How to Play the Scotch Foursomes Golf Format

Four golfers leaving the green
Scotch Foursomes is a format for 2-person teams. A group of four golfers can pair off and play it for fun - or profit. Hero Images/Getty Images

Scotch Foursomes is an alternate shot golf format for two-player teams in either match play or stroke play. The term may refer to a variation of foursomes, although it is also used as a synonym for foursomes. In foursomes, one player on the team hits the drive, then the partner hits the next shot and the players continue alternating shots with one ball. In the modified version of Scotch Foursomes, both golfers hit drives, then select the best drive and play the alternate shot format beginning with the second shot.

The Scotch Foursomes format is known by several other names, depending on the region or country, and depending on whether the term describes standard foursomes or the variation. Some of those names are the descriptive "selective drive, alternate shot" format, Greensomes (common in the United Kingdom),  Modified Pinehurst, Canadian Foursomes, and Scotch Doubles.

Playing Scotch Foursomes

When playing Scotch Foursomes as a variation of foursomes, think of it as scramble off the tee, then alternate shots into the hole. It works like this:

  • Golfer A and Golfer B are a Scotch Foursomes team. On the first tee, both A and B hit drives.
  • They walk or ride to their golf balls, where they decide which ball to continue with. In many cases, the partners select the longest drive or the one that's in the best position. But not always. There's strategy involved. For example, say Golfer B's drive is the longest, but Golfer A can't hit long enough to reach the green. Golfer B may hit the second shot because he can reach the green from where A's ball lies.
  • The two-person team plays the alternate shot format with one ball the rest of the way. The golfer whose drive was not chosen plays the second stroke. His partner plays the third stroke, and so on until they get the little white ball into the hole.

Why This Format Is Called Scotch Foursomes

Why is this format called Scotch Foursomes? It appears to be a nod to golf's roots in Scotland. When you see "Scotch" in the name of a golf format, it likely refers to "alternate shot." It's an indication that the format is entirely or partially alternate shot. (Likewise, if a format's name includes "No Scotch"—such as 2-Man No Scotch—it's an indication that no alternate shot will be played.)

Handicaps in Scotch Foursomes

The United States Golf Association recommends that team handicaps in Scotch Foursomes be calculated in this manner:

  • For straight alternate shots, the allowance is 50 percent of the partners’ combined course handicaps.
  • For Scotch Foursomes with selected drives, the allowance is 40 percent of the partners' combined course handicaps.

Scotch Foursomes as a tournament format is frequently played as stroke play. In a Ryder Cup-style competition, it is played as match play. If a group of four golfers wants to pair off and play Scotch Foursomes as a betting competition, they can play it as either match or stroke play.