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Match vs Stroke Play: Definitions and Differences to Know

Match vs Stroke Play: Definitions and Differences to Know

We play against ourselves and the golf course when we play golf.

In a typical round, however, there are often more than one game. You might be playing against a friend, or competitor. This match will usually be either stroke play or match play.

All golfers should be able to play both stroke and match play. Let’s take a look at some of the differences, the rules you should know, and a few of our best tips for winning your next match.


Table of Contents

  • The Main Differences Between Match Play and Stroke Play
  • Basic Rules of Matchplay
  • Basic Rules of Stroke Play
  • Is Match and Stroke Play ever done at the same time?
  • Match vs Stroke Play: Strategy

Match Play vs. Stroke: The Main Differences

The competition’s structure is what makes match play and strokeplay different. Stroke play is a competition in which you count the strokes and attempt to have the most at the end.

Match play is a match against a single competitor. It is played hole-by-hole. Match play does not require you to play 18 holes.


Scoring for stroke play events is the same as for any round. There are no mulligans or gimmies, just play your own ball from first tee to 18th hole.

Match play allows you view each hole as an individual part of the tournament. If you score a 3, your partner will score a 4. You are one down. Match play events can be confusing because you may not know what you are shooting. Instead, you may know exactly where you are standing.


There are two ways to play a golf event: stroke play or match play. In match play, you need to beat one person; in stroke play, it’s typically an entire group of people. Both stroke and match play events can have handicaps.

Finishing a Hole

Match play may result in a putt being conceded. Your opponent may tell your opponent that the putt is good enough even if the ball is only a few feet from the cup. This is not possible in stroke play because the ball must always reach the bottom of each cup.

Tournament Length/Results

A stroke play event can have 18 holes or 72 holes as a PGA Tour event. Although a match play can be one round, these typically start as a much broader type of event where you have to make it through several rounds to be declared the event’s winner.


Basic Rules of Matchplay

Match play is a hole by hole event in which you play against a competitor head-to-head. There are match play situations in which two teams can play against each other, but to keep it simple, we will be focusing on singles match play.

The basic rules are that you play the ball until the ball reaches the hole. If your score is a 5 and your competitor’s score is a 6, you will go one up after the first hole. If your competitor wins the next hole the match will be all square.

Matches continue like this until they can’t continue anymore, and there are not enough holes left to play that would change the outcome. For example, if you are 4 ahead with 3 holes remaining, you have won.

Golf holes can be conceded in match play. If you hit three balls in the water from the tee, you can concede a hole and your opponent is declared the winner.


Basic Rules of Stroke Play

Stroke play refers to when you have to count the number of strokes it takes to play an 18-hole round. If you have 91 shots and the lowest round of the day was 85, then you are six shots off the lead.

In stroke play, each hole must be completed in order to receive your final score. This event allows more players to compete against one another.


Is Match and Stroke Play ever done at the same time?

Match play and stroke are not allowed to be played simultaneously. Because the rules are slightly different, each competition must be its own.

Although match play and stroke have similar rules, you can lose strokes in match play. The two formats just don’t work together.


Match vs Stroke Play: Strategy

I’ve played a lot of tournament golf through the years, and I can tell you that the stroke play events are always my lower scoring rounds; match play is just an entirely different format. It is easier to play against yourself than against another person on each hole. These are some of my top tips that have helped me score high over the years.

Tips for your next Match Play event

The problem with match play is that you can see exactly what your opponent is doing. When they have a bad hole, you have to ensure that you don’t do the same thing just because they are. You will be a better player if you stay in your own game and remain focused.

  • Don’t get too aggressive just because your opponent did
  • Try to make a hole if someone makes a birdie.
  • Be realistic about your abilities, but be aggressive

Tips for your next Stroke Play Event

Stroke play demands that you pay close attention to each shot. You won’t have to worry about what competitors are doing; instead, just try to have the lowest stroke total of the day. This should feel like a separate competition, where you only play the course.

  • Pay attention to the short putts. They count
  • Concentrate on what you excel at and capitalize whenever possible
  • Avoid 2 stroke penalties and big numbers whenever possible