By: Josh Sens Nov 5, 2022
The handicap system is the great leveler of the game, designed to ensure that players of all levels can compete against each other on equal terms. Still, golf is fun. Matches can go sideways even if no one is sandbagging. And while it’s fun to take on your friends for a few bucks, Tiger Woods-style fistfights against Stephen Ames can get boring. One way to adapt is to play with the numbers. But that’s not fun either. A better option is to choose match formats that help keep things close. Here are our top picks.
Stir with a twist
This is a good option when playing in a quartet with very different handicaps. Split into 2v2 teams, with each team playing a scramble (meaning you always play the ball that turns out to be better). To determine how many shots you’re giving or receiving, take 33 percent of the difference between the two teams’ combined handicaps. For example, if one team has a combined handicap of 19 and the other has a combined handicap of 10, the difference is nine. A third of them are three. The stronger team gives the weaker team a shot on the three most difficult holes.
Why does this work? You’ll have to ask the intellectuals at MIT. Math is not our forte. But trust us. We’ve done it countless times. Works.
Since everyone has good days and bad days, switch your two-player teams three times during the round and mix things up every six holes.
Named after the famous English club, and popular on golf courses across the UK, this format is for individual, one-on-one matches. The rule is simple: if at any point during the game one player wins two holes in a row, the other player gets a shot at the next hole. Traditionally, this game is said to be played with level handicaps, with no shots at the start. It does not have to be like that. No matter who you’re up against, it’ll help keep you busy throughout the round.
Golf, food and travel writer Josh Sens has been a contributor to GOLF Magazine since 2004 and now contributes across all GOLF platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is the co-author with Sammy Hagar of Are We Have Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.