Best ball golf tournament strategy

Most of us who love golf, enjoy playing in golf tournaments or special events. From the fun day out for charity to pro/am events, there are many different types of golf days out there. And there are some different ways to play, whether you are looking for amateur fun to the deadly serious competition.

One of the favorite event types in the world is a ‘best ball’ tournament. Here, you will find out everything you need to know to play in the ‘best ball’ events. I will tell you how to organize a team to play and win in the best ball event. If you want to win, you will need to perfect your ‘best ball’ strategy. There are some tips and tricks to develop your best ball golf tournament strategy, and we will share those with you as well.

What is the ‘best ball’ golf?

The principle is straightforward. You play in teams, and the score of the best player on each hole is the one which counts. The point of best ball golf play is this: it is a form of golf game where players of different levels of skill play against each other as part of a team.

It encourages participation of golfers at all levels. Even if you are a beginner, you might be invited to join a team as the rookie. You can then end up playing in a group with the highest handicapper in your club. Or you may be playing against the best-known golfer in our area or even a professional golfer with a national reputation.

Best ball golf is a lovely format for the game. It is good fun and nearly everyone who has ever played it wants to play it again. It combines the best of two worlds, individual play and being part of a team. Your talent can still shine in the best ball tournament. You and all the players have the support of others as well. You are playing in a team game.

The rules of best ball

Best ball is a team game with each team having the same numbers. But the sides can vary in size. These can be of two, three, or four players. Each player plays their ball throughout the game. Therefore, each player can keep their score if they want to.

The score which counts is the team score. On a per hole basis, the lowest score becomes the team score. In other words, the ‘best ball’ forms the team score. So, if you had four players in a team and player A completes a hole in two, player B in four, player C in three and player D in one, it is player D whose score counts. Your team can record One. Well done!

Best ball is a flexible format, and there are many formats. One popular one takes account of the individual handicap of the team members. In the scoring, we can award a free stroke to handicap players for each number of their handicap.

Free strokes

It works like this. The first free stroke is awarded on the most challenging hole, the next free stroke on the next most tricky hole and so on until the following strokes are all used up.

So, if you had a handicap of twelve, you would get twelve free strokes. You would play these strokes on the twelve most difficult holes on the course.

Standard golf rules, as devised and enforced by the United States Golf Association, apply to all the best ball formats. But, as we have seen with the handicap choices, within the rules, there can be flexibility and creativity.

The choices you make for your best ball tournament will depend on what the aim of the competition is. The objective of the rules makes the game as smooth as possible. A good guide is to design things to allow everyone to play to the best of their ability.

Here is one example. It could be that you want to keep the speed of the tournament going to keep all the invited players happy. You want everyone to get to play in a reasonable amount of time. You do not want players to be hanging around for hours to get onto the golf course.

It can be a particularly pressing issue in tournaments where the teams are made up of players at very different skill levels. In these circumstances some matches have this rule: If it is clear that a player will not be the one to make the hole in the lowest number of shots, then a ‘pick-up’ convention can apply.

On the team, the player who is taking the most shots to get to the hole is allowed to pick up the ball. They do not then participate in the play at that hole anymore. The rule applies to the other players in the team. Sometimes the organizers of the tournament will apply ‘some shots’ rule. For example, on a four-par hole, any player taking more than six shots will pick up their ball.

Scoring in best ball tournaments

While the basic concept is simple, scoring in the best ball can vary in certain ways. Some matches record just simple scores and then adjust for handicaps at the end.

Some take in individual scores as well as the lowest, or ‘best ball’ score. (This can be an exciting addition for all the players, as they have a record of how well they have done as well as the team performance). Some tournaments also score handicaps.

Developing a strategy for best ball play

The complexity of the ‘best ball’ lies not in its rules but the approach. It comes down to two main areas. The people skills, this is about choosing the right team. And the golf stroke skills, this is using your team’s strengths to their best and compensating for their weaknesses.

The people skills: choosing the right partners for your best ball golf team

It is an essential part of the strategy to get this right. Let’s start by considering two-person play. We are starting here because it is easier to select one person than another three. Also, you are likely to come across two-person teams sooner or later. Some tournaments will have early rounds where the teams are two-person. If the team gets through these rounds, it will play the later rounds in four-person teams.

Here are some ideas for choosing your team.

Do not choose someone like yourself. Choose someone whose skills and personality differ from but complement your own.

Think about this. Are you a player who likes to take chances, even if there is a good chance you will miss? If that sounds like you, then a more conservative player might make a good partner.

You need to work out with your partner how your different styles will work together. Perhaps you will decide you, as the more aggressive player, should play the first shots. Then if you mess up, your partner can play safe, but at least he will get on the green.

