How to Play the Chapman System Golf Format

Including Handicap Allowances and the Chapman Golf Format's Namesake

A man and a woman leaving a green after playing golf together
Chapman System is a good format for male-female teams, as well as other 2-person teams. Chris Ryan/Caiaimage/Getty Images

"Chapman System" is the name of a 2-person team competition format for golfers that works like this:

  • Both golfers on the side hit drives;
  • Each plays the other's ball for the second shots;
  • The best of the second shots is selected, and from there the two partners play alternate shot into the hole.

Chapman can be played at match play by one two-person team against another (either in a tournament setting or as wagering format), or used as a stroke-play tournament format. And Chapman is a good format for a group of four golfers of differing playing abilities who pair off 2-vs.-2, for reasons we'll explain.

We'll provide a stroke-by-stroke example of playing Chapman System below, along with handicap allowances, but first:

  • Also Known As: Chapman System also goes by a couple different names. The most common alternate name is Pinehurst System. It is sometimes also called American Foursomes. A tournament organizer might also label this format simply Chapman or Pinehurst (without the "system"), or substitute "scoring" or "format" for "system" (e.g., Chapman scoring or Chapman format).

Who Put the 'Chapman' in Chapman System?

Dick Chapman, born in 1911 and died in 1978, is the namesake of the Chapman System format. Chapman won the 1940 U.S. Amateur and the 1951 British Amateur championships. He shares the record for most Masters appearances by an amateur with 19 (and finished as high as 11th in 1954). Chapman also played on three American Walker Cup teams.

Some sources state that Chapman developed the Chapman System in conjunction with the USGA, or at the USGA's behest. However, a 1953 article in the USGA Journal and Turf Management publication makes clear that the creation of Chapman scoring was serendipitous. After stating that Dick and his wife Eloise "have popularized (the format) at Pinehurst, N.C., and Oyster Harbors, on Cape Cod," the article states that "Eloise and Dick developed this system ... after playing two rounds with Mr. and Mrs. Robert Pearse at Pinehurst in 1947."

Dick Chapman liked the format so much that he donated two trophies to Pinehurst Resort for Chapman System tournaments, one for men, one for women, that began in 1947 and are still conducted annually.

Example: Playing the Chapman System

Summarizing, Chapman System works like this: Both golfers on a side tee off, they switch balls after the drives, then select the one better ball after the second shots, and play alternate shot from there until the ball is holed.

Our partners are Golfer A and Golfer B. On the first tee, both players tee off. But Golfer A walks to B's drive, and Golfer B walks to A's drive: they switch balls for the second strokes. So both golfers hit second strokes (again, A playing B's ball and B playing A's ball).

After those second strokes, they walk ahead and compare the results. Which ball is in the better position? They select the one ball they want to continue with; the other ball is picked up.

Now: Who plays the third stroke? The golfer whose second shot was not used plays the third stroke. Let's say A hits a great second shot, B hits a lousy one. A's second shot is the one the team decides to continue with, so Golfer B plays the third stroke.

And from there it's alternate shot until the ball goes in the hole: Since B played the third shot, A plays the fourth, B plays the fifth, continuing until the ball is holed (but we hope your team doesn't have to continue much farther than that).

Repeat the process on Hole 2 and enjoy your round.

Still not clear? Watch a short video in which two golfers play a hole Chapman-style.

Dick Chapman's point in developing this "system" is that it works for two golfers of unequal abilities. The golfers switch balls after the drive, so a better golfer is (probably) playing from farther back, while the weaker partner (probably) is playing a better drive. And the alternate shot only begins on Stroke 3, when the ball should be much closer to or even on the green (depending on the hole's par, of course).

Playing Chapman System with Handicaps

If playing your team against my team with all four golfers of equal abilities, play it at scratch. But Chapman is a great game for twosomes of varying abilities, or husbands and wives.

Handicap allowances for Chapman System competitions can be found in the USGA Handicap Manual, Section 9-4 ( As always, start by determining each partner's course handicap.

  • Chapman handicaps in match play: The partner with the lower course handicap gets 60-percent of that number, while the partner with the higher course handicap gets 40 percent. Combine the two golfers' allowances for the team allowance. After the two sides in a match determine their allowances in this manner, the side with the lower allowance plays off scratch and the side with the higher allowance gets the difference between the two sides. For example, if Side A has a course handicap of 7 and Side B one of 16, A plays off 0 and B plays off 9 (16 minus 7 = 9). (For more explanation and examples, see Section 9-4a(ix) of the USGA Handicap Manual.)
  • Chapman handicaps in stroke play: The partner with the lower course handicap gets 60-percent of that number, the partner with the higher course handicap receives 40-percent. Combine the two results for the team's course handicap. (For more details and an example, see Section 9-4b(vii) of the USGA Handicap Manual.)