A Guide To How Golf Tournaments Work


Golf tournaments can be confusing, as they involve a lot of players, players get cut and golf can be played in a variety of different formats, with stroke play being the most common. Keep reading, and I will explain exactly how Golf tournaments work.

Professional golf tournaments are played in a stroke format over 72 holes which is 4 full rounds, played over a 4 day period. After 2 rounds there is a cut, where only 50 of the leading players move into the final rounds. The player with the lowest aggregate score after 4 rounds is the winner.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that, as golf can be played in many different formats which I will discuss. Keep reading for a deeper understanding of how golf tournaments work, and the different formats they can be played in, and why.

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How Do Golf Tournaments Work?

All but one of the 40+ yearly PGA events are stroke play so that is what I will be discussing first.

Professional tournaments are played by 120 players over 72 holes of golf, which is over 4 full rounds typically over 4 days. Usually, the first day of play is Thursday, with the last being a Sunday, the average game of golf lasts between 3-4 and a half hours.

A golf tournament has 72 holes, as unlike a team like Basketball where there are only two teams, 120 competitors need 4 separate days to distinguish who played the better.

Typically, if you see the leaderboard on day 1 it is very tight but the number of players at the top gets thinned out as rounds go by, one double bogey(+2 on your score) could ruin a player’s tournament if they only played 18 holes.

After two rounds(before Saturday starts) the leading 50 players including the players who are tied will move into the final rounds of days 3 and 4. whilst the players who didn’t make the ‘cut’ are out of the tournament.

Players are usually matched in groups of two(to play) and the ones with the highest score will start early, whilst the players with the lowest score will start playing last. On the last day of golf(Sunday) this will be rearranged depending on the aggregate score of day 3.

The player with the lowest aggregate(combined) score after 4 rounds is the winner. If more than one player has the same score, there with be a playoff(see video below)

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What Happens In A Golf Playoff?

In Golf, a playoff is played in a sudden-death format over as many holes as it takes to determine a winner, generally played directly after the completion of the final round.

Or a playoff is played with an aggregate format, used in a stroke play with the lowest cumulative score in a series of holes, most commonly three, four, or eighteen holes. It is considered the fairest way of deciding a winner, as one bad shot does not eliminate all the chances of winning, and it is used in the four men’s major championships.

One flaw of the aggregate format is the shorter variants used in two majors and the player’s championship are held straight after the tournament, and take longer to complete that sudden death so a tournament runs the risk of not being over before sunset.

Contrastingly, a full 18-hole playoff is held the next day, if there is a tie after a set number of holes than sudden death is normally played.

All for men’s majors originally used an 18/36-hole format, this is subject to change, to know more information check out this Wikipedia article.

Sudden death is the most common form of a playoff in stroke play format, and even more common in match play. Players will play a hole, and as soon as one player gets a better score than the other on one hole, they are declared the winner.

If on a par 3, player one gets a birdie(-1) and player two gets par(0), player 1 will win the playoff.

For play-offs with more than two players, if two players get the same score and a third gets a worse score, then played three loses the play-off, and players 1 and two need to keep playing tie-breakers until someone gets a worse score.

The prize fund of a tournament will be allocated to all of the players who played in the final days via a certain breakdown, Typically, the winner gets 1/6 of the fund, with the runner up getting half as much. Players with tied scores will get equal shares.

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However, if you want to set up a charity of business golf tournament stroke play could be far too difficult for the calibre of golfer attending the tournament. Keep reading to understand the different type of tournaments, including types that are far more forgiving for amateurs.

What Are The Different Types Of Golf Tournaments?

  • Scramble
  • Stroke Play/Medial Play
  • Match Play
  • Stableford
  • Team Play

Scramble(Best For Less Formal Tournaments)

Scramble is played with four players with every player teeing off , then players select the best tee shot and drop three golf balls where that shot landed and this is repeated until the ball is holded.

Some tournaments will take handicap into consideration and limit the amount of skilled players allowed on each team, and the number of drives required from each player.

It’s far less formal than stroke play, and can be a lot of fun if you have opposing foursomes squaring off against each other, if your doing a charity of business golf event to improve team unity, scramble is the best choice.

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Stroke Play/Medial Play

The most common choice for professional events and amateur tournaments with all but one of the 50(2020-2021) being stroke play. The winner has the lowest overall score, either for a single round or a number of rounds.

In amateur events, the scores are net scores based on the player’s handicaps but at a professional level and the higher amateur level, they use gross scores.

It’s not the best choice of golf to play in a charity/business event as getting high scores could dampen the mood of the players participating if they have a low level of golf.

Match Play

A series of one-hole contests between two players, the one who wins the most holes over the round is the winner. This isn’t a good choice if you have a lot of golfers playing, as many matches are required to declare a winner as match play only involves two player at a time.

Before it was the common format for high-level competition, but now there is only one match play tournament on the PGA tour, but the United States Golf Association and Regional Amateur Golf Association conduct many tournaments using match play.

Stableford (Win Points For Each Hole)

  • More than 1 over fixed score (or no score returned) – 0 points [Double Bogey or Worse]
  • One over fixed score – 1 point [Bogey]
  • Fixed score – 2 points [Par]
  • One under fixed score – 3 points [Birdie]
  • Two under fixed score – 4 points [Eagle]
  • Three under fixed score – 5 points [Double Eagle]
  • Four under fixed score – 6 points

Players win points for their score on each hole(see above) with the highest point total at the end winning the event, up until 2007 there was one Stableford competition in the PGA tour.

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Team Play (The Ryder Cup)

In team play, two or more players with play together as a team with the most common being a four-ball with a team of two players with only the lowest score of the partner’s counts on each hole.

It works with one of the two hitting a tee-shot, and then his/her partner following up with the second shot. Teams will complete against each other using gross or net scores.

In competitions like the Ryder Cup, teams play against each other in match play and sometimes ‘foursomes’ where they play with one ball and alternate. the shot in each stroke.

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