Often known as better-ball, what is the four-ball golf format and how does it work?

Four-ball is a pairs format in golf where players get to take the best score from their team on each hole.

Also referred to as ‘better-ball’, ‘best-ball’ and even ‘4BBB’, four-ball is the most popular pairs format in golf and is played at huge team events like the Solheim Cup, Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup, where it was first used in 1963 at East Lake Golf Club.

How to play four-ball

Four-ball golf sees two players compete as a team playing their own ball. The lowest score of the pair on each hole then provides the overall team score for that particular hole.

For example, if Player A makes a 5 on the 1st hole but their partner Player B makes a 4, the team score for that hole is a 4.

This means that once you realise you cannot beat your partner’s score, you are not required to also finish, and your ball can simply be picked up.

Four-ball can be played using match play or stroke play format. In match play, on each hole your team’s best score goes against your opposition team’s best score to determine who wins the hole. In stroke play, your final score consists of the total of each individual hole’s best score.

Playing with handicaps

According to the R&A, if you are competing in a four-ball stroke play competition, each player is given 85% of their handicap allowance.

For example: If Player A has a handicap of 15, they will be given 13 shots in four-ball stroke play competitions (15 x 0.85 = 12.75, rounded up to 13).

In four-ball match play games, the handicap allowance can be a little trickier to work out. Here, the handicap allowance is 90% of the difference from the lowest handicap golfer in the match.

For example: Golfers A and B, with handicaps 4 and 8, are playing against Golfers C and D, with handicaps 10 and 12. Golfer A is the lowest handicapper, so gets 0 shots. The other players then subtract 4 from their handicap and multiply this difference by 90%:

Golfer A: 0 shots (lowest handicapper)

Golfer B: 4 shots (8 – 4 = 4 x 0.9 = 3.6, rounded up to 4)

Golfer C: 5 shots (10 – 4 = 6 x 0.9 = 5.4, rounded down to 5)

Golfer D: 7 shots (12 – 4 = 8 x 0.9 = 7.2, rounded down to 7)

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