Alternatively, your partner can go first and if he has made a good shot you can go all out for that killer shot. Each can work in different circumstances. It is essential to know what the other player is going to do.

The people skills: be good golf buddies

The best ‘best ball’ teams are ones that get along well together. Often people will play together for years and get to know each other’s game inside out. 

Choose someone with whom you get on. Always go for someone with whom you can discuss things. You will want to chew over the ins and outs of your play when you have finished.

Choose someone who you enjoy practicing with and with whom you share the same view of golf.

If you build up a healthy relationship, you will have a secret weapon when the tension builds in a match. A strong team can withstand much more pressure than a group of people who are unfamiliar with each other or who do not get on with each other.

The people skills for three and four-player teams: get the best skill mix possible

With three and four player-teams you can be more flexible. Make sure you have a suitable combination of skills. There is no point in having four players who hit great fairway shots but cannot putt. The key to good best ball strategy is a brilliantly balanced team.

Let’s start at the top. You should aim to get one outstanding player on your team. Find one player who is a scratch golfer, or as near as you can get. He or she should act as your team leader. He or she will advise the rest of the team on strategy and help them play the right shot.

The main job of the leader is to make sure that the team gets to at least par on every hole. Not an easy task.

The people skills for three and four-player teams: are your expectations the same?

Think about the practicalities off the golf course as well as on it. If you are preparing for some big events are all the team on the same page? Are they all ready to put in a similar amount of practice, for example? Are they all able to meet at the time needed? Choosing people with the same level of commitment is advisable, or you will end up with tension and arguments in the team. It is the last thing you want. Not only will it spoil your fun, people who are not getting on rarely play well together.

The golf stroke skills

You need to plan out your strategy to get the most out of your best ball team. It means thinking through every shot on each hole.

The golf stroke skills: a strategy for tee shots

Choose which player should tee off for each hole. Start with the weakest players. It gives the whole team an advantage. It means that after the weaker players have made their shots, the best player has the most information possible. He can then choose his strategy.

If the weaker players have misplayed, he can play for safety. If the others have performed beyond expectations, then the best player can make a riskier shot. And that shot might be the winner.

If your players are all of a similar standard, a different strategy might pay off. Here you might play your two weaker players first and last, with the better two in the middle. It evens out the pressure.

It is only an excellent player, standing well above the rest that can withstand the pressure of having to take the last shot on every hole. So, playing the best players in the middle takes the pressure off and enables the players who are a bit better to shine. True teamwork.

Another strategy is to play your best player first. Take into account the personalities of your players here. If you know you have players that react poorly to pressure, it might be best to play your best player first. If they make a good shot, and you are expecting them to do just that, the weaker players can relax.

With the pressure off, they may play better shots. It will depend on the particular make-up of the players. Some players react better under stress. Some crumble under pressure. If you have some players who you fear might crumble, then consider playing your best player first.

The golf stroke skills: a strategy for fairway shots

It can make sense to play your weaker players first. Then the stronger players can decide how to play as they will know where the team stands. If the weaker players have folded, then a safety-first strategy is probably best. If the weaker players have outstripped expectations, then, the better players can be more aggressive. They can go for their very best shots and perhaps wipe out the opposition.

The golf stroke skills: approach shots

As you get nearer the pin, things tighten up. There is less room for mistakes, and you will be even more reliant on your best players. Most good best ball strategists favor holding their best player back at this stage.

If everyone else has played their shot first, this lets the leader decide what he needs to do. If the weaker players have done well and got their balls onto the green, the best player can go for it. Can she hole from this point? Often, she will try and sometimes she will succeed.

But if the weaker players have not managed to get onto the green, the best player can play it safe, with a gentler approach. An approach she knows will get the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes reasonably possible.

The golf stroke skills: putting

Often the best putter is not the most reliable player on the team in all areas of the game. If that is true of your team, this is your star putter’s chance to shine.

Play them first if they have made a right approach shot and are within a reasonable striking distance of the hole. Otherwise, play the player who is nearest the hole, this will usually be your best player, but if not still go with it. When you are this near the strategy is simple. Play your best putter first. Or play the player who is nearest the hole.

Best ball golf tournament strategy conclusion

It’s the fun of golf. It’s unpredictable. The best-honed strategy might be seriously challenged out there on the day.

If one of your weaker golfers is playing brilliantly, then do not be afraid to go with it. You might have a future champion on your hands!

Conversely, if your most reliable player is having a bad day then be prepared to adjust quickly. It is easier to do if you have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your whole team.

For example, if your best player is having a nightmare day, you might want to rely on your coolest player. You know the one, the guy who has ice water in his veins and never panics. It’s all about finding the right skills and personality for the particular situation. If you learn to do this well, you will motivate the whole team.

Enjoy your best ball golf.

Leave a comment