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 Stableford golf.

History of Stableford:

The format can be attributed to a man called Frank Stableford, hence the name. Stableford golf was first played informally at Glamorganshire Golf Club in South Wales in 1898 before it was first used for competitive golf at Wallasey Golf Club (not far from Royal Liverpool where The Open was staged in July) in 1932. A doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Stableford’s frustration came about from playing on the Wallasey links where a few strong holes played into the wind early on often ruined a player’s score for the entire 18 holes. His solution earned him the moniker of the ‘Patron Saint of Club golfers’ as what he introduced was specifically targeted for the average handicap golfer. As such, handicap golfers have been enjoying his creation for nearly 100 years now.  

General idea:

The thinking behind stableford golf was to introduce a method that would be more appealing to regular amateur club golfers than typical strokeplay golf (where every shot was added up on each hole with the cumulative total added up at the end). Start a medal (strokeplay) round with one or two terrible holes and our chances of a good score have all but disappeared. That can be very disheartening and often makes it difficult to keep us concentrated and involved in our game for the remainder of the holes.

That is not the case with stableford, which is designed to ensure that players can stay competitive in the game for longer as one bad hole does not wreck our score. In theory, playing stableford golf should also be quicker as we can pick up our ball if we are having a bad hole and start again on the next tee. In terms of risk-and-reward, it is definitely in favour of attacking golf as we cannot score worse than a double bogey on any hole.


Stableford Scoring:  

Stableford works using a points system. Whereas in medal golf, the lower the score the better, in stableford, the more points we score, the better.

Here is how the scoring works for each hole:

5 points – Three-under par for a hole

4 points – Two-under par for a hole

3 points – One-under par for a hole

2 points – Par score on a hole

1 point – Bogey on a hole

0 points – Double bogey or more on a hole

A par score in stableford for 18 holes is 36 points. Anything upwards of 40 points is a very good score. But beware the bandit who gets 45 or 46 points! One help is that we could have a disaster hole where we would be on a nine or ten, and it would be no worse on the scorecard than a double bogey, as both scenarios are worth 0 points.

To factor in our handicaps, we must work with the stroke indexes of the holes on the golf course we are playing. If we have a handicap of nine, we receive a stroke on holes 1-9 on the stroke index. For example, playing a par-five hole with a shot, upon finishing the hole, we may say to our playing partners, we were ‘six for five for two’. That means we had a gross six, nett five (with our shot), and scored two putts for a nett par. Getting a birdie on a hole with a shot would count as a nett eagle and we would score four points.

If we have a handicap of 24, we receive one shot on every hole, so 1-18 on the stroke index. But on holes 1-6 on the stroke index, we receive two shots. In stableford terms, we could score a double bogey and that would still count as a nett par and give us two stableford points. That would be ‘seven for five for two’, ie a gross six, nett five, two points. 

Alternatively, a player with a plus-figure handicap, for example, plus two, has to add on two shots for their stableford score. Therefore, at holes 17 and 18 on the stroke index, they have to add one on to their score, for example they need to have a birdie to get a nett par (for example on a par three, a two becomes a three, and so they receive two stableford points).

When to play:

Stableford golf can be played at any time of the year. Because the format is generous, it is excellent in most scenarios. Many clubs use stableford competitions through the autumn and winter months when the condition of the course is not as good for medal competitions and it is unfair to be playing for handicap purposes. It also allows people to play their rounds a bit faster which is very important when hours of daylight are more limited.

It is a popular format for golf days or small informal groups as playing stableford rewards good golf but is not as punishing for bad golf. Speed is also a factor as players are often playing on courses with which they are not familiar and they do not need to putt out if they have a lost a ball or are having a bad time on a particular hole.

In professional golf, stableford is rarely used, as 72-hole strokeplay is considered the true benchmark on how to assess a golfer’s performance. However, the Barracuda Championship on the PGA Tour, an event that runs in the same week as The Open, uses a modified stableford system, which is designed to produce attacking golf.

In that tournament, a player receives zero points for a par, two points for a birdie, five points for an eagle and eight points if they manage to score an albatross (a hole-in-one on a par four or a two on a a par-five). Conversely, it is minus one point for a bogey and minus three points for a double bogey or worse. For example, 18 pars would produce a final score of zero. Yet a player scoring 14 pars, two birdies and two bogeys would finish with two points (2 birdies = 4 points; 2 bogeys = -2 points; 4-2 = 2pts), to underline how attacking golf is rewarded.

This year’s tournament was won by American Akshay Bhatia, who collected 40 points from this modified format across four rounds.

For more on the different rules of golf read more of our golf blog and check out how to play Texas Scramble, Foursomes, 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.