How to Play the Irish Four Ball Golf Tournament Format

Four golfers playing at Ballybunion links in Ireland
No, you don't have to be Irish or playing in Ireland to play Irish Four Ball. (But these four golfers are - they are playing the Irish links Ballybunion.). Design Pics Inc./Perspectives/Getty Images

Irish Four Ball is a golf tournament format with the following elements:

  • It is played by teams of four golfers;
  • Each golfer on the team plays his or her own golf ball throughout;
  • The golfers play stroke play but use Stableford or Modified Stableford scoring;
  • A pre-set number of team members' scores per hole are combined for the team score, and that number usually changes through the round. For example, if the low two scores are being counted on a given hole, and those scores are 1 and 1 (Stableford, remember), then the team score on that hole is 2.

Irish Four Ball Is Known By Multiple Names

The format is sometimes called Irish Stableford, or it is spelled "Irish 4-Ball" or "Irish Fourball." Other games that are very similar (perhaps even identical, depending on who is running the tournament) include those called 1-2-3 Best Ball, 4-Man Cha Cha Cha and Arizona Shuffle.

Also, note that although this format has "four ball" in its name, it is no way similar to the four ball format covered in the Rules of Golf and played at the Ryder Cup and other big team tournaments in pro and amateur golf.

A Refresher on Stableford Scoring

Since Irish Four Ball is typically played using Stableford scoring, it's a good idea to refresh one's memory about what Stableford scoring is. Remember that a golfer's score on a hole is counted in points rather than strokes, in Stableford. For example, a birdie might be worth three points, a par one point and a bogey zero points. Check out our explanation of Stableford scoring for more on the points and permutations, but in the rule book the USGA and R&A set Stableford points in this way:

  • More than 1 over fixed score (or no score returned): 0 points
  • One over fixed score: 1 point
  • Fixed score: 2 points
  • One under fixed score: 3 points
  • Two under fixed score: 4 points
  • Three under fixed score: 5 points
  • Four under fixed score: 6 points

The "fixed score" can be whatever tournament organizers decide it to be: a number (say, four) or a score in relation to par (e.g., par or bogey). In other words, make sure you understand the Stableford points your Irish Four Ball tournament organizers have set before you begin play.

How Many Scores Per Hole Count in Irish Four Ball? There are Many Options

Irish Four Ball teams consist of four golfers, and the number of those golfers whose scores are counted on each hole varies depending on who's running the tournament.

Many Irish Four Balls use the two low balls per hole throughout the tournament. A more popular variation calls for the number of scores per hole to vary throughout the round in this fashion:

  • Holes 1-6: One low ball (only the best score among the four team members counts).
  • Holes 7-11: Two low balls (the two lowest scores among the four team members are added together on each hole).
  • Holes 12-15: Three low balls (add the three best scores together on each hole).
  • Holes 16-18: All four scores are combined on each hole for the team score.

Some tournaments prefer eliminating the one-low ball option, ensuring that on every hole at least two team members' scores are counted. In that version of Irish Four Ball, two low balls are counted on six holes, three low balls on six holes, and four low balls on six holes.

Another variation determines scores based on the type of hole being played:

Another common Irish Four Ball variation is to stipulate that teams consist of two men and two women, so this format is great for mixed tournaments or wives-and-husbands tournaments.

As you can see, there are many variations of Irish Four Ball. Just remember the basics consist of four-person teams using Stableford scoring, and a predetermined number of low scores per hole make up the team score.