How To Play the Match Play Golf Game: Tips, Tricks & Rules

We’re reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Match Play is a popular golf format for two players or two teams to play each other. In this complete Match Play golf game guide, we’ll go over:

  • How to play Match Game and how to score points
  • Key rules you should know
  • Tips and strategies to win a golf tournament in this format.

If you have played Match Play before, let us know below!

After this guide, check out some other popular golf game formats, including WolfNassauBingo Bango Bongo, or Peoria System.

What is the Match Play Golf Game?

Match play in golf is a format where two players or teams compete against each other hole by hole rather than against the entire field. The objective is to win the most holes to win the match.

The number of holes determines each player’s score won, lost, or halved. Ties on individual holes, called halves, are not counted in match play scoring.

If one player has an insurmountable lead, matches can end before the 18th hole. The score is typically shown as “1-up” or “1-down” to indicate the number of holes one player is leading or trailing.

Match play offers a different strategy and intensity than stroke play, as players can focus on winning individual holes rather than aiming for the lowest overall score.

The Origins of Match Play

The origins of the Match Play format in golf are unknown, but it has existed for a long time. The PGA Championship, which is one of golf’s four Major tournaments on the PGA Tour, used to use Match Play for its first 39 editions of the tournament from 1916-1957.

In 1958, they switched to medal play, more commonly known as stroke play golf.

The Unique Appeal of Match Play

Match play in golf offers a unique appeal because it allows players to compete head-to-head against each other, creating a more intense and strategic atmosphere. Players can focus on winning individual holes rather than aiming for the lowest overall score, which adds a different level of excitement and pressure to each shot.

The format lends itself well to ladder-type tournaments, where winning one match can propel a golfer further in the competition. The competitive nature of match play also allows for more forgiving play, as a player can recover from a bad hole by winning the next one.

Overall, match play in golf provides a thrilling and dynamic experience for players and spectators alike.

How is Match Play Conducted?

The Rules of Match Play

The Match Play golf rules differ from stroke play. Here are some essential Match Play golf rules:

  1. Scoring: In match play, each hole is a separate competition. The player with the lowest score on a hole wins that hole. The player or team that wins the most holes wins the match.

  2. Hole Halved: If both players or teams have the same score on a hole, the hole is halved, and neither player/team wins the hole.

  3. Concession: Players can concede a hole, meaning they deliberately agree that their opponent has already won the hole, and there is no need to complete it.

  4. Order of Play: The player who won the previous hole has the honor of teeing off first on the next hole.

  5. Handicaps: In handicap match play, players receive strokes on specific holes based on their handicap. The strokes are allocated according to the handicap index difference between the players.

  6. Dormie: If a player/team is up by the same number of holes remaining, the match is “dormie.” For example, if a player is up by three holes with only three holes remaining, they win the match.

  7. Match Extensions: If the match is tied after 18 holes, additional holes are played until one player/team wins a hole, deciding the match.

It’s important to note that specific rules may vary depending on the tournament or competition. It’s always advisable to consult the official rules or tournament regulations for precise details.


Understanding the Scoring System in Match Play

Instead of in stroke play format where the golfer with the lowest score wins, each hole in Match Play is a competition.

The player with the lowest score on a hole will win that hole. Each player/team starts even. If a player wins the hole, they will go 1-up on their opponent. If their opponent wins the next hole, it returns to a tie. If the first player also wins the second hole, they would move to 2-up and continue.

The player with the most holes won will win the match.

Role of Handicaps in Match Play

In Match Play golf, handicaps ensure fair competition between players of different skill levels. Here are the primary roles of handicaps in Match Play:

  1. Determining the Number of Strokes: Handicaps determine the number of strokes a player gives or receives during a match. The difference between the handicaps of two players is the number of strokes given by the player with the higher handicap to the player with the lower handicap. These strokes are allocated to specific holes based on their stroke index or rating.

  2. Leveling the Playing Field: The purpose of handicaps in Match Play is to level the playing field and provide an equal chance for players of different skill levels to compete against each other. Giving strokes to the weaker player makes the match more competitive and balanced.

  3. Maximizing the Number of Halved Holes: Handicaps are allocated to maximize the number of halved holes in a match. This means that both players have an equal chance of winning a hole. The weaker player receives handicap strokes on the holes where they need them the most, increasing their chances of winning those holes.

  4. Calculating Team Handicaps: In team Match Play, handicaps also play a role in calculating the combined handicap for each team. The handicaps of both team members are added together, and the team with the lowest combined handicaps plays at scratch (without receiving any handicap strokes).

Overall, handicaps ensure fairness and competitiveness in Match Play by adjusting the number of strokes given or received based on the skill levels of the players involved.

Golf Trainer working with best training aids

Tips and Strategies

Keep Up the Pressure

Starting strong in the golf game will allow you to put early pressure on your opponent, which can help give you a psychological advantage. If you aim to win the first hole, you can apply pressure and establish early control over the match.

Being aggressive on your putts can also apply pressure, which gives you the best chance of winning the hole.

Play Your Opponent, Not Just The Course

As you are playing directly against someone else, taking advantage of their miscues is huge in winning your match play game. If you are on the most difficult hole and your opponent makes an error, you must take advantage of this to help your total score.

