How To Play Stableford Golf

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Stableford is a format of golf whereby instead of counting the number of strokes, a points based system is used, and the points you score is determined by the number of shots taken on a hole. 

Unlike traditional stroke play golf, the objective isn’t to score as low as possible. In fact in stableford, the higher the score the better. 

That’s because the number of points you receive is determined by the number of strokes taken in relation to par on each hole, with the points awarded as below:

0 points – two strokes over par (double bogey or worse) 
1 point – one stroke over par (bogey)
2 points – par 
3 points – one stroke under par (birdie) 
4 points – two strokes under par (eagle)
5 points – three strokes under par (albatross)
6 points – four strokes under par (I’ve never heard of anyone do this!)

For example, if you take four shots on a hole you score different number of points depending on the par:

  • If you take four shots on a par 5 and make a birdie (one stroke under par) you receive three points on that hole
  • If you take four shots on a par 4 (scoring par), you receive two points
  • And if you take four shots on a par 3 making a bogey (one stroke over par), you receive 1 point 

You’ll also notice from the above that you score 0 points if you make worse than a bogey – it doesn’t matter whether you make a double bogey or quadruple bogey, you’ll score 0 in both scenarios.

In that sense, stableford golf is somewhat like match play golf whereby one bad hole can’t ruin your round! This makes the format, one, a lot quicker than stroke play golf as if you can’t score a bogey, you can just pick up your ball. And two, it makes things more fun as you’re encouraged to play a little more aggressively with no real consequences for drumming up a big number on one hole.

How does stableford golf work with handicaps?  

Stableford works exactly the same way with handicaps except you work out the points on each hole via. your net score rather than your gross score. 

Instead of taking your shots off at the end of the round as you would usually do in stroke play golf, you take them on each hole as per the stroke index. 

Let’s say you’re a 28 handicapper. This means you receive 1 shot per hole on every hole apart from the holes with stroke index #1 – #10, on which you receive 2 shots. 

So if you make a gross bogey on a hole with a stroke index #11 – #18, you take your 1 shot off making it a net par, which equals two points. If you make a gross bogey but the stroke index is #1 – #10, you take off 2 shots making it a net birdie worth 3 points.

Things can be a little complicated so we’ve included some more examples of the score from a 28 handicapper below.

Hole NumberParStroke IndexGross ScoreNett ScoreStableford  Points
14953 (2 shots)3
241365 (1 shot)1
35253 (2 shots)4
43553 (2 shots)2
541776 (1 shot)0

As always, in a competition if you’re unsure, mark your gross score on every hole and work out the points at the end of the round.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that if you’re playing an individual stableford competition, you receive 95% allowance of your handicap, however if you’re playing a Four-Ball (doubles) stableford competition you receive 85% of your handicap allowance

How to play a Stableford game 

Step 1: Work out how many shots you receive for the round – it’s worth noting on the card where you receive your shots as this may affect some of your on course decisions

Step 2: Tee off in handicap order on the first hole

Step 3: Take your shots as per the stroke index of each hole as explained above

Step 4: Record your gross score and net score on each hole and work out the number of stableford points according to your net score in relation to par. You must hole out on each hole, but if you can’t score a net bogey or better you can pick your ball up and mark 0 points for the hole.

Step 5: The player (or team) who scores the most stableford points on each hole has the honor on the following hole

Step 6: At the end of the round, add up your points to give you a total for the round and submit the number of stableford points scored. Note, it’s worth double checking you’ve worked the points out correctly on each hole! To give you an idea on how well you’ve scored, 36 points is equivalent to par. 

How to win at Stableford Golf

In order to improve your chances of winning a stableford competition, there are a few things you should bear in mind.

Firstly, ahead of teeing off, you should work out where you receive your shots. Unlike stroke play golf where you take your shots off at the end, in stableford you receive them on each hole according to the stroke index. 

Knowing whether you have shots on a hole or not may change the way you approach it. 

If you’ve hit a wild drive on a shot hole it may be best to take your medicine and play out back to the fairway, taking advantage of your shot. Likewise, if you’re left with a difficult little chip over a bunker to save a bogey and don’t have a shot, you may as well go for it and try and get up and down as a double bogey scores the same points as a quadruple.

In the same sense, you should play more aggressive in stableford compared to stroke play. You may find that 4-5 under par wins your typical Saturday stroke play competition, but in stableford that’s going to be closer to 7-8 under (43-44 points).

You can play more aggresive in stableford

The format favours the more erratic golfer who makes lots of net birdies and bogeys or worse! We all know that golfer who’s on a good score and then throws in a card wrecker on the back nine. Well, in stableford the penalty for doing this is a lot less than in stroke play so naturally the scores are a little better.

Finally, our last piece of advice is to never leave your (net) bogey putts short. Anything over a net bogey scores 0 points in stableford so you may as well give your bogey putts a good run. 100% of short putts don’t go in, so make sure they at least reach the hole!

What is Modified Stableford?

The points awarded in the standard stableford format can be changed in what’s referred to as Modified Stableford. 

The PGA Tour put Modified Stableford into play once per year at the Barracuda Championship where the pros are promoted to play more aggressively with points only awarded for finishing a hole under par – you get nothing for scoring a par! 

They are also severe penalties for scoring over par where the pros lose points for every bogey or above. The exact points awarded in modified stableford are as below:

8 points – 3 shots under par (Albatross)
5 points – 2 shots under par (Eagle)
2 points – 1 shot under par (Birdie)
0 points – Par
-1 point – 1 shot over par (Bogey)
-3 points – 2 shots or more over par (Double Bogey or worse)