How to Play the 1-2-3 Best Ball Tournament

Four golfers putting on a green by a water hazard
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"1-2-3 Best Ball" is the name of a golf tournament format for 4-person teams in which a different number of team members' scores are counted on each hole:

  • On the first hole, the one best score among the four teammates is the team score;
  • on the second hole, the two best scores are combined for the team score;
  • on the third hole, the three best scores are combined for the team score.

One-two-three. On the fourth hole, that rotation starts over and continues through the round.

This format is sometimes called 4-Man Cha Cha Cha. Similar, but not identical, games are Irish Four Ball and Arizona Shuffle.

Playing 1-2-3 Best Ball

Each golfer on a team plays his own ball throughout the round - just regular stroke play for each golfer. (Note that tournament organizers can decree some other form of play, or can decide to use Stableford scoring, but typical stroke play is most common.) The difference in 1-2-3 Best Ball is the number of scores counted on each hole.

In typical best ball or better ball, it's only the one low score per hole among the teammates that is counted. But in 1-2-3 Best Ball, it's the one low ball, then the two, then the three that are counted. The effect is to keep all the golfers in the quartet involved in the action and contributing to the team score. Even the weakest golfer on a team will have opportunities to contribute to the team score.

One drawback to 1-2-3 Best Ball is that it takes longer to play compared to a scramble.

Scorekeeping in 1-2-3 Best Ball

Let's run through a scorekeeping example just to make sure everyone gets the scoring method described above.

Here are the first six holes of a 1-2-3 Best Ball round. What is the team score on each hole?

No. 1 No. 2 No. 3 No. 4 No. 5 No. 6
Golfer A 3 4 5 4 4 3
Golfer B 6 4 4 6 5 4
Golfer C 5 7 5 4 5 6
Golfer D 5 6 6 5 6 7
  • On the first hole, the team score is 3. Only the one lowest score among the four teammates counts on No. 1.
  • On No. 2, the two low balls count, so the team score is 8 (Golfer A's 4 combined with Golfer B's 4).
  • On No. 3, the team score is 14, because the three low balls count (Golfer A's 5 plus Golfer B's 4 plus Golfer C's 5).

On No. 4, it's back to the one low ball as the rotation starts over, so the scores for Nos. 4, 5 and 6 in the example above are 4, 9 and 13, respectively.

We used gross scores in our example, but a 1-2-3 Best Ball tournament can use handicaps and net scores, too.

The 1-2-3 Best Ball Rotation

As noted, it goes one low ball on No. 1, two on No. 2 and three on No. 3, then back one on No. 4 and so on. What you wind up with over the course of the round is a rotation that looks like this:

  • One low ball is used on Holes 1, 4, 7, 10, 13 and 16;
  • two low balls are used on Holes 2, 5, 8, 11, 14 and 17;
  • and three low balls are used on Holes 3, 6, 9, 12, 15 and 18.