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Medal (Stroke) Play in Golf [Plus Other Tournament Formats]

Medal (Stroke) Play in Golf [Plus Other Tournament Formats]

If you’re new to the game of golf, you may be surprised to know that there are several ways to keep score. I confess that I was clueless prior to my first round. One of my playing partners asked me if I wanted to play match or stroke play.

Most people are familiar with standard stroke play (also known as medal play) in golf. There are many tournament formats that can add some pizzazz to your golfing experience.

In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into Stroke Play, Match Play, Stableford, Skins, and more.


Table of Contents

  • What is Medal (Stroke Play) in Golf?
  • Stroke play vs. Match Play
  • Other Formats for Golf Tournaments

What is Medal (Stroke Play) in Golf?

You will most likely see stroke play professional tournaments on your TV, if you turn it on to watch some golf on weekends. Stroke, or medal, play is golf’s most popular scoring system. This format allows each golfer to record how many strokes they take to complete each hole.

Each player adds up their total strokes for each hole after the round. The winner is the golfer who has the fewest strokes. That’s the gist of the rules for basic medal play.

The other type of stroke play is for handicaps. What’s a handicap? It’s a scoring system that’s used to level the playing field between advanced golfers and those who aren’t quite so skilled. If you’re familiar with football betting, it works like the point spread.

Here’s a quick example:

Let’s say you’re a +18 handicap and playing against a more talented golfer who’s a +9. Your opponent must give you nine strokes after the last hole. To be declared the winner, your opponent must beat you by at least 10 strokes.


Stroke play vs. Match Play

Although stroke play is the most common golf format, match play is perhaps the most exciting. If you’ve ever watched Team USA take on Team Europe in the Ryder Cup, that’s an example of match play.

Match play requires that each player maintains a consistent pace on each hole. However, the overall number of strokes for the entire round doesn’t factor into who wins the tournament.

Match play simply means that each golfer is trying to win every hole. Each competitor counts up the number of holes they have won to determine who the winner is at the end. Match play tournaments are fun as golfers often take more risky shots to outdo their opponents.


Other Formats for Golf Tournaments

Match play and stroke are the most popular tournament formats. There are some other scoring systems that you can and your playing partners could try during your next round. Here’s a brief list of 3 other tournament formats.


If you’ve ever played in a charity golf tournament, you’re probably familiar with the best ball scramble format. It’s one of the most enjoyable ways to play golf. It’s easier to add up scores when foursomes play together.

Each foursome will play the same way as usual. Instead of each player playing their own drive, the entire team will choose the best. This is the cadence for the entire round.

Scramble takes the pressure off and allows folks to have a good time on the golf course because there’s very little chance for penalties. That’s why it’s popular for charity events and company team-building outings. If you and your friends are just starting out with golf, we highly recommend the best balls scramble.


Traditional stroke play aims to achieve the lowest total net score. Stableford does the exact opposite, as the golfer with a higher actual score wins.

Stableford does not count total strokes or penalty strokes. Instead, each golfer is awarded points according to how they perform on each hole.

Here’s a breakdown of how points are awarded in Stableford:

  • Bogey – 1 Point
  • Par – 2 Points
  • Birdie – 3 Points
  • Eagle – 4 Points
  • Albatross – 5 Points

Zero points are awarded for any score below a bogey. Stableford is a fun game, as golfers are rewarded for playing great holes. They also don’t get severely penalized for the really bad holes, which is another bonus!


Here’s another tournament format that used to be popular on the PGA Tour. In a skins game, each hole is worth a predetermined amount. The skin is awarded to the competitor with the lowest net score.

When there are ties on holes, skins games become even more exciting. The skin for the hole that is tied will carry over to the next hole.

For example, let’s say that hole #1 is worth $10. If player A or player D both birdie hole #1, that $10 is transferred into hole #2, making it $20.