What Are The Rules For Four Ball Golf?

four ball play rules

At its core, four ball golf is a team composition for golf, where players put their best balls against one another.

Sound confusing? It can be, which is why we’re going to break it down piece by piece.

Four ball golf is designed to combine playstyles to make a hybrid. Even if you’re not the most aggressive player that goes for the lowest possible scores every single game, you can still provide value. Four ball golf typically has one aggressive team member and one conservative, giving your team composition the chance to score low without throwing the game.

To really know the rules of four ball golf, let/’s break down what it is on a competitive level and on a recreational level, and dissect its working parts.

What is Four Ball Golf?

four ball rules

What is four ball in golf?

Something you’ve seen far more often than you realize if you keep up with anything on the PGA. It’s a form of golf that consists of two players in two separate teams (combined four players).

These players go head-to-head on a team basis, but play their own balls. There is no specific amount of balls per team, so you can’t simply “give” your balls to the better golfer on a two-man team.

Golfers play their own balls and do not have to alternate shots. One member of a team can perform awfully, but as long as the other member of the team received the lowest score compared to the other team, your team will win.

What Are The Rules of Four Ball Golf?

The rules for four ball are covered under golf rule #23.

These are some of the primary rules of four ball golf that you can read now so you know what you’re getting into.

Rule 23.1

This is simply an overview of four ball, where it dictates that partners will compete together side by side, though each player will play with their own ball.

Rule 23.2

This dictates three simple rules around scoring.

  1. If both partners hole out and/or complete the hole, the lowest score throughout your team will count for that hole. This gives the opportunity for one player to be reckless while the other takes a more calculated approach. If neither player on your team holes out, you simply do not have a score. This results in losing the hole during match play, unless your opponents have already lost that hole. You are disqualified in stroke play, unless you can correct the issue in a timely manner, which will depend on who is overseeing the problem.
  • Your team must have a single scorecard and document your points as you go. The gross number of your score must be placed on the card during each match. However, one player will not be penalized if they are entering the score for both members of the team (this is usually how it’s done anyway). Your scores must be legible, otherwise they could be discredited.
  • There is an exception to rule 11.2 in four ball nestled under rule 23.2 that applies very specific circumstances. This rule states that if someone intentionally deflects or stops a ball (which most people are never going to ever think of), ruining the chance of it being holed, then 11.2 doesn’t apply.

Rule 23.3

This rule discusses when a hole ends and when one begins. One team will start when one of the two players makes a stroke to start the hole. The round only ends when one side has won the match, at least in match play. In stroke play, the game can be completed by holing out on one side which will also technically end the match.

Rule 23.4

This rule states that one or more partners may represent your team. You do not need both partners to be present in four ball. It will ultimately make the game harder, but it’s not necessary in the slightest.

If one partner arrives and agrees to play, they can proceed. If the partner for that team arrives later, they may play (after the current hole). If that partner wants, they can discuss strategy and talk to their partner so long as they are not physically interacting or obscuring anyone.

In short, if your partner arrives late, you are not dead in the water. You can still play alone, or begin without them if time is of the essence and they can join in later when they are available.

Rule 23.5

golf partners

This rule refers to action regarding your partner’s ball. You may not putt your partner’s ball simply because you are better as putting, nor are you allowed to make any moves with their ball.

In doing so, the action technically counts as if it were taken by your partner. You are expected to uphold this rule otherwise you indirectly affect your partner.

The only moves you can make with physical interactions with your partner’s ball is marking their spot, replacing their ball, and drop-placing their ball. None of these have anything to do with scoring or gaining an unfair advantage.

Rule 23.6

You have a right to choose which one of you go first, and who goes second. This is interchangeable throughout your match.

If you play second, you may either play first or second in the next round with your partner’s approval. One player must take a turn per round, but not in any particular order.

The only time that this rule doesn’t apply is when your next stroke would somehow benefit your partner unfairly. This is hard to judge, but something that sore players on the opposing team may pull out of their sleeve if they’re losing.

Rule 23.7

You can share clubs and equipment with your partner. This rule can only be in effect if combined, you do not have more than fourteen clubs between the two of you.

Rule 23.8

Your penalties do not apply to your partner in most situations. However, every rule has an exception. If you have done any of the following, you and your partner will receive penalties for your own actions.

  1. When you break rule 23.7 by having more than fourteen clubs
  2. If your breach benefits your partner in some way
  3. If your breach negatively impacts your opponents (match play only)

It’s simple to avoid these issues, and things that most people won’t even think of, but it’s still good to be aware.

How to Play Four Ball Golf?

golf balls by the hole

Now that you know the rules and how to follow them, you’re ready to head off against another duo.

The first step is to find someone to actually play with as a partner.

To start, when you begin your match, all four golfers will tee off. Continue turns until all balls have been holed. Compare the scores to determine the winner of one match.

Team one has a mixed score of 4 and 5, while team two has a mix of 3 and 5. The second team wins because they run off of their lowest score on an individual level.

Play golf as you normally would with this new rulebook and mind, and score accordingly. This format can take longer than most golf matches, but it’s a lot more fun.

Four Ball in Professional Golf

four ball rules at golf tour

You can watch four ball tournament matches if you want to have a better understanding of how they operate.

There are actually some tournaments you can view if you’d like as well.

The Ryder Cup, Seve Trophy, Presidents Cup, and Solheim Cup competitions are all specifically for four ball. You can find extensive videos showcasing some of the excellent plays during the Ryder Cup right here.

If you’re more of a highlights kind of person, you can catch the third and final day of the 2011 Presidents Cup to see just how competitive four ball can really get.

Four ball doesn’t exist in professional golf as much as the standard game, but if you can see the crowds in those videos, you can tell that plenty of people still enjoy it. It gets pretty competitive.

Four Ball Mastery

You’ve likely seen four ball golf before, even if it was described as “better ball” instead.

Most of us who actually watch golf games have seen this play out before, but now you know where your role could be in four ball golf.

Be honest with yourself: are you aggressive or conservative in your golf matches? Find your strength, whichever it may be, and find a partner to help you take on the world of four ball golf.

It’s not unheard of for newer players to make it into the Ryder Cup, which comes around every two years. You have all the time in the world to practice.

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