What Is a 'Flight' in a Golf Tournament?

Three golfers in a flighted tournament comparing scores
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In a golf tournament, a "flight" is a division or grouping of golfers within the tournament, who are competing against one another rather than against the entire field of golfers.

Each "flight," or division, in the tournament consists of golfers who are roughly similar—typically based on their scoring level, but sometimes other factors (such as age).

The best golfers in such a tournament—those who are or at or are close to being scratch golfers—play in what is typically called the "Championship Flight." Other flights are then called the first flight, second, third and so on.

Or flights can be labeled as the A flight, B flight, C and so on; or named after individuals or colors or anything the tournaments organizers want. (Ordinal names—first, second, third—are most common).

When a tournament uses flights, it is called a flighted tournament, or said to be "flighted by handicap," "flighted by age," etc. Tournament organizers who create the groupings and the criteria for the groupings are "flighting the tournament."

Benefit of Using Flights in a Golf Tournament

The primary benefit of flighting is that it allows more golfers to compete for gross championships. If you flight golfers by skill level, then the golfers within each flight have a better chance of competing against each other based on gross score. A 15-handicapper will never win a tournament that includes scratch golfers. But a 15-handicapper who is playing in, for example, a 10-15-handicap flight does have a chance to win that flight.

Many tournament organizers that use flights not only crown gross champions within each flight, but also an overall net score winner. (Some even crown both gross and net winners within each flight.)

Those Running the Tournament Determine the Flights

The Committee or tournament organizers (the people who are in charge, in other words) are responsible for deciding whether to use flights and, if so, how those flights will work.

That means deciding on the criteria for the flights (handicap, age or some other factor) and what range of such criteria makes up each flight within the tournament.

The most common ways of flighting golf tournaments are by handicap index (or course handicap) and by age/gender.

Golf Tournaments Flighted by Handicap

Most often, flights are based on handicaps, either handicap index or course handicap (or the golfers' recent average scores, if they don't have handicaps). The Championship Flight is for the best golfers (at or close to scratch); the First Flight for the next-best group, and so on. The number of flights required depends on the number of golfers in the field; the more golfers, the more flights, because a wider range of handicaps will be present.

One possible method of flighting a tournament based on handicap is:

  • Championship flight: 0 to 5
  • First flight: 6 to 11
  • Second flight: 12 to 18
  • Third flight: 19 to 26
  • Fourth flight: 27 and above

Tournament organizers flighting by handicap or average scores need to make the handicap ranges used small enough so that all the golfers in a flight feel they actually have a shot at first place. A flight that encompasses golfers with handicaps from 10-25 is too large a range, for example: Any 25-handicapper in the flight has no chance of winning (at gross) against a 10-handicapper.

Organizers have to keep that in mind when deciding how to build their tournament flights.

We've seen tournaments that go to an 11th or 12th flight or even more. Such events have lots of entrants, and tightly bunched handicap levels.

Golf Tournaments Flighted by Age and/or Gender

Tournaments can also be flighted by age, which is not unusual in junior or senior amateur events. For example, a junior tournament might be flighted as Boys 9-10, Girls 9-10, Boys 11-12, Girls 11-12, and so on, where the numbers represent ages.

Likewise, a senior tournament might be flighted as:

  • A flight: Ages 50-54
  • B flight: Ages 55-59
  • C flight: Ages 60-64
  • D flight: Ages 65-69, and so on.

Tournaments that flight by age might also flight by skill level, as in Boys 10-12 Championship, Boys 10-12 First Flight and so on.

What Kinds of Golf Tournaments Use Flights?

Pro tournaments never do; USGA and R&A (highly skilled) amateur tournaments never do.

Most often, flighting is seen in more local events, such as club championships, association tournaments, city championships and the like. And, as noted, youth golf is a setting where flighting by age is very common.

But again, whether to use flighting and how to organize it is entirely up to the tournament organizers.