Medal (Stroke) Play in Golf [Plus Other Tournament Formats]
Written by Mike Noblin

Mike has been involved with sports for over 30 years. He's been an avid golfer for more than 10 years and is obsessed with watching the Golf Channel and taking notes on a daily basis. He also holds a degree in Sports Psychology.

Updated on December 12, 2023

If you’re new to the game of golf, you may be surprised to know that there are several ways to keep score. I admit that I was clueless before my first round when one of my playing partners asked the group if we wanted to play stroke or match play.

Most folks are familiar with standard stroke play in golf (AKA medal play). However, there are lots of other tournament formats that can add a little extra pizzazz to your experience on the golf course.

In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into Stroke Play, Match Play, Stableford, Skins, and more.

 

What is Medal (Stroke) Play in Golf?

If you flip on your TV to watch a little golf on the weekend, you will likely see professional tournaments using stroke play. Stroke, or medal, play is golf’s most popular scoring system. Using this format, each golfer records how many strokes it takes them to finish each hole.

After the entire round, each competitor tallies up their total number of strokes from each hole. The golfer with the fewest strokes is declared the winner. That’s the gist of the rules for basic medal play.

The other type of stroke play works the same way but with handicaps. What’s a handicap? It’s a scoring system that’s used to level the playing field between advanced golfers and those who aren’t quite so skilled. If you’re familiar with football betting, it works like the point spread.

Here’s a quick example:

Let’s say you’re a +18 handicap and playing against a more talented golfer who’s a +9. After the final hole of the round, your opponent has to give you 9 strokes. That means your opponent has to beat you by 10 or more strokes to be declared the winner.

 

Stroke Play vs. Match Play

Though stroke play is the most popular golf format, match play may be the most exciting to watch. If you’ve ever watched Team USA take on Team Europe in the Ryder Cup, that’s an example of match play.

In match play, the golfer must still keep up with their strokes on each hole. However, the overall number of strokes for the entire round doesn’t factor into who wins the tournament.

In match play, each golfer is simply trying to win each hole. At the end of the round, each competitor tallies up how many holes they won to determine the winner. Match play tournaments are fun because golfers often take riskier shots to outduel their opponents.

 

Other Types of Golf Tournament Formats

Stroke and match play are the 2 most common golf tournament formats. However, there are a few other scoring systems that you and your playing partners can try out during your next round of golf. Here’s a brief list of 3 other tournament formats.

Scramble

If you’ve ever played in a charity golf tournament, you’re probably familiar with the best ball scramble format. It’s one of the most enjoyable ways to play golf. Each foursome acts as a team, which makes things easier when adding up scores.

Each competitor in the foursome will tee off like normal. However, instead of each golfer playing their own drive, the entire group will play from whichever drive was deemed the best. The cadence goes on like this for the entire round of golf.

Scramble takes the pressure off and allows folks to have a good time on the golf course because there’s very little chance for penalties. That’s why it’s popular for charity events and company team-building outings. We highly recommend the best ball scramble if you and your friends are new to golf.

Stableford

In traditional stroke play, the goal is to have the lowest total net score. Stableford works the exact opposite because the golfer with the highest actual score wins.

With Stableford, instead of counting total strokes and penalty strokes, each golfer is awarded points based on how they perform on each hole.

Here’s a breakdown of how points are awarded in Stableford:

  • Bogey – 1 Point
  • Par – 2 Points
  • Birdie – 3 Points
  • Eagle – 4 Points
  • Albatross – 5 Points

Any score worse than a bogey gets zero points. Stableford is a fun game because golfers get rewarded for their really good holes. They also don’t get severely penalized for the really bad holes, which is another bonus!

Skins

Here’s another tournament format that used to be popular on the PGA Tour. Each hole is worth a predetermined amount of money in a skins game. The competitor with the lowest net score for the hole wins that skin.

Skins games get even more exciting when there are ties on holes. When that happens, the skin for that hole carries over to the next hole.

For example, let’s say that hole #1 is worth $10. If player A and player D both birdie the hole, that $10 is transferred to hole #2, making it worth $20.

 

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Mike Noblin

Mike has been involved with sports for over 30 years. He's been an avid golfer for more than 10 years and is obsessed with watching the Golf Channel and taking notes on a daily basis. He also holds a degree in Sports Psychology.