Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)

How to pick the right format for your golf outing

Four friends golfing together.

Jordan Siemens

November 01, 2018

An outing qualifies as a holiday on a golfer's calendar, and with good reason. It offers a group dynamic to a mostly individual sport, often serves as respite from the office, and the amenities. There are usually plenty of amenities.

But, while there's no such thing as a bad outing, there are degrees of excellence, and the type of playing format can be a major factor in that standing.

And make no mistake, the format does matter. What is the demographic of the group? What is the outing's purpose? Is there an aspiration of competition, or will score be ancillary? Where is the outing taking place? With multiple options on the plate, an organizer might feel overwhelmed or unsure what format is the right call.

Fear not; below is a how-to guide to help cater to your outing's needs, resources and field.

Best ball gross and/or net

How it works: Also known as best ball. Competitors play their own ball throughout the round, with the lowest score on each hole counting. "Net" means including handicaps into scoring.

The preferred format in more serious competitions (particularly in gross play) or that have fields of less than 60 players. Be careful: this tends to promote more of a "tournament" vibe than a carefree outing. Two-man best ball is best served at country clubs or courses with a host of events on the schedule than a once-a-year outing.

However, a competitive setting is not a necessary ingredient for four-man best ball, especially when net is involved. In that same breath, the golfers in question do posses a sense of earnestness with their game, which is why they want to play their own ball rather than receive the granted amnesty of a scramble.

If you go the net route, try to slot the teams with one low handicapper, two mids and a high. Ensures a balanced contest and helps curb serious sandbaggin'.

Men playing golf on course

Dave and Les Jacobs


How it works: Each player hits a tee shot, selecting the "best" out of the bunch to play their second shot from, usually within a club-length of that spot. Group repeats this process until the hole is finished.

Best suited for fields mostly comprised of chops, novices, or groups that prominently feature non-golfers. Eliminates some of the hacking while keeping everyone engaged. Also appropriate for charity or fundraising functions, providing the facade of a contest yet keeping an insouciant atmosphere to the proceedings.

Note: Some scrambles force a group to use at least one drive from every player, prohibiting a team from feeding off the same player's tee ball every time. While there's good intention behind it, it's also at odds with the informal ethos of a scramble. Plus, it could throw beginners for a loop. Our recommendation is to bench this provision.


How it works: Begins like a scramble, with each player hitting a drive and the group playing their second shots from the "best" tee ball. However, group plays their own ball for the rest of the hole. Best one/two scores count for the group.

One of our favorites, combining the benefits of the scramble and best ball formats. On the majority of holes, players will be hitting from the fairway or a desirable position, while also maintaining the sense one gets to play their own ball from that point out.

We recommend this for outings that want to have a tenor of competition without being overly serious. Likewise good for longer courses, as the scramble aspect off the tee should alleviate some of the course's distance-related challenges.

Young female golfer on golf course with trainer

Zero Creatives


How it works: Also known as alternate shot. Paired in twos, a team plays only one ball, taking turns hitting until the hole is finished. Players switch teeing off, meaning one will drive on the even holes while the other takes odd.

This can be endlessly fun or the bane of your existence. Yes, partly due to your partner—punching-out their bad drives hole after hole gets old fast—but the inverse of that is especially true, knowing your bad shot could kill their enjoyment. Sentiments that make this format the most intense of the bunch.

And for that reason, we'd advocate employing this in the rarest of cases, like with your usual weekend group or to shake things up for an annual outing that's become stale. One positive upshot: Because it cuts the shots hit in half, so does the pace of the round. As long as you have the course in front of you, big dividends.


How it works: Unlike traditional scoring, the goal in Stableford is to have the highest score possible. This is because the lower your score on a hole is, the more points you receive. Here's the baseline points system the PGA Tour uses at the Barracuda Championship, which can be adjusted to your own event: Double Eagle - 8 points, Eagle - 5 points, Birdie - 2 points, Par - 0 points, Bogey - minus-1 point, Double Bogey or worse - minus-3 points.

In theory, this is exciting...until you remember you're not exactly the player that racks up red numbers. Only use this format if A) You're outing is comprised of really good players B) The course is a cake walk C) This is paired with a scramble.

Worst ball

How it works: Teams of two/four players keep their own ball, only the best score on each hole is thrown out.

Why, you ask? Golf attracts a sadistic bunch, and this format is as callous as they come. The idea is to test the overall strength of your team, but it's an idea better in premise than practice, as it quickly becomes an indictment on those struggling.

Unless it's a "superintendent's revenge" outing, stay away from this at all costs.

No Format/Individual stroke play

How it works: Each competitors plays their own ball, no team affiliation.

Basically, what you see every week on the PGA Tour. Lacks imagination and, frankly, boring for an outing. Golfers don't get many opportunities for team competition; missing such a prime chance is borderline criminal. While each of the above formats has its shortcomings, all—even worst ball—are preferred than no parameters at all.