The Intricacies of the 4-Ball Format in Golf: How It’s Played?

Colin McCarthy

4 Ball Format In Golf

In the dynamic realm of golf, strategies evolve, and formats diversify to challenge players in unique ways. One such format that demands tactical prowess and collaborative skill is the 4-Ball Format. 

This intriguing variant introduces a team dynamic to the traditional game, transforming the solitary pursuit of the perfect swing into a collective effort. As the name suggests, each team comprises two players, with each player playing their own ball throughout the round. 

The beauty of the 4-ball format in golf lies in its strategic intricacies, where partners must harmonize their skills, communicate effectively, and strategically leverage their individual strengths. 

This format not only tests the technical abilities of golfers but also emphasizes the importance of teamwork and synergy on the course. Join us on a journey to unravel the nuances of the 4-Ball Format, where collaboration and skill converge to redefine the art of golf.

4-Ball Format in Golf

The 4-ball golf variant introduces a collaborative element, transforming the solitary pursuit of a perfect swing into a collective effort. 

In this exploration, we delve into the intricacies of the 4-Ball Format, dissecting its rules, unraveling its strategic layers, and highlighting the impact it has on the dynamics of the game.

Understanding the Basics: The Foundation of 4-Ball

The 4-Ball Format, also known as Four-Ball, is a team-based format where each team consists of two players. Unlike traditional golf, where players compete individually against the course, in 4-Ball, both players on a team play their own ball throughout the entire round. 

The team’s score for each hole is the lower score of the two players. This fundamental alteration sets the stage for a different kind of golfing experience—one that emphasizes collaboration over solo performance.

Teamwork and Communication

Successful navigation of the 4-Ball Format hinges on effective teamwork and communication between partners. Players must strategize not only on their individual shots but also on a collective game plan for each hole. 

Clear communication becomes paramount, ensuring that both players are aligned in their approach and can adapt swiftly to changing course conditions.

Complementary Skills

One of the intriguing aspects of 4-Ball is the opportunity for players to leverage their individual strengths. While one player may excel off the tee, the other might have a precise short game. 

The format encourages partners to capitalize on these differences, creating a dynamic where complementary skills enhance the overall performance of the team.

Hole-by-Hole Strategy

Unlike traditional stroke play, where each player competes against the entire field, 4-Ball introduces a more nuanced strategy.

Teams must decide on an approach for each hole, considering factors such as risk-reward opportunities, the strengths of each player, and the overall context of the match. 

This strategic decision-making adds a layer of complexity that elevates the mental aspect of the game.

Evolving Tactics

As the round progresses, teams may find themselves adjusting tactics based on the evolving dynamics of the match.

A lead on the front nine may influence a team to adopt a more conservative approach, while trailing teams may opt for a more aggressive strategy to mount a comeback. 

The strategic flexibility embedded in the 4-Ball Format keeps players engaged and encourages adaptive thinking.

Scoring Dynamics

In 4-Ball, the team’s score for a hole is determined by the lower of the two individual scores. This unique scoring system introduces a layer of strategy, as players must balance pushing their own limits to contribute a low score while avoiding excessive risk that could lead to a higher score. 

The delicate dance between individual performance and collective score creates a dynamic tension that defines the essence of the 4-Ball Format.

Potential for Aggressive Play

The format’s scoring mechanism also opens the door for more aggressive play. Knowing that a partner’s strong performance can compensate for a weaker one, players might take calculated risks they wouldn’t in a solo competition. 

This injects an element of excitement into the game, as teams weigh the potential rewards against the inherent risks on each shot.

Celebrating Joint Accomplishments

While the scorecard reflects the numerical outcome of a round, the 4-Ball Format goes beyond mere numbers. It fosters a sense of camaraderie and shared accomplishments.

Whether it’s a well-executed strategy on a challenging hole or a series of clutch putts, the shared experiences on the course create lasting memories for teammates.

Building Bonds

Golf, often considered a gentleman’s game, takes on a richer social dimension in 4-Ball. The format provides a platform for building and strengthening bonds between players. 

Shared successes and challenges forge connections that extend beyond the course, creating a community of players who appreciate the collaborative spirit of the game.

How Do Handicaps Work in 4-Ball Better Ball?

How Do Handicaps Work in 4-Ball Better Ball

Golf handicaps, designed to level the playing field, add an intriguing layer to the 4-Ball Better Ball format. 

Here, we delve into the intricacies of how handicaps work in this collaborative variant, shedding light on the calculations, adjustments, and the impact they have on the dynamics of the game.

Individual Handicaps

Before delving into the specifics of 4-Ball Better Ball handicaps, it’s essential to understand individual handicaps. A golfer’s handicap is a numerical representation of their playing ability, reflecting the average score they can be expected to achieve. 

Handicaps are calculated based on recent rounds and are meant to provide a fair measure of a player’s skill, allowing golfers of different abilities to compete on a more level playing field.

Course Handicap

To adapt individual handicaps to the specific challenges of a golf course, players are assigned a course handicap.

This adjustment considers the difficulty of the course and ensures that players with higher handicaps receive additional strokes to compensate for the course’s challenges.

