PGA Match Play Rules

Whether it’s the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup or the World Golf Championships, match play can provide an exciting alternative to standard stroke play.

The PGA Tour does not run any match-play events on its own but it is involved in events run in conjunction with other world golf organizations.

The PGA of America and its sections also run match-play events for club professionals. The basic shot-by-shot game of golf remains the same in all PGA events, whether they're stroke play or match play competitions, but match play rules vary from stroke play rules.

Basic Rules

Match play’s basic regulations are contained in Rule 2 of the United States Golf Association’s standard Rules of Golf, which defines match play as “one side playing against another over a stipulated round." Match competition is played by holes. A side wins a hole by taking fewer strokes on that particular hole than the opponent or opponents. The side that wins more holes wins the match. The match ends when one side leads by more holes than remain to be played in an 18-hole round.

Types of Match Play

The Rules of Golf recognize six forms of match play. Single play is a head-to-head competition between two golfers.

In a threesome of match play, one golfer competes against two players, with each side playing one ball. A foursome is a match in which two-player teams compete, with each side playing one ball.

In a three-ball match, each player competes against the other two golfers on each hole; in effect, the golfers play two matches per hole. Best-ball competition features one golfer playing against the better ball of two or three other players, while four-ball entails two-golfer teams playing their better ball against their opponents' better ball.

Match Play Exceptions

Most of the standard Rules of Golf that apply to stroke play also apply to match play, but there are some exceptions. In match play, for example, a golfer may concede a shot – generally a very short putt – to the opponent, who’s considered to have holed out the shot. Unlike a stroke play event, a player may practice on the course he will be playing that day, prior to the match play competition. There is no penalty in match play if a golfer tees off from outside the tee box, although an opponent can require the golfer to immediately replay the shot from within the box.

Unique Rules

Some rules are unique to match play due to the nature of the competition.

For example, golfers on the same side must play in the proper order.

If a player takes a shot out of turn, that golfer's side loses the hole. The order of play is determined similar to stroke play.

The side that most recently won a hole has the honor and tees off first.

Thereafter, the player farthest from the hole begins the next round of shots. Additionally, match play partners may share clubs, as long as the side’s clubs total 14 or fewer.