What Is 4-Ball (or Four-Ball) In Golf?

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Four-ball is one the most exciting formats of golf for players and spectators alike.

It’s used in amateur, college and professional golf tournaments. Most famously, four-ball is a featured format during the semi-annual Ryder Cup.

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it before, plenty of people haven’t but once they have, they’re instantly hooked!

Read on to find out more about everybody’s favorite type of golfing contest…

What Is 4 Ball In Golf

Four-Ball Golf Format

Four-ball is a commonly played golf format with two teams of two golfers competing against each other. It’s often referred to as Best Ball or Better Ball and can sometimes be abbreviated 4BBB.

The 2-on-2 structure makes four-ball the perfect game for your regular weekend foursome. Here is how it works.

Each golfer plays their own ball all the way into the hole. The lowest individual score on each team is used as the team score for the hole.

How To Play Four-Ball

Imagine Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are competing on the same team in a four-ball golf match (what a dream partnership!).

Woods scores 4 on the first hole and McIlroy scores 5, only Woods’ score is counted, and the team will have a total score of 4. If their opponents best score is 5, Wood/McIlroy win the hole. The process is repeated for the entire round until a winner is determined.

Interestingly, for the game format to work properly, both golfers on each team don’t even need to finish a hole, just one of them.

Continuing with the Woods and McIlroy example. If McIlroy goes first and makes a score of 4, Woods only need to beat that score to improve his team’s overall score.

Therefore, if he gets to his 5th stroke and still hasn’t made the hole, he doesn’t need to finish the hole, and McIlroy’s score is the only one counted.

Four-ball is usually played in a match play format. In which case, each individual hole is won, lost or tied until a winning team is determined. Now that you understand the basic four-ball format, let’s look at alternate ways to play the game.

4-ball graphic
Four-Ball Scoring

Alternative Formats

There are many different ways to play four-ball. Here are some great ways to shake up this classic golf game.

Alternative Formats: More Teams

Four-ball can also be played in a stroke play format. In this case, the scores are compared at the end of the round and the team with the lowest total strokes is declared the winner. When using stroking play, the game is more often called Best Ball or Low Ball or Better Ball.

The stoke play version also enables you to play the game with more teams. Do you have 12 players across three groups, Best Ball is the perfect way for all three groups to compete together.

In fact, four-ball with stroke play (Best Ball) is a very common tournament format for as many 60+ two-person teams to compete all at once using a shotgun start.

Alternative Formats: More Players Per Team

Another four-ball alternative is to expand the number of players on each team. Teams of three or four players can use the same format of selecting the best score among all the players on the team.

This version of the game is most frequently called Best Ball. In almost all cases, the 3-4 players/team version will utilize stroke play. Groups are most often limited to four players, so match play is not practical for teams with three or more players.

Alternative Formats: Similar But Different

There are many other two-person golf games that can be played in a similar way.

For example, High-Low is like four-ball except all four player’s scores count. In High-Low, the lowest score from each team are compared and a point is awarded for the best “low ball.” The high scores are also compared and another point is awarded for the best “high ball.”

Another option is Foursomes, more commonly known as Alternate Shot or Foursomes. The players on each team share a single ball and take turns hitting each shot until the ball is holed.

We’ll be publishing many more article on each of these variations (and many other game formats) until the Golf Games section of the site.

Rules Of Four-Ball Golf

The most interesting thing about 4-ball golf is how it removes the solitary, solo aspect of regular golf competitions and turns it into a team.

Just like with any kind of competitive team format, there is a strict set of rules in place that exist separately from the actual gameplay itself. Here are some examples:

  • A player on one team can mark, lift, drop, and clean their partner’s ball as if it were their own (following the same normal golfing rules for all of these actions).
  • A caddie can offer advice to both players in a single team as if they were one golfer.
  • One player in a team can make executive decisions about conceding a hole or a shot on behalf of their teammate.
  • If one player in a team fails to arrive at the course on time, their partner can continue to play on their own until they show up.
  • Both players can decide which order to play their shots in, considering which order would be most strategically advantageous for their team.
What Is 4 Ball In Golf

What Makes Four-Ball Golf So Much Fun?

Like we’ve already said, four-ball golf is one of the fan’s favorite formats for competitions, but why is it so enjoyable to watch?

Well, it’s mainly because the format itself encourages risk-taking and ambitious plays.

For example, the last player to act on a hole will know exactly how many strokes they need to improve their team’s score or beat the other team.

This often means there’s no point in playing it safe and getting a worse score than your partner. Therefore, the player is encouraged to make some pretty ambitious shots to try to score birdies and eagles.

Related articles: Must-Know Golf Scoring Terms

Another reason this format is fun to watch is because it means every shot counts. The last player to act in the hole could end up being the difference between winning and losing.

Can You Use Handicaps For Four-Ball?

Absolutely! Four-ball works perfectly with golf handicaps.

All you need to do is determine each player’s course handicap for that day and the course/tee boxes you are playing. Add one stoke to each of the hardest holes matching the number of the course handicap.

For example, a 6-handicap player will receive one shot (tick) on each of the six hardest holes. That player will be able to subtract one stroke from their score on those six holes to create a net score that can be used for the team.

Is Four-Ball Golf Harder Than Regular Formats?

In terms of basic golfing techniques and abilities, four-ball is no more difficult than playing a regular game of solo golf.

The only difference is that four-ball players at the professional level need to be better at the more complex, risky shots to try to outscore their teammate.

The only other difference in terms of the skill sets required for four-ball and regular golf is in terms of strategy.

Obviously, being able to decide which order to play your shots in as a team is something that needs to be considered, and it often becomes a key discussion point between both team members and their caddies.


Four-ball golf is a great way to challenge yourself and test your skills against another person. It also gives you the chance to compete with someone who has similar skills to you.

It’s a fun and exciting competition that encourages a lot of risk-taking and strategic maneuvers, so why not get onto a course with some friends and give it a try?

David Shelly
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