Elsewhere on this site you can read about foursome and fourball golf, as well as the difference between the two ways of playing the game. Golf is a sport that has many quirks and eccentricities, though, so the answer to the question about the difference between them is complicated by the fact that you can play both versions of golf as either matchplay or strokeplay. Which one you’re playing will dictate how the game is scored and how everything works, so it is worth understanding the difference between them both if you can.

If you don’t know much about golf then it can seem like an impenetrable sport at times. That is demonstrated well by the difference between matchplay and strokeplay versions of it, though both essentially require you to make your way around the course in the fewest strokes possible. The difference is that, in matchplay, two players are ‘matched up’ against one another, attempting to win a point that is available for each hole. Regardless of the game type being played, players will be aiming to finish the 18 holes that they’re playing, presuming they’re playing that many, in the fewest shots possible.

## Stokeplay Explained

We will start by looking at strokeplay, which is the most common form of golf. The easiest way of getting your head around this form of golf is by thinking of each hit of the ball as being a ‘stroke’. In strokeplay, you are counting up the number of strokes that each player has taken on a hole, adding them together at the end of the round in order to see who has won. Imagine a scenario in which two players are playing a round of 18 holes, with the following scores achieved by them each during the course of the round:

- Player A 4 – Player B 4
- Player A 2 – Player B 3
- Player A 5 – Player B 5
- Player A 3 – Player B 5
- Player A 4 – Player B 4
- Player A 2 – Player B 2
- Player A 4 – Player B 3
- Player A 3 – Player B 3
- Player A 5 – Player B 4
- Player A 2 – Player B 3
- Player A 4 – Player B 5
- Player A 3 – Player B 4
- Player A 5 – Player B 4
- Player A 2 – Player B 4
- Player A 4 – Player B 4
- Player A 3 – Player B 3
- Player A 3 – Player B 4
- Player A 5 – Player B 6

In this instance, the total number of strokes taken by Player A is 63. The total number of strokes that Player B took, meanwhile, is 64. That means that Player A took one shot fewer than Player B to get around the course, winning by one stroke. The scores are registered for every single hole, irrespective of how many shots have been taken. This is the sort of golf that is played in the likes of the British Open, given that huge numbers of players can play a competition and a winner can still be discovered even after several rounds of golf.

## Matchplay

There is still a desire to complete the round in the fewest shots possible in matchplay golf, but how it is scored works slightly differently. Instead of scoring the number of shots taken on each hole, every hole is worth one point. That point can either be won by one of the players or else shared between them. This means that is not possible to have huge numbers of players playing in a competition unless they are representing a team, because of the way that the scoring works. If we use our example from before, the round would look like this:

- Player A 4 (0.5 Points) – Player B 4 (0.5 Points)
- Player A 2 (1 Point) – Player B 3 (0 Points)
- Player A 5 (0.5 Points) – Player B 5 (0.5 Points)
- Player A 3 (1 Point) – Player B 5 (0 Points)
- Player A 4 (0.5 Points) – Player B 4 (0.5 Points)
- Player A 2 (0.5 Points) – Player B 2 (0.5 Points)
- Player A 4 (0 Points) – Player B 3 (1 Point)
- Player A 3 (0.5 Points) – Player B 3 (0.5 Points)
- Player A 5 (0 Points) – Player B 4 (1 Point)
- Player A 2 (1 Point) – Player B 3 (0 Points)
- Player A 4 (1 Point) – Player B 5 (0 Points)
- Player A 3 (1 Point) – Player B 4 (0 Points)
- Player A 5 (0 Points) – Player B 4 (1 Point)
- Player A 2 (1 Point) – Player B 4 (0 Points)
- Player A 4 (0.5 Points) – Player B 4 (0.5 Points)
- Player A 3 (0.5 Points) – Player B 3 (0.5 Points)
- Player A 3 (1 Point) – Player B 4 (0 Points)
- Player A 5 (1 Point) – Player B 6 (0 Points)

In this instance, Player A would have received 11.5 points compared to the 6.5 points of Player B. Player A still wins, but in a different manner to before. The nature of matchplay golf is such that one player could actually have taken more shots than the other over the course of the entire round of golf but still won on account of the fact that they won more holes in total. You could take 100 shots to complete one hole, for example, but it will still only cost you one point because of how matchplay works.

The above example is slightly misleading, on account of the fact that the round isn’t finished if it reaches a point where one of the players can’t win. In the above example, Player A is ahead by three shots heading into the penultimate hole. That means that Player B can’t win, so the round is called in Player A’s favour. This is normally denoted on the score card by showing how many holes up they were and how many were still to play, so in this instance that would be 3&2.

It is common to see matchplay take place in teams, which is most clearly demonstrated in the Ryder Cup. A team from America takes on a team from Europe, with different forms of golf played over the course of 28 matches. That means that the first team to 14.5 points wins the competition, which is usually made up of four foursomes then four fourballs on day one, the reverse in the afternoon and then the same again on day two. On day three, all twelve players on each team go up against each other chasing the 12 available points.