Rules of Four-Ball Golf

Rules of Four-Ball Golf – A Comprehensive Guide

Four-ball, also known as best ball, is a popular golf format that is played between two partners in a match. Unlike stroke play, which is scored individually, four-ball scoring is based on the best score between you and your partner on each hole. Knowing the standard rules of four-ball golf before teeing off is critical for avoiding penalties, simplifying scoring, and ensuring fairness. This comprehensive guide will teach you everything you need to know, including basic definitions and scoring procedures, equipment regulations, proper play order enforcement, and approved penalty relief options.

Define Key Four-Ball Golf Terms

Before explaining formal four-ball rules, it is important to understand a few key terms that will be used throughout this guide:

  • Side: The two-person team in a four-ball golf match. Scoring is based on the best score between the two players on each hole.
  • Four-Ball: Also known as “best ball,” this is a match format in which two partners play as a team, with the lowest score between them counting as the side’s score for the hole.
  • Honor is the right to play first from the teeing ground on a hole. Determined by the best score on the previous hole between the two teams.
  • Provisional Ball: A second ball hit in the event that the first shot is lost outside of the penalty area or goes out of bounds. Allows play to continue efficiently if the first ball is ruled lost or out.
  • Penalty Area: A body of water or other designated area requiring shot relief procedures. Formerly known as hazards.

Four-Ball Golf Scoring and Match Details

The basic scoring procedure for a round of four-ball golf works as follows:

Each team has two partners in the match. Each hole begins with both partners teeing off. The partner with the lowest score on the hole earns the side’s score. The highest score is disregarded. If two partners tie with the same score, the score is recorded. After finishing the hole, the process is repeated, with both players hitting tee shots from the next hole’s teeing ground. This scoring format is used until the end of the match.

Additional regulations to consider

Number of Clubs Allowed: Similar to standard golf, each player may carry no more than 14 clubs during the round. You can share clubs with your partner if you want.

Double Par Maximum per Hole: If both players on a side take more strokes than double par on a hole. The side’s maximum score is double par. Regardless of whether the ball is holed out.

Total Stroke Score Markers: After each hole of the round, place marker discs indicating each side’s cumulative total score. This makes it easier to total the final scores.

Proper Play Order Etiquette and Enforcement

Maintaining proper play order in four-ball golf matches eliminates confusion about whose turn it is to hit and when partners can provide advice. Here are the key rules to follow:

  • Honor System for Play Order: The “honor” or right to tee off first rotates between sides hole by hole based on the previous hole’s best score. This allows both scores from a hole to be posted before rotating.
  • Partners Alternate Shot Order: After both players tee off to begin a hole, the partner whose tee shot was chosen as the side’s score plays the second shot first. Players then alternate shots until they hole out.
  • Advice Allowance: A player may only seek or receive advice from his or her partner or caddie during the round. Other players may not give advice, except to clarify rules if asked. Partners should offer advice discreetly, without interfering with other players. Offering incorrect advice can result in a penalty.

Four-Ball Golf Equipment Rules and Regulations

Equipment regulations are consistent with standard golf rules in four-ball matches. Key regulations include:

  • 14 Club Max Between Both Bags: As partners, the total number of clubs permitted for the side remains 14 or fewer. You may let other players know which bag contains shared clubs.
  • Adjustments Allowed Anywhere Except the Putting Green: Clubs and other equipment, such as balls, may be adjusted or altered by the player or caddie at any time, except when the ball is on the putting green.
  • One Ball Rule: If any player uses a one-piece ball that is not on the USGA’s approved ball list, they will be disqualified. Make sure your ball is approved.
  • Distance Measuring Devices: Players may use distance measuring devices such as rangefinders to judge or measure distance during the round, provided that the device only measures distance. Using devices that measure other conditions, such as wind or slope, remains illegal. Partners may exchange distance information.

Penalty Relief Procedures for Four-Ball Golf

Various penalty relief situations may arise during a round, necessitating specific protocols to proceed properly under the rules.

  • Lost Ball Or Out of Bounds Shot: If a tee shot is possibly lost or out of bounds, hit a provisional ball before proceeding to search for the original ball to save time. The player hits again from his original position, adding one penalty stroke.
  • Unplayable Lie: If a player believes their ball is unplayable anywhere except in a penalty area, they take one penalty stroke and choose one of three relief options: return to the line of last shot, drop within two club lengths of the hole, or drop a ball behind the point ball lay no closer to the hole.
  • Water and Penalty Areas: Under a one-stroke penalty. Players have three options: play the original ball from the penalty area, take stroke and distance relief by playing again from where the last shot occurred, or drop laterally near the area where the point ball entered to determine the drop location.


Understanding the fundamental rules, scoring procedures. Proper etiquette guidelines, and penalty relief regulations simplifies four-ball golf matches while ensuring fair, standardized play. Now that you understand key terms, can enforce proper play order, adhere to equipment regulations. And administer relief options, you can hit the course with confidence and enjoy a round of four-ball best ball with friends or in tournaments. It is critical to ensure that all players in the match understand the basic protocols. Feel free to refer back to this guide if you have any questions!

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