf in summary

The international dispute over what we call a group of four golfers is long forgotten. America will retain the word Foursomes, the rest of the world will go with a Four-Ball.

Four golfers are, and always will be, the perfect number for a social game of golf. This number offers so many different ways to play.

More to the point, you are now armed with all the information required to go and out and play some great golf with 4 mates, have some fun and enjoy everything that this great game offers.

How To Play A Foursome In Golf Foursomes Fourball and Alternate Shot All Explained 4

Here are other fun games that may work for your Foursome/Four-Ball:

You’ve mastered the foursome in golf – now time to spice it up with some betting games!

Photo of author
I have been in love with the game of golf for over 30 years and this passion propelled me to find work in the golf sector way back in 1997. In recent years I have worked as a full-time golf caddy in Scotland and Florida until Covid struck - hopefully my wonderful lifestyle will soon return. When not working, I like to keep fit, play golf and enjoy a nice glass of single malt!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.