What Is a 'Halve' or 'Halved Match' in Golf?

One of the words golfers use and golf fans sometimes hear in match play is "halve." Which, let's be honest, is a weird word! Not "half," but "halve." What does it mean? A halve is a tie.

A golf hole can be halved (if both golfers or sides in the match make 4s on the first hole, the first hole is halved), and a golf match can be halved (if the match ends in a tie score, it is halved). Halves only exist in match play. The term is not used (not correctly, anyway) in stroke play.

Why not just say "tie" or "tied"? Today, actually, that's what the rulemaking bodies of golf do: Beginning with the 2019 Rules of Golf, the USGA and R&A stopped using halve/halves/halved, and started using tie/ties/tied. They made sure to note, however, that the tradition of golfers saying "halve" is still acceptable. Many golf journalists and most broadcasters have left halve behind, however, preferring the easier (to non-golfers) to understand "tie."

That means that halve/halves/halved will, eventually, probably, become archaic in golf. For now, though, many golfers still use the terms. If you prefer saying "halved" to "tied," go right ahead.

In Some Golf Matches, Halves are Not Possible

The terminology of halves became well-known in golf because of the international team tournaments in which they are most-famously used. In the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup at the professional level, and, at the amateur level, the Walker Cup and Curtis Cup, matches can end in ties. That is, if the two golfers or two sides finish a match with a tie score, there is no playoff to determine a winner; the match is called a halve, each side is awarded a half-point.

Only in matches in which there is no tiebreaker are halved matches possible. A match can't end in a tie, after all, if extra holes are played to determine a winner. So in match play tournaments that require matches to produce a winner, halved holes are still possible, but halved matches are not. The men's and women's U.S. and British amateur championships, for example, require that matches be won and lost, no halves allowed, because only one golfer can advance to the next round.

Halved holes are always possible; halved matches may or may not be depending on the tournament.

Origins of 'Halve'

The term obviously derives from "half." And it applied to golf holes before it applied to full matches. The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms (affiliate link) cites a use of halve from 1823 (the term may go back farther, that is merely the earliest reference cited by that reference book). That was a St. Andrews rule book in which it was written that if a hole ended with "an equal number of strokes on both sides, the hole is said to be halved, and goes for nothing."

In that usage, "goes for nothing" simply means that there is no winner of the hole and no change in the overall score of the match. The golfers or sides, you might say, divide the hole in half when they tie on a hole.

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