Both involve pairs golf played in groups of four but one is a tad more forgiving than the other. We sum up the differences between greensomes and foursomes

Both greensomes and foursomes are formats of pairs golf in which you don’t get to play every shot. The added luxury of greensomes is that both players get to hit a tee shot, while only one tees off in foursomes, with tee shot duties alternating from hole to hole just as players then hit alternate shots until the ball is holed out. This is why foursomes is often referred to as the ‘alternate shot’ format especially in America.

Foursomes

Foursomes really is no more complicated than that. Each player in each pair hits every other shot, so if one hits the tee shot, the other plays the second shot and they then alternate on every shot until their ball is holed out. One player will hit all the tee shots on the even-numbered holes and the other on the odd-numbered holes. Should the pair have to play a provisional ball or another ball at any point, again it is whoever didn’t hit the original shot who will play again from the tee or wherever it was played from.

The Ryder Cup features foursomes and fourball series, but not greensomes

The Ryder Cup features foursomes and fourball series, but not greensomes

Greensomes

The only real difference between greensomes and foursomes, other than slightly different handicap allowances, is that in greensomes both players tee off and then choose which ball to play from there. The player whose drive or tee shot is not chosen plays the second shot, and they then play alternate shots from there until the ball is holed out. On the next hole, both players again tee off and the process is repeated. There is nothing to stop the same player’s drive being selected all the way round in normal greensomes, though certain derivatives vary things. For example, in St Andrews Foursomes, you still select the better drive, but then one partner plays all the second shots on the odd-numbered holes, and one on the evens. In the appropriately names Gruesomes, your opponents get to choose which drive you should use, and you can imagine what that might sometimes mean for your scoring, and indeed pace of play, if you’re forever having to chop it out of the bushes!

Strategy and tactics

Strategy comes into play in both formats, in foursomes more typically in selecting a partner. But opinions differ as to the ideal partnership. Some say similar games help, so your clubbing will be the same and you can both discuss shots from a similar perspective; other say very different games help so if you’re not particularly long and your partner is, you can work out a good overall strategy, if, for example most of the shorter par 4s fall on the even-numbered holes.

In greensomes, because you both get to drive, strategy may be more down to who should drive first. If one of you is driving well and one struggling, you may decide the one driving well should tee off first and get it safely in play, taking the pressure off the struggler a little. Equally, the typical shot shape and hitting distances of both players should be factored in when selecting which ball to play, and for that reason it may not always be the longest one if the shot that ball leaves doesn’t suit the shot shape of the player required to hit it.

Greensomes is a slightly more forgiving format in that one of the pair could be struggling off the tee, yet you could still do well if the other is driving well. Not every shot you both play ultimately counts, whereas in foursomes, every shot both partners play really counts.

Handicap allowances

In matchplay, CONGU’s recommendations for handicap allowances are half the full difference between the aggregate handicaps of each side in foursomes, and the full difference between ‘Greensomes Handicaps’ in greensomes. To calculate a Greensomes Handicap, CONGU recommends it should be 0.6 of the lower player’s handicap and 0.4 of the higher player’s. If both handicaps are equal, it should be half the combined total.

So if, for example, Team A has handicaps of 5 & 12, and Team B 11 & 17, the allowances would be as follows…

Foursomes

Team A aggregate = 17, Team B aggregate = 28. The difference is 11, and half of that is 6, with 0.5 and above always rounding up. So Team A gives Team B 6 shots shots to be taken on holes stroke indexed 1 to 6.

Greensomes

Team A’s Greensomes Handicap = (0.6 x 5) + (0.4 x 12) = 3 + 4.8 = 7.8.

Team B’s Greensomes Handicap = (0.6 x 11) + (0.4 x 17) = 6.6 + 6.8 = 13.4.

The difference is 5.6, so Team A gives Team B 6 shots (rounding occurs after the difference between exact Greensomes Handicaps is calculated).

In strokeplay, the same denominators apply, but both teams would be allocated half their combined handicap in foursomes, while in greensomes both pairs would play off the Greensomes Handicaps as per the above calculations, typically using exact handicaps in Medal and rounded handicaps in Stableford