It's one of golf's most popular formats, but what are the rules and how do you score? Let us explain
Match play – sometimes styled as matchplay – is a format of golf where a player, or team, plays directly against an opponent in a head-to-head match.
What is match play?
Unlike in stroke play, where a player aims to post the lowest score over 18 holes, golfers in match play have to try to win more holes than their opponent.
In theory, match play golf can be viewed as a series of 18 separate games within a round. Each golfer plays a ball and after every hole, the scores are compared to determine who wins the hole. In team play, the best score is taken from each team.
How does the scoring work?
Whichever player, or team, completes the hole in the fewest strokes wins the hole, and therefore wins a point. If both scores are identical, the hole is halved, resulting in no change to the overall score.
So for example, if Player A birdies the 1st hole but Player B can only par it, Player A wins the hole and goes “1-up”. If Player B wins the 2nd hole, it’s back to level, or “all-square”.
A winner is declared when the lead of a player or team is greater than the number of holes remaining, meaning the opposition can no longer mathematically close the gap.
For example, if Player A is 2-up with one hole to play, they have won the match “2&1”. The largest margin of victory possible in match play is 10&8, which is when one player or team wins the first 10 holes.
When a player is in a position where they can still halve the match but cannot lose, this is known as “dormie”. So if Player A is 2-up with two holes to play, they are “dormie 2”.
Playing with handicaps
In a handicap match, it is the lowest net score that wins each hole. The golfer with the highest handicap receives extra shots according to the difference between each players’ handicaps.
For example, in a match where players are off 8 and 14, the 8-handicapper is required to give the 14-handicapper six shots (14-8=6).
These are then given on the six hardest holes based on the Stroke Index. If the 14-handicapper makes a bogey (net par) on one of these holes and the 8-handicapper makes par, the hole is halved.
In team play, the recommended allowance under the World Handicap System is 90% of the difference from the lowest-handicapped player.
Either side may elect to concede a hole or the match at any point.
Concessions such as ‘gimmes’ may also be given. This occurs when a player is left with a very short putt which the other player assumes he would not miss.
For example, if Player A has played three shots and has a tap-in left for a four, Player B is allowed to concede the fourth shot and Player A must mark their card with a four.
Both these aspects of match play help speed up play and boost the etiquette of golf.
Match play on tour
The Ryder and Solheim Cups are both match play golf events. Both are played over three days between teams of 12, with a variety of fourball, foursomes and singles matches.
The WGC-Match Play, co-sanctioned by the PGA and DP World Tours, is one of the more popular events of the men’s season.