There are dozens of reasons why people like to play golf, and one of them is the fact that the competition is so entertaining. Although you may be used to watching professional golfers stroke play, match play is an incredibly fun format that can be played against two players of carrying ability. 

If you are wondering how the match-play format works, the match-play rules, and how to handicap match-play events, we have you covered. 

What is match play? 

Match play is a form of golf competition where each of the individual holes becomes its own match. Players will compete head-to-head against a person to try and win as many holes as they can. The lowest score on a hole will win the hole, and then the match starts up again on the next hole. 

When golfers play stroke play, they must have a total score of 18 holes, which is less than the other players in the field. With match play being more about individual matches, you play against one other person in a single match to determine the winner. 

image of match play scorecard - AEC Info

The difference between match play and stroke play is very apparent when it comes to the way the round is played and how to go about having the fewest strokes in your final score for the hole. 

How does the scoring work?

During a match play event, a player will compare their score with their opponent at the end of the hole. If Player A made a 5 and Player B made a 4, player B would be one up. This means that they have a one-hole lead. 

On the following hole, if player A can make a recovery and scores lower than player B, the score of the match will go to all square or even. This means that no player is either ahead or behind. 

With match-play matches, there is no guarantee that the match will last all 18 holes. Many times, a player will be three holes up with only two holes left to play. If this happens, the championship match is over. Stroke play requires a full 18 holes, but that is not necessary for match-play golf rules. 

How do golf handicaps work in match play?

Handicaps in match play will be very much the same as they are when giving strokes in stroke play. If Golfer A is a 15 handicap and Golfer B is a 10 handicap,  player B will have to give Player A five shots. These shots are given on the hardest holes on the golf course. 

Look at any golf scorecard, and you will see a handicap listed for each of the holes. The handicap will tell you how hard the hole is. When figuring out strokes in match play events, start with the hardest hole and start marking from there. 

At the end of each hole, you will present your net score to your competitor to see who has the lowest score for the hole. Sometimes if there is a significant difference in the handicaps between two players, it can be hard to make it to a full 18-hole match. 

Which holes does the golfer who is getting strokes use them on?

Unfortunately, in a match-play tournament, golfers are not able to use their strokes any time they want. During a match play competition, the strokes are determined before playing match play events, and the card is marked accordingly. 

image of poppy hills golf course - AEC Info

Always mark the lowest handicap hole first and then continue from there. If the difference between the two player’s handicaps is 18 then one player would get a shot on every hole. The players have the same handicap; there are no strokes to use in match play. 

What is better? Match play or stroke play? 

If you want to have a formal match or are just looking for some fun matches between friends, match play is a great way to get it done. Sometimes for the weaker player, the match-play format can help ensure that the round of golf goes a little faster. The weaker golfer can pick up and concede the hole if they are struggling. 

Stroke play needs to be played from time to time because both Golfer A and Golfer B will have to get the ball in the hole and prove what type of golfer they are.

How do conceded putts work in this golf format?

In stroke play tournaments, you must get the golf ball in the hole. Regardless of if your golf game is struggling that day, you must ensure that you hole out every shot. However, in match play, it is not always like this. 

If you are playing against someone and you have a four-inch putt for par, they can decide to concede it. Deciding when to concede a golfer’s putt is a tough decision. You don’t always want to be that person that roots against people making putts, but at the same time, giving a 10-foot putt is way too generous. 

Try to think about the chance of a player making the putt and how that will work out for you at the end of the match. If the extra stroke that the player would take from missing a putt will impact the way that the hole finishes out, you may not want to concede. 

Do professional golfers use match-play scoring? 

Stroke play rules work the best for the PGA Tour, and they help ensure that as spectators, we can watch all players compete against each other. However, when it comes to match play, there are still events like the 2022 WGC-Dell Match Play. 

Watching players compete in a different format can be really entertaining. You will notice that a champion golfer can adjust their game to accommodate a match-play type event. Essentially you will see that it’s easier to take risks on the golf course when playing in a match-play type event. 

If your risks don’t pay off, you may lose a hole, but you also don’t have to worry about making a 10 on a hole and having it ruin your entire chance of winning an event. 

Be sure to check out our most recent post on Golf alone


Match play is a really fun and unique way to play golf. If you have never played a match with one of your friends, get out there and try it this weekend. Chances are you will benefit from this type of match and quickly learn how your game can improve and how to play a fair match.

It takes some time to get the basics in match play down, but once you do, you will likely find that this is a great way to enjoy the game that you love.