Formation of Teams

In 4-Ball Better Ball, two players form a team, and each player continues to play their own ball. The team’s score for a hole is determined by the better (lower) score of the two players. 

While this collaborative format introduces a shared score, handicaps are still applied individually before they come together in a unique way for the team.

Individual Handicaps in 4-Ball

Each player’s individual handicap remains a crucial factor in 4-Ball Better Ball. The handicap is applied to each player’s score for a hole, reflecting their relative playing ability. However, the calculation isn’t as straightforward as adding the handicaps together.

Adjustments for 4-Ball Better Ball

To determine the team’s net score for a hole, the handicaps are adjusted in a specific manner. The players’ handicaps are averaged, and then a percentage of that average is used. 

Typically, 90% of the average is taken. This adjusted handicap is then applied to the team’s better score for the hole.

Calculating the Adjusted Handicap: A Step-by-Step Process

Here’s a detailed process of calculating the final handicap:

Step 1: Individual Handicaps

Both players on the team start with their individual handicaps. These handicaps are a reflection of their individual playing abilities, taking into account recent performance.

The handicaps of both players are averaged. This average is a starting point for determining the team’s adjusted handicap.

Step 2: Applying the Percentage

To create the adjusted handicap, a percentage of the averaged handicap is used. In 4-Ball Better Ball, it’s common to use 90% of the average handicap. This percentage reflects the collaborative nature of the format while maintaining fairness.

Step 3: Applying the Adjusted Handicap

The calculated adjusted handicap is then applied to the team’s better score for each hole. This adjusted score represents the team’s net score for the hole, accounting for the relative skill levels of both players.

Impact on Gameplay: Strategic Considerations

Understanding how handicaps work in 4-Ball Better Ball adds a strategic dimension to the game. Teams must consider not only their individual strengths and weaknesses but also the adjusted handicap for each hole. 

This knowledge influences decisions on when to be aggressive and when to play more conservatively, as the adjusted handicap directly impacts the team’s net score. Here are more details:

Collaborative Approach 

The adjusted handicap reinforces the collaborative spirit of 4-Ball Better Ball. Teams must work together to optimize their scoring potential, recognizing that each player’s contribution is influenced by their individual playing abilities.

This collaborative approach encourages effective communication and shared decision-making on the course.

Leveling the Field

The application of handicaps in 4-Ball Better Ball serves the overarching goal of leveling the playing field. By factoring in the relative abilities of both players, the format promotes fair competition where teams of varying skill levels can engage in a balanced contest.

Inclusive Nature 

The use of handicaps in 4-Ball Better Ball contributes to the format’s inclusive nature. Golfers with different skill levels can form teams and enjoy a competitive yet equitable experience. 

This inclusivity enhances the social aspect of the game, fostering camaraderie among players of diverse abilities.


What is the 4-Ball Format in Golf?

The 4-Ball Format, also known as Four-Ball, is a team-based variant in golf where each team consists of two players. Both players play their own ball throughout the round, and the team’s score for each hole is the lower score of the two players. 

How is the 4-Ball Format Different from Traditional Golf?

Unlike traditional stroke play, where each golfer competes individually against the course, the 4-Ball Format involves a team dynamic. Both players on a team contribute to the team’s score on each hole, allowing for strategic collaboration and a shared approach to navigating the course.

How Do Handicaps Work in 4-Ball Better Ball?

In 4-Ball Better Ball, handicaps are still applied individually to each player. The handicaps are then averaged, and a percentage (often 90%) of that average is used as the adjusted handicap for the team. This adjusted handicap is applied to the team’s better score on each hole to determine the net score.

What Strategies are Effective in 4-Ball Format?

Effective strategies in 4-Ball involve clear communication and collaboration between teammates. Players often capitalize on complementary skills, adapting their tactics based on the strengths of each team member. 

How Does the 4-Ball Format Impact Camaraderie on the Course?

The 4-Ball Format fosters camaraderie by providing a shared experience on the course. Celebrating joint accomplishments, strategizing together, and facing challenges as a team create lasting bonds among players. 


The 4-Ball Format in golf transcends the boundaries of individual play, ushering in a realm where teamwork becomes as crucial as the perfect swing. 

As golfers navigate the fairways and greens, they discover the power of strategic collaboration, learning to complement each other’s strengths and mitigate weaknesses. 

The format not only adds a layer of excitement to the game but also fosters camaraderie and shared victories. Whether it’s devising a game plan for challenging holes or celebrating joint accomplishments, the 4-Ball Format celebrates the beauty of golf as a team sport. 

As players emerge from each round, they carry with them not only a scorecard but also a shared experience of triumphs, challenges, and the enduring spirit of partnership. 

With its blend of competition and camaraderie, the 4-Ball Format stands as a testament to the evolving landscape of golf, where collaboration enhances the pursuit of excellence on the course.

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Colin McCarthy

Golf is about mastering your misses and learning from them. I seek answers on the how and why of the golf swing, gaining experience even when answers elude me. With over 11,000 hours of teaching and a hunger for learning, I welcome any questions. My goal is to introduce golf to as many as possible, simplifying the game for all to enjoy. Passionate, eager, and ambitious, I'm here to teach, listen, and learn. LinkedIn

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