What’s the Difference Between Stroke Play and Match Play?
The main difference between stroke play and match play is that In Stroke Play, all players are simply playing each hole in attempt to have the total lowest scores at the end.
In Match Play, two players are playing against each other, with each one trying to score the lowest on individual holes. In Match Play a player will either win, lose or tie each hole. If you tie a hole you “halve a hole”. This USGA video provides more details on the differences.
Most “weekend golf” is usually Stroke Play, but I have found that for newer golfers (or if you’re struggling a bit with your swing, as I often am) it can be fun to play Match Play for the simple reason that you can concede a hole – which means you don’t have to putt out on every single hole.
Remember, pace-of-play is the single most important part of golf (right after the cute outfits) so when you are not keeping up with the players ahead of you and/or the foursome behind you is breathing down your neck, picking up!
Conceding A Hole
In Match Play, you may concede a hole at any time. This means that you are telling the other player that they just won the hole. In that situation, you would both pick up your balls and move on to the next hole.
What does that mean for scoring? Well, that’s when Equitable Stroke Control comes in.
Equitable Stroke Control
Equitable Stroke Control is ad adjustment of individual hole scores for handicap purposes. It is about your “potential ability”. There’s a limit to the number of strokes you may post on any hole. Since my current handicap is a 19 at my home course, the most I can post on any hole is a 7. Therefore, if I actually shoot more than a 7 on a hole, I must reduce the score to a 7 for posting purposes.
Here’s a helpful ESC chart from the USGA
So when you’re playing a match play round and you concede a hole to your opponent what score do you post for that hole? You will post either what you most likely would have had on that hole or a “par plus”, according to this article from SCGA.
This is probably the single most misunderstood golf score issue out there.
Whether I’ve been conceded a hole or I’m just playing a regular stroke play round and don’t finish the hole for any other reason (say I got an important phone call from my hair stylist, or the shoes I just ordered came in) I don’t necessarily take “my max”.
If I’m lying four when that important phone call comes in (oh, we’re not supposed to have our phones on during golf?) then I would count how many additional strokes it likely would have taken me to get in the hole. I’m near the green, so one stroke for my chip and then a two-putt, so that’s a 7. With my course handicap a 19 that is the correct number.
But if I picked up on a par three after only hitting my tee shot (because I broke a nail and had to look for nail glue in my purse) then I should NOT take a 7. I should take a “par plus” which means that if on that hole I would have a handicap stroke, then I take a four – it’s a par 3, and I add one stroke.
Are The Rules Different For Stroke Play and Match Play?
The simple answer is yes and no. Most of the basic rules are exactly the same, but the penalties for violating these rules will depend if you are playing stroke play or match play.
Doing what you would consider friendly such as “offering advice”, which most of us would consider friendly and polite, is actually a penalty in Match Play and would mean the loss of a hole.
Opponent vs Fellow Competitor
You might be in the habit of referring to the people you’re playing within a tournament or event as “opponents” but they are only referred to as opponents if you are playing Match Play. In a Stroke Play round the other players are your “fellow competitors”.
And its worth mentioning that when you’re playing a tournament or guest day that is regular stroke play, you are all playing “against the field’ which means you’re not allowed to concede putts (because that affects the other players’ standings). So even if I’m playing like poop and think there’s no way I’ll win anything today, I still may not concede putts during a stroke play competition. No matter how much I want to!
San Diego native, interior design nut, and golf addict (with a hopelessly bad swing)
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