Golf, a sport steeped in tradition, history, and skill, offers a multitude of formats that caters to players of all abilities and preferences. Two of the most popular formats are stroke play and Stableford, each with its unique set of advantages and challenges.

Here I will delve into the specifics of these two scoring systems, their pros and cons, and discuss which one is more suitable for different skill levels.

Golf Scorecard and pencil

Stroke Play – The Classic Challenge

Stroke play, the most common format used in professional golf, is also referred to as ‘medal play’. Here, the player or team with the lowest total number of strokes at the end of the round or tournament wins.

Pros of Stroke Play

  1. Simplicity and Uniformity: Stroke play is simple to understand and implement. The player who completes the course using the fewest strokes wins. This straightforward method also ensures consistency and uniformity, making it easier to compare scores across different tournaments or courses.

  2. Total Performance: Stroke play demands consistent performance. Every stroke counts equally, regardless of the hole. This means that a player cannot afford a poor hole because each mistake directly affects the total score.

Cons of Stroke Play

  1. Risk of High Scores: In stroke play, a few bad holes can dramatically inflate the player’s score. One disastrous hole can ruin an otherwise solid round.

  2. Less Exciting for Higher Handicappers: This format can be discouraging for high-handicap players or beginners who may struggle to maintain a low score throughout an entire round.

The Stableford System – An Engaging Alternative

Invented by Dr. Frank Stableford in 1898, the Stableford scoring system awards points based on the number of strokes taken at each hole. Rather than aiming for the lowest score, the goal in Stableford is to accumulate the highest point total.

Pros of Stableford

  1. Encourages Aggressive Play: In Stableford, the damage from a disastrous hole is limited. Once a player cannot score a point on a hole, they typically pick up their ball and move on, encouraging risk-taking and aggressive play.

  2. Encourages Faster Play: Because a player can pick up their ball without forfeiting the complete round it can lead to faster rounds of golf.

  3. Suitable for All Abilities: Stableford is ideal for high-handicap players or those prone to inconsistent play. It is also popular in amateur and club competitions, as it allows players of varying abilities to compete on an even playing field.

Cons of Stableford

  1. Complexity: Stableford scoring can be complex for newcomers to understand. It requires a knowledge of handicaps and an understanding of how the points system corresponds to the number of strokes taken.

  2. Less Emphasis on Every Shot: While this can be an advantage, it could also be a downside as it may encourage a casual attitude towards individual strokes.

Stroke Play vs Stableford: Which is Better?

Determining which format is “better” largely depends on the context and the golfer’s abilities and preferences. Stroke play is a rigorous test of skill and consistency, making it perfect for low-handicap players and professional tournaments. However, its strict scoring can be intimidating for beginners or high-handicappers.

On the other hand, Stableford’s forgiving nature allows higher-handicap players to compete more comfortably. It encourages players to adopt a bolder approach without the fear of one poor hole ruining the entire round. This system, though, may not provide the same level of challenge to more skilled golfers.

In conclusion, neither format is objectively superior. They simply offer different experiences catered to different skill levels and playing styles. Understanding both stroke play and Stableford can help golfers appreciate the nuances of the game, adding a richer layer of strategy and enjoyment to their golfing experience.

To learn more about how to play Stableford Format – click here.


  • Peter Myers

    PGA Golf Professional since 1997 Director of entertainment at Dunes Golf Centre in Fraserburgh Passionate about creating opportunities for everyone to play and enjoy golf Proud Yorkshireman Loves Leeds United and enjoys a BrewDog or two