Match Play & Stroke Play Differences Explained
The main difference in golf between match play and stroke play is the object of the game based on the way you keep score.
During match play in golf, the object is to win as many individual holes as possible. Each turn is its own competition and the golfer you are playing against is your "opponent". The player who gets the ball in the hole in the fewest number of strokes wins that turn. When your round of golf is complete, whoever won the most holes wins the game.
During stroke play, the golfers you are playing against are known as your "fellow competitors". The object is still to try and get the ball in the hole in the fewest number of strokes possible, but you have some time to make up your score.
Your golf shots don’t count until the end of the game when you add up your strokes and the golfer with the lowest overall score wins the match. Let’s go over some more details of how stroke play and match play are different when playing a round of golf.
Match play scoring is a variation of the more traditional stroke play method of scoring. The winner is determined based on the number of individual holes each golfer or team won during a round of golf, as opposed to having the lowest overall score at the end of the game.
Each hole counts as one point. The team or player who sinks the ball in the lowest number of shots for a hole wins that point. It’s not as important to get a good golf score overall, you just need to win more holes to be the winner of the match.
Each hole will result in either a win, a loss, or a tie. When there is a tie, the point for that turn is “halved”. In the 2019 edition of the Rules of Golf, the term “halved” was dropped, and now “tied” is the preferred term. All match play formats and tournaments allow halved holes, but not all allow halved matches.
Match play is essentially the best of 18 separate games during a round of golf. If you are winning by more holes than there are left to play, the game can end early.
Since each hole is like starting a new competition, golfers sometimes play more aggressively and try to make more difficult shots. Maybe you take the opportunity to try and beat your best club distance. This can be an entertaining way to play if you are enjoying a round of golf on a night out with friends.
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Match Play Terms
There is a glossary of golf terms commonly used in match play that you should know before playing a round.
All Square (AS)
All square, also known as AS, is a slang term in golf that means the score is tied.
When someone is three up it means they have won three more holes than their opponent. The same would apply if you were ahead by two holes, you would say two up. Ahead by one, then you’re one up, and so on.
Dormie is when a golfer or team is winning by the same number of holes that are left in a round. That means if you win or tie any of the remaining holes, you would win the game.
3 and 2
3 and 2 means you won. This is when you’ve won 3 more holes than your opponent and there are only 2 holes left to play. The other team or player can’t catch up to you. This also applies to any other lead when the number of holes won is larger than the number of holes left to play. 5 and 4 or 2 and 1 are other examples.
You concede a hole or a round when there is no way that you could have possibly won. For example, your opponent sinks a hole in one and you hit your ball out of bounds.
Also known as half a hole, this simply means you have tied that hole since it took you the same number of shots to get the ball in as your opponent. Tied is the preferred term used now but you will still hear halved being used by golfers.
Play The Ball Down
This is a golf term that means you must play the ball as it lies, without cleaning it or moving it.
Keeping score in stroke play is pretty straightforward. You record how many strokes it took you to complete the play of each hole. At the end of the game, you add up all of your strokes which gives you your gross score. The person with the lowest gross score wins.
Unlike match play, you can’t end a turn or round early. You have to “hole out” which means completing your turn by getting your ball into the cup or playing out the required number of strokes to finish the hole.
Golfers usually play much more carefully during stroke play, since every shot counts unlike in match play, where you get to essentially start over at the next hole.
Many of the basic golf rules are the same but the penalties can be different in match play than they are in stroke play. For example, during stroke play, a penalty is typically two strokes. If you get a penalty in match play, that usually results in the loss of that hole.
Since this website is dedicated to helping beginner women golfers, I won’t overwhelm you with every complicated rule there is for these two formats. If you’d like to read more about the rules of match play, visit USGA. Learn more about the rules of stroke play by visiting their site here.