How to Play a 'Bowmaker' Golf Tournament

Plus the Pro Tour Event That Was Called a Bowmaker

Golf ball with a bow on it
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A Bowmaker golf tournament is one that uses 4-person teams, and on each hole two or more of the team members' scores are combined to create the team's score. Scoring is typically based on Stableford points in a bowmaker.

The term "bowmaker" for this type of event is more likely to be encountered in the U.K. That name is rarely used in the United States, but the format is a familiar one. Among the similar formats are 1-2-3 Best Ball, Fourball Alliance, Arizona Shuffle and Low Ball/High Ball. All combine two or more team members' scores to form the team's score on each hole.

The thing that typically distinguishes the bowmaker tournament from those other formats is the use of Stableford points.

Example of Bowmaker Scoring

One of the most common ways of playing a bowmaker is to combine the two best scores among the four golfers on the team on each hole. The two low balls count for the team score, in other words.

If the best scores among the four team members on Hole 1 are a 3 and 5, then the team score is 8 on that hole. Simple.

Just remember that bowmakers often use Stableford scoring. If the one you're playing does that, you'll be combining Stableford points, not stroke totals, on each hole.

Variations Involve the Number of Scores Used Per Hole

In addition to the simplest versions (two-low-balls-per-hole scoring), there are multiple variations in the number of scores per hole that count and that can be used in a bowmaker.

One common variation is this:

  • On Holes 1-6, only the one low score on the team counts;
  • On Holes 7-12, the two best balls are combined for the team score;
  • On Holes 13-18, the three low scores are combined on each hole.

Another variation is to use the one low ball on par-3 holes, two low balls on par-4 holes and three low balls on par-5 holes.

But a bowmaker always boils down to this: It's a 4-person-team event in which members of the team are playing their own golf balls throughout, and a specified number of the team members' scores count on each hole.

The Former Pro Event Named 'Bowmaker Tournament'

For nearly 15 years, ending in 1971, golfers on the precursor to the European Tour had a tour stop in England that was named "Bowmaker Tournament" or "Bowmaker Cup." The event was a pro-am that usually took place at Sunningdale Golf Club in England. It was a 36-hole tournament; in some years, it used a team format and in other years singles stroke play. It did not use the bowmaker format described above, so why it took that name is unclear.

The English Bowmaker Tournament was played from 1957 through 1971 and among its champions were Hall-of-Famers Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson and Kel Nagle. Here is the list of winners:

  • 1957—Bobby Locke/Frank Jowle
  • 1958—Bernard Hunt/Peter Mills
  • 1959—Bobby Locke
  • 1960—Peter Thomson
  • 1961—Bob Charles
  • 1962—Kel Nagle
  • 1963—Peter Butler
  • 1964—Neil Coles
  • 1965—Kel Nagle
  • 1966—Fred Boobyer
  • 1967—Peter Butler
  • 1968—Clive Clark
  • 1969—Tony Grubb/Brian Huggett
  • 1970—Neil Coles
  • 1971—Peter Oosterhuis

It's clear from that list that the tournament was a well-liked one by the touring pros of the time, despite being only 36 holes and not offering much of a purse. Visit the Wikipedia page on the tournament for more info.