One of the beauties of golf is that there are so many ways that we can play the game. Here at AMERICAN GOLF, we are going to endeavour to bring them all to life, so that anyone new to golf can get a grasp of what is involved. In this blog, our focus is on Foursomes golf.

Foursomes Golf Background:

With the Ryder Cup and the Solheim Cup looming, the premier team events in men’s and women’s game, it’s only right for us to focus on a classic golfing format. Foursomes golf, also known as alternate shot, is a pairs format. A team of two plays but uses a single ball between them.

It is probably the most highly skilled format of golf because an individual player HAS to play for his partner as a bad shot from one player automatically puts the other player in trouble.

In eight of the last nine Ryder Cups, the team that has won the foursomes, ie taken the most points from the eight foursomes matches played across the three days, has lifted the cup. In an individual sport like golf, a foursomes game is the ultimate team format because it is impossible to win a foursomes match if one of the two players is badly off form. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were paired together in foursomes in the 2004 Ryder Cup – the biggest two names in golf at the time – but their way of playing did not gel together and they lost! That shows that foursomes is not an easy game to master. 

How to play Foursomes:

Foursomes is most commonly used in matchplay, but the format can be used for strokeplay or stableford competitions.

A team consists of two players. On the first hole, Player A hits the tee shot. Player B then hits the second shot from wherever Player A’s tee shot has finished. Player B then hits the approach shot onto the green. Player A takes the first putt and rolls it close to the hole in three, before Player B taps in. Thus, the score for the hole is four. On the second hole, Player B takes the first shot and then it is alternate shots until the ball is holed. Then on the third hole, Player A reverts to the tee shot.

For tee shots on the odd holes (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15 and 17), Player A tees off. For tee shots on the even holes (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20), Player B tees off. That does not change at any point in the round regardless of the hole, how many shots were taken on the previous hole, or how the two players are playing.

On the green, the player who hits the first putt must never walk up and tap the ball into the hole. They should stay clear and let their partner approach the ball because it is their turn to play.

In the case of a player hitting a shot out of bounds, the team-mate must take the next shot from the same position. However, the penalty applies. For example, if Player A hits the tee shot out of bounds, Player B plays the second ball and that is classed as three off the tee.

To work out the foursomes handicap, the handicaps of the two players are added together and divided by two. For example, Player A is 10 and Player B is 16. That is 10 + 16 = 26; 262 = 13. Therefore, the team handicap is 13.

Foursomes Tactics:

To be a successful foursomes team, teamwork and a knowledge of each other’s games is absolutely essential. Before heading out, we need to study the course that we are about to play. Knowing that players take alternate tee shots on odd and even holes, we need to look at the make up of those. Are there more par-three holes on the odd or even sets of nine? On which set of nine are the harder par-fours or long par-fives?

We need to think about what the strengths are in our games. If there is a big disparity in length, the shorter hitter should probably take more par-three tee shots as possible. If there are four par-three holes (3, 8, 12 and 16), the shorter hitter would be advised to tee off on the even holes.

The team element also means that we can discuss what club to take or what type of shot to take at any point on the hole. That is not normally allowed in an individual competition. Either player can pick up, clean and mark the ball when it is on the green, regardless of which partner is next to play and both players can read the line of the putt. Either player can also concede the hole or give a short putt on behalf of the team. A foursomes team can even share a set of clubs, so long as there are no more than 14 clubs in the bag!  

One thing to always remember is that we are not just playing with our partner, we are playing FOR our partner. That means we are trying to give them the easiest next shot as possible. Good foursomes golf is safe golf. We always have to consider a more conservative approach. Aim for the middle of the green rather than go for the flag. Get out of a bunker in one rather than get too cute with going for extra distance or proximity to the hole and end up leaving it in the sand. Make sure that we get back onto the fairway if we stray too far offline. Par golf in foursomes – whether in a matchplay, stableford or strokeplay format - is usually successful golf.            

When to play foursomes:

It is fairly common for foursomes to be played at golf clubs during the winter. With one ball used between two players, it allows more people to get on the course when daylight hours are at a premium. It should also ensure that four players, using only two balls, should get round nine or 18 holes much quicker than if they were playing a traditional fourball game.

At Muirfield Golf Club in Scotland, a famous Open Championship venue, foursomes is the only game that is allowed on the course all through the year. That allows players to get round the links quicker in time for the famous lunches served in the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’ clubhouse! 

One point that must be emphasised again about foursomes is that this is a highly skilled form of golf. We have seen professionals really struggle with it in the Ryder Cup so it is certainly not for everyone. And it is probably best avoided if we are complete beginners or in the very early stages of our golfing journeys.    

For more on the different rules of golf read more of our golf blog and check out how to play Texas Scramble, Stableford, Matchplay, Greensomes and Mulligan Golf.

About the Author

Adam Lanigan - Golf Writer

Adam is a freelance news and sports journalist who has written for the BBC, The Sunday Post, The I, The Times, The Telegraph and more. He has been writing about golf for nearly two decades and has covered 13 Open Championships and two Ryder Cups. Not only does Adam cover golf, but he has played golf for as long as he can remember. He was a member at Northenden Golf Club for around 25 years until his children arrived and his last official handicap was 11, although on any given day his form fluctuates anywhere between eight and 18.