Explaining the Pinehurst Format (aka Pinehurst System)

The clubhouse of the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina
The clubhouse of the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. Tony Roberts/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Pinehurst is the name of a golf format for two-person teams that combines elements of a scramble and alternate shot — and the teammates switch golf balls at one point, too, just for good measure. Don't worry, we'll explain. But first:

Is It Named After That Pinehurst? (Plus Its Other Names)

Yes, Pinehurst is named after that Pinehurst — the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, home of the world-renowned Pinehurst No. 2 golf course. The format is often called "Pinehurst Format" or "Pinehurst System," or a tournament organizer must just say that you'll be using "Pinehurst scoring" or playing "Pinehurst golf."

Key Takeaways

  • Pinehurst System is named after Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina.
  • It is a format that is known by several other names, including Chapman System and American Foursomes.
  • The Pinehurst format is for two-person teams. It can be played as a tournament or match.

It was popularized by Dick Chapman, a longtime golf professional at the Pinehurst Resort. Hence, the format is probably better known by a different name, Chapman System (click that link to read more about Mr. Chapman). Pinehurst System and Chapman System are the same thing. And those aren't this game's only names — is sometimes, though less commonly, called American Foursomes.

Example: The Pinehurst Format In Action

Here's how Pinehurst works. It's a two-person team format, and every hole begins with both players on a side playing drives. The two partners walk forward to the golf balls, then they switch golf balls. Golfer A hits Golfer B's ball, from where B's drive came to rest. And Golfer B plays Golfer A's ball, from A's drive came to rest.

After their second shots, the partners compare the results. Which golf ball is in the best position? They select that ball and pick up the other.

From the third stroke on, they play alternate shot until the ball is holed.

And that's Pinehurst: Hit drives, switch balls for the second strokes, pick up the worse of the balls after the second stroke, play alternate shot into the hole from there.

Got it? If you don't "got it," continue to our Chapman System page for further explanation (Chapman System is the more common name). There's also a short YouTube video that demonstrates a team playing Pinehurst.

Handicaps In Pinehurst System

Handicap allowances for Pinehurst competitions can be found in the USGA Handicap Manual, Section 9-4 (www.usga.com). But to summarize, on a team where Golfer A is the lower-handicapped partner and Golfer B the higher-handicapped:

  • Stroke play: Take 60-percent of Golfer A's course handicap and add it to 40-percent of Golfer B's course handicap for the team's Pinehurst handicap.
  • Match play: Do the same thing in match play — 60-percent of Golfer A's plus 40-percent of Golfer B's — but then the team with the lower resulting Pinehurst handicap plays off scratch and the other team plays off the difference.

And Then There's 'Modified Pinehurst'

There's another format sometimes called Modified Pinehurst that eliminates the switching of balls on Stroke 2 in the Pinehurst format. In Modified Pinehurst, golfers select the best drive, then play alternate shot from that point.

Modified Pinehurst is better known as Greensomes or Scotch Foursomes.