Golf Match Play Rules & Scoring

Updated July 20, 2017

Match play, which pits golfers against each other hole by hole, is a completely different format than the more common medal (stroke) play, which is scored by total number of strokes during a round. In match play, each hole is won or lost until one player wins the majority of the total number of holes played. Essentially, match play is one-on-one, and medal play is every player against the field.


The United States Golf Association has established an extensive and detailed set of rules that govern golf. Golfers may find themselves in an identical situation during match play and medal play, but the rules that determine the outcome may differ. For example, in match play, the player whose ball lies furthest from the pin must go first, unless agreed upon otherwise. In match play, any hole can be conceded so players can pick up their ball and move to the next hole. Unlike medal play, putts can be conceded in match play. Also, if a player violates a rule of golf in match play, it is usually an immediate loss of hole.


Match play can be scored using the United States Golf Association handicap system (net scoring) or without (gross scoring). Either way, each player tees off, and whoever has the least number of strokes on a hole wins that hole. However, if one player is the obvious winner at any time while the hole is being played, the other player should concede the hole. A match is over when a player has won the most holes and the opponent cannot catch up. For example, if one player is three holes up on the opponent with two holes left to play, the match is over.


Scoring match play using handicaps (net scoring) can be handled in two ways, depending on the rules of the tournament or the agreement among players in informal rounds. The first way is that all players "stroke" on the holes where handicaps apply. For example, if a player carries a 16 handicap, he "strokes" or "gets a pop" on the 16 most difficult holes as indicated on the scorecard. This is the method used for team match play.

The second way is that the player in the group with the lowest handicap gets zero "pops" and the other players pop off his handicap. For example, if the low player in the group is a 10 handicap and player two is a 14 handicap, player two gets four "pops" on the four most difficult holes. If player three is a 21 handicap, she gets 11 "pops," and so on for all players. Any way you score it, match play is a fun way to golf and a great break from medal play.

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About the Author

Jean Range has 25 years of experience writing for international print and online media. Her work has been published by Adobe Systems, The University of California, and The James Beard Society. Jean has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Rhode Island School of Design and a Business Management Certificate from UCLA.