Playing High-Low Golf Game (High Ball-Low Ball)

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High Ball-Low Ball is an engaging game for four golfers playing in two-person teams. The two teams compare their respective high balls, and their respective low balls, and points are awarded for the better of the high and low scores on each hole.

The game can be referred to simply as High-Low (Hi-Lo) or High Ball-Low Ball (hi Ball-Lo Ball) or even reversed as Low Ball-High Ball. 

High-Low is frequently used instead of four-ball or foursomes when playing 2-on-2 matches.

This article will cover the basic scoring structure of High-Low and examples to consider. We’ll also explore some variations of the game (including High-Low-Total) and discuss strategies to be successful in this common golf scoring format.

high-low golf game and scorecard
High-Low Scoring

How To Play High Ball-Low Ball

First the group of four players is split into two teams of two-players each. A ball throw, coin flip, or tee toss could be used to select sides.

All four players will play their own ball as they normally would in a standard stoke play game. At the end of each hole, the scores are compared, and points are awarded.

In this example, Team 1 will include Player A & B while Team 2 consists of Player X & Y. On the first hole, Player A makes 3, Player B makes 6, Player X makes 5, and Player Y makes 4. 

The scorekeeper will compare the lowest scores from each team (3 & 4) to determine the first point. The second point is determined by comparing the highest scores from each team (6 & 5).

Team 1 Team 2
Player A Player B Player X Player Y
Scores 3 6 5 4
High-Low Low High High Low
Points *1* *1*

As you can see, Team 1 is awarded the low point because the 3 scored by Player A is better than the 4 scored by Player Y. However, Team 2 is awarded the high point because the 5 scored by Player X is better than the 6 scored by Player B. In this scenario, each team is awarded one point and the players move on to hole #2.

How To Handle High Ball-Low Ball Ties

Frequently, players will be tied for either (or both) the high and low scores. How are these points handled?

In most versions of the game, the point is simply ignored. Only outright wins will earn points. Neither team receives any points for the tied ball and the game moves on to the next hole. This is the standard way to score ties in High-Low and is the most common method. 

Some players chose to split the points and award each team a half point for the tied ball. This approach doesn’t change the outcome of the game when compared to the standard method of ignoring the points, but it can complicate the scorekeeper’s job slightly.

Other players will prefer to carry over points. For example, if the high ball is tied on the first hole, the high will be worth double (2 points) on the second hole. If the high ball is tied again on the second hole, it will be valued at 3 points on the third hole. Carry over points can be fun, but the games will often swing wildly as they progress. 

Strategies For High Ball-Low Ball

Winning a golf game of High-Low is not especially complicated. Most of the same strategies you would use to score well in a standard stroke play game are applicable in the High-Low format.

However, team games always open some strategic opportunities. Helping each other read putts or determine distances is always good practice when playing on a team. 

You may also adjust your approach to specific shots based on what your teammate or your opponents do. If you partner hits is very close to the hole ensuring him the low point, you can be more conservative because only the high ball will be needed to earn both points for that hole.

It can also make sense to putt out of order in some circumstances. If your partner has a chance to win the low ball by making a long putt, you might want to putt first to provide a read if you ball is on a similar line as your partner’s ball.

Using Handicaps For High-Low

Standard golf handicaps can easily be applied to a game of High-Low. In fact, handicaps are highly recommended to keep the game fair and exciting throughout the round.

You can choose to play the strokes “as they lie,” which means each player receives all of their shots on the appropriate holes. (i.e., player with a course handicap of five receive one shot on each of the five hardest holes)

More commonly, the three highest handicap players will “play off” of the lowest handicap player. For example, if one player is a 5 handicap and the other three players are 8 handicaps, each of the three higher handicap players will receive one shot on the three hardest holes. (8-5=3)

What Does A Golf Handicap Mean?
High-Low Golf Handicaps

Variations On High Ball-Low Ball

High-Low-Total

Expanding the standard High-Low golf game to include Total score is a common modification and usually referred to as High-Low-Total. In this version of the game, there are three points available on every hole rather than just two.

The winner of the high ball and low ball is determined the same way as described above. At the end of each hole, the scores are compared, and points are awarded.

To determine the winner of the total ball points, you simply add the two scores on each team together and compare the two total scores. Continuing the example above, Team 1 scored 9 (3+6=9) and Team 2 also scored 9 (4+5=9) so the point would be tied. 

Birdies Double

Another way to vary High-Low is to add incentives for under par scores. Most commonly, winning a point with a birdie will double the value of that point. A winning score with an eagle could then be worth three points. This modification is rare since High-Low is already an exciting game without any gimmicky additions.

Scotch

Speaking of gimmicky, Scotch could be considered a variation of High-Low. Scotch is similar in the sense that points are awarded on each hole. Frequently, the low individual score and the total team score are included along with the closest to the pin as ways to earn points in Scotch. We have a full article detailing how to play Scotch if you’re interested in learning more. 

Conclusions 

High-Low is a common way to play 2-on-2 golf matches. It requires all players to stay focused and complete each hole. High-Low encourage team play and allows for many variations, side bets, and other additions to add interest. Give High Ball-Low Ball a try next time you hit the links with your regular foursome.

David Shelly

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