How to Play the Foursomes Format

Explaining the golf format used in Ryder Cup, played at clubs

Foursomes partners Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk
Foursomes partners Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk consult on a putt. Furyk is taking the putt for the team, since Snedeker played the previous shot. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Foursomes is a golf competition format in which a team is comprised of two golfers, and those two golfers alternate hitting the same golf ball (which is why Foursomes is also very commonly called "alternate shot").

The first player tees off, the second player hits the second shot, the first golfer hits the third shot, the second golfer hits the fourth shot, and so on until the ball is holed. The two golfers on a side also alternate hitting tee shots so that the same player doesn't hit every drive.

Here's a hint for Foursomes strategy: Try to determine before the round which are the toughest driving holes on the course being played. Factor that into the decision on who hits the tee ball on the first hole. You want your best driver to be teeing off on as many of the toughest driving holes as possible. The golfer who tees off No. 1 will continue teeing off on odd-numbered holes.

Foursomes on the World Stage

There are hundreds of golf tournament formats and games played by golfers (and probably hundreds more variations on those games), but foursomes is one of the better-known ones.

That's because pro golfers (and prominent amateur golfers) play foursomes (as match play) in some very high-profile events:

  • Ryder Cup: Foursomes has been played at the Ryder Cup in every single tournament, going back to the first one in 1927.
  • Solheim Cup: Foursomes has been part of every Solheim Cup since the first in 1990.
  • Presidents Cup: Foursomes has been part of every Presidents Cup since the first in 1994.

The foursomes match-play format is also used in the Walker Cup and Curtis Cup, the USA vs. Great Britain and Ireland tournaments for top amateur men and women, respectively.

Stroke Play or Match Play

Foursomes can be played as stroke play or match play.

As noted, foursomes match play is part of some very big professional and smateur golf tournaments.

Foursomes (match play or stroke play) is a very common club format in Great Britain and Ireland and is more commonly played throughout the Commonwealth nations than in the United States. In the USA, foursomes is not that common at the club or recreational level.

But foursomes stroke play can make a fun tournament format, or be played by a group of four friends who pair off into 2-person teams. Low strokes wins, obviously, but you can also apply Stableford scoring in stroke play for a twist.

Foursomes in the Rules and Handicaps

All the Official Rules in Golf apply during foursomes play, but there are a few minor variations covered in Rule 29, so be sure to check that out.

Note that penalty strokes do not affect which golfer on the the side plays next. The order of playing strokes is always A-B-A-B and so on. If a team must drop a ball, the player whose turn it is to play next must handle the drop.

Handicap allowances for Foursomes competitions are covered in the USGA Handicap Manual, Section 9-4. In match play, the higher-handicapped side gets 50-percent of the lower-handicapped side's total course handicap.

In stroke play, a foursomes side combines its two players' course handicaps and divides by two.

Also Known As: Alternate shot, Scotch doubles. A 2-person team consisting of one man and one woman is often called "Mixed Foursomes." Variations on Foursomes include Odds and Evens and Scotch Foursomes.

Alternate Meaning: Any four golfers playing in the same group (regardless of what format they are playing, and regardless of whether those four are together) in a recreational round of golf is commonly referred to as a "foursome" of golfers.

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