match play rules golf

What is Match Play in Golf? (Rules Explained)

Match Play Golf Rules Explained

In this article we will explain what match play is and the golf rules for match play. Match play rules can be found in the Rule Book under section 3.2.

What is Match Play?

Match play is a head-to-head competition against your playing partner on a hole by hole basis. The goal is to score the lowest number of strokes on a particular hole to win that hole.

When you win a hole, you are now “1-up” and your opponent is “1-down”. Essentially, you score a point for winning the hole.

If two players score the same score on a hole, then the hole is halved and neither player wins a point for that hole. Below we’ll talk more about net scoring if you play Match Play with handicaps.

The goal is to win more holes than your opponent and match play will end once one player is winning by more points than holes remain, making it impossible for the opponent to catch up and tie the score if they were to win the remaining holes left.

Read Next: What is Stableford Scoring System

What are Concessions in Match Play?

In Match Play, you are allowed to concede a stroke, a hole, and the match. “Conceding” means giving to your opponent.

Conceding the stroke – this is like giving them a “gimme putt” so they don’t have to finish and putt out.

For example, if your opponent has a short putt left within 6 inches of the cup, you can concede the putt to them so they don’t have to finish out. Simply telling your opponent “that’s good” is a way to concede the putt so they can pick up their ball mark and be done with the hole to save time.

Sometimes golfers may choose not to concede a putt to their opponent and force them to putt out.

This can be a mental strategy to mess with your opponent, especially if it’s a tough short putt from 2 or 3 feet away. While the odds are low that they might miss, it could still happen, helping you to win the hole if they do miss.

If golfers are friendly in conceding short putts to their opponent, then they can expect some friendly concessions in return. But if you play tough ball with your opponent, then expect them to be tough on you in return.

Conceding the hole – if you are clearly going to lose the hole, you can save time by conceding the hole to your opponent so that you both don’t have to finish. It counts as a loss for you and a win for them for that specific hole. You’ll move to the next hole and try to win the next hole.

Conceding the match – Once you are down more points than you can win with remaining holes left, you can concede the match to end the match early.

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How Do Golf Handicaps Work in Match Play?

In Match Play with handicaps, the lowest net score wins the hole. If you and your opponent both score a 5 on a hole where you also received a handicap stroke, then your net score would be a 4, giving you the lower net score overall and you’d win the hole.

In Match Play, you’ll play using 100% handicap. This means you can calculate the difference between two players’ handicaps and use that total stroke difference to give out strokes on the hardest indexed holes.

For example, if you’re a 20 handicap and your partner is a 15 handicap, you would take the difference (20-15=5) and get 5 strokes (100% of the difference) awarded to you. These 5 strokes would get divvied up over the 5 toughest holes on the golf course by hole index.

Look on the scorecard to see the holes and how they’re ranked by difficulty from 1 to 18. You’ll get to subtract a stroke from your score on the holes rated 1 through 5 to use up the 5 strokes you’re awarded for being the higher handicap player (20) vs your opponent (15).

What Does a 100% Handicap Game Mean?

Match play is a 100% handicap game. If you were playing a 90% handicap game, you’d only give 90% of the difference in handicaps as strokes to the higher handicap player.

For example, if you were a 30 handicap and your opponent is a 20, that 10 stroke difference would get multiplied by 90% so only 9 strokes would be given. In a 50% game, only 5 strokes would be give instead of 10.

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Are there Rules in Match Play?

Golfers still follow the normal rules of golf in Match Play. If you hit the ball out of bounds, you still must take penalty stroke and replay the shot like normal.

If there is a rules breach during Match Play, then the penalty is a loss of that hole rather than 2 strokes penalty like in stroke play. You can disregard a rules breach if you choose. If you notice your opponent does something illegal, you can call them out for it or let them slide if you’re feeling generous.

However, two players can’t decide together to get rid of a rule deliberately that you both know applies. For example, if you both agree that hitting the ball out of bounds has no penalty strokes and no loss of distance, then this would be grounds for disqualifying both of you.

Here are a few ways that rules can differ in Match Play…

  1. You can play out of turn if you wish, but your opponent can ask to cancel the shot under Rule 6.4a if they choose.
  2. If you play outside the teeing area, there is no penalty in match play, however your opponent could cancel the stroke and ask you to replay the shot again depending how good or bad it was under Rule 6.4a
  3. On the putting green there is no penalty in match play if your ball strikes another ball, unlike stroke play where there would have been a two-stroke penalty.
  4. You may practice on the golf course before your round starts in Match play. This is not allowed in stroke play rules.

Check this out: Breaking 90, 80, 70 Practice Plans + Golf Video Lessons

FAQ – Match Play

How are Match Play and Stroke Play Different?

Stroke play is when you keep track of the total number of strokes it takes to complete the golf course. The goal is to have the lowest total strokes at the end of the round. If you have a really bad score on a hole, it affects your entire round of golf since it counts towards your total strokes for all 18 holes.

Match play doesn’t focus on total strokes for the entire golf round. Instead, you focus on total strokes for each hole and compare them to your opponents total strokes for that same hole. The player with the lower number of strokes on the hole, wins the hole. Score is kept by how many holes you win vs your opponent.

Do you need to keep a scorecard in Match Play?

Match play doesn’t require you to keep a scorecard at all. It’s optional so if you wish to still track your individual scores on each hole and total them up to find out your total score at the end, that is your choice, but your total stroke score won’t be counted for anything in Match Play. You may use a scorecard to remember the match points and track them hole by hole to remember who won which holes.

Do you need to sign a scorecard in Match Play?

No, since no scorecard is required, you do not need to sign a scorecard in Match Play.

Can you practice during a Match?

You’re allowed to practice putting or chipping during a match, but only in between holes and it must be on the hole just completed.

For example, if you just finished playing hole #1, you can take a few extra seconds to hit a few extra putts on the green of hole #1 before walking over to the tee box at hole #2. This is called practicing in between holes.

May you share a caddie with an opponent?

Yes, you are allowed to share a caddie. See rule 10.3a(2) in the rule book for more clarification.

Final Thoughts on Match Play in Golf

Overall, Match Play is one of the more fun games you can play in golf to switch things up if you’re tired of playing stroke play. Since total strokes don’t matter, it can make golf more fun and less discouraging to give up if you have a blow up hole and score really bad on one hole.

Match Play can get quite competitive and involve more strategy than stroke play since you’re trying to win each hole on a hole by hole basis. If you lose a point on a hole to your opponent, quickly reset yourself mentally and get that point back by winning the next hole.

A variation of Match Play you can try with your friends is adding in a consequence for losing a hole. For example, allowing the winner of the hole to take a golf club away from your opponent who lost the hole so they can’t use that golf club on the next hole. The exception might be the putter, this could be the one golf club you’re not allowed to remove from your opponents bag.

Thanks for reading today’s guide on how match play works in golf and the rules of match play!

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