Even if it is just one stroke, that can be the difference between winning and losing the hole.

Why You Should Try Match Play

The Competitive Element in Match Play

If you are a golfer who enjoys a challenge and wants to golf directly against someone, try out match play. It is a much more competitive game than stroke play and can help improve your golf skills and how you play under pressure.

The feeling of winning at the end of the round is also a great feeling.

How Match Play Can Improve Your Golf Skills

Match Play helps improve your golf skills by showing how well you can perform under pressure. Playing strategically will help you when you play stroke play, and knowing the course will help offer tips on playing each hole.

At the end of the day, Match Play is still golf, and you can improve your skills by playing it.

how to play bogey golf putting

Common Mistakes

Being Overly Aggressive

Being too aggressive is a common mistake when playing match play golf because players sometimes need to take risks and make bold shots to gain an advantage. However, this aggressive approach can backfire if the shots go differently than planned, resulting in unnecessary mistakes and potentially losing holes.

It is essential to find a balance between aggression and caution, considering the current situation in the match and the opponent’s performance.

Not Adapting to the Match Situation

Match play requires a different strategy compared to stroke play. Failing to adjust your game plan and strategy based on the match situation and your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses can put you at a disadvantage.

Be flexible and adapt your approach as needed for the remaining holes.

Being Too Emotional

Match Play golf can be an emotionally charged format, especially when playing golf against a rival or in high-stakes situations. Allowing emotions to dictate your decision-making can lead to poor shot selection and mistakes. Stay calm, composed, and focused on executing your game plan.

This ensures you take fewer strokes and play the best game possible.

Making the Most of Your Match Play Game

Essential Skills Required for Match Play

When it comes to Match Play golf, many essential skills are required to succeed. Match Play requires much more mental toughness and adaptability than stroke play.

As you are directly competing against another golfer, you must remain focused and composed, regardless of the outcome of the previous hole. Staying positive will help you perform better under pressure.

Another skill needed for Match Play golf is strategic shot selection. Seeing your opponent’s decision helps you decide whether to play conservatively or take calculated risks. Depending on how many holes are left will also tell you if you need to take risks or not.

How to Practice for Match Play

Outside of practicing your general golf skills, an excellent way to practice for Match Play in golf is by studying the golf course and seeing what each hole has to offer. If you can play holes with many different strategies, this will help you adapt throughout a match play game.

Another way to practice for Match Play is by practicing techniques to stay focused and calm. This will help provide resilience throughout the match.

Hitting the putting green is also a great way to learn the speed of the greens so that you can be aggressive when putting.

Match Play Etiquette

Good Sportsmanship

Adhering to certain golf etiquette during a Match Play game is essential. This includes congratulating your opponent on good shots, accepting both victories and defeats graciously, and refraining from unsportsmanlike behavior such as cheating or disrespecting others.

Being a good sport enhances the overall experience for everyone involved and promotes a positive and respectful golfing environment.

Understanding Concession Rules

Knowing concession rules in match play for golf is important because it affects the outcome of the game and the overall sportsmanship of the players involved.

Concessions allow players to show respect and good sportsmanship towards their opponents by acknowledging their skill or conceding a lost hole or match. They can also speed up the pace of play by eliminating the need for unnecessary putts. Understanding when and how concessions can be made ensures fair play and a positive golfing environment.

Video Tips on Match Play Golf

Want to learn more about this unique golf game format? Check out the video below!

How to Play MATCH PLAY in Golf, the Format Used by the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup

Frequently Asked Questions About Match Play in Golf (FAQs)

How are ties handled in Match Play?

There is a sudden-death playoff, one hole at a time, until there is a winner.

What is “Dormie” in Match Play?

If a player/team is up by the same number of holes remaining, the match is considered dormie, meaning it is over.

Can Match Play be played in teams?

Yes, Match Play can be played as a single golfer or in teams.

How are handicaps adjusted in Match Play?

The difference between the handicaps of two players is the number of strokes given by the player with the higher handicap to the player with the lower handicap.

What is the role of conceding in Match Play?

A player can concede a hole if they acknowledge that there is no way to tie or beat their opponent on that specific hole.

What happens if a match is suspended due to weather or darkness?

If one golfer elects to suspend the match, both players must do so. The match is then resumed the next day or when it is safe.

Why I Love the Game of Match Play

I love the Match Play format because it introduces a new way to play golf with some added toughness. It doesn’t matter how many strokes you have on one bad hole; losing one hole doesn’t dictate the entire round. You have to be mentally strong to move on and forget about the bad holes.

Match Play golf rules are also fun to play against friends of various skill levels. You can adjust handicaps as needed, but it provides a fun competition, and you can even wager on it. We highly recommend trying the Match Play format next time you hit the golf course.

Ryan William
Ryan William

With over 25 years hands-on experience in the golfing world, Ryan is not just an avid golfer but a topical authority. His journey has had him delve deep into the nuances of the sport, from mastering the swing to understanding new golf technology. As an entrepreneur, Ryan is at the forefront of the latest golf trends, reviewing all new clubs, accessories, and training aids. His insights and expertise are backed by a prolific writing career, with over 1000 articles published across various platforms. Ryan's commitment is clear: to guide and inform the golf community with unparalleled knowledge and passion.

Leave a Comment

Modern Golf Apparel