The Chapman System Golf Format Explained

Chapman System is the name of a 2-person team golf format in which both golfers play two strokes, then the team finishes the hole playing alternate shot. The twist is that the golfers switch balls after the drives.

Chapman System works like this:

  • Both golfers on a side play their drives.
  • For the second strokes, each plays the other's drive. Golfer A goes to Golfer B's ball, and Golfer B goes to Golfer A's ball.
  • After the second strokes, one ball is selected to continue with, and that ball is played alternate shot into the hole.
  • The golfer whose second stroke was not selected is the one who plays the third stroke.
It is sometimes called Chapman Foursomes, Chapman format, or Chapman scoring. And it also goes by the names Pinehurst System, Pinehurst, and American Foursomes. In the 1950s, when it was first becoming known, it was most commonly called Chapman Foursomes, but today is usually called Chapman System.

Chapman System, which dates to the 1940s, can be played by any two golfers as teammates. But it is particularly suited to two golfers who drive the ball different distances — a long driver and a short driver. That could mean two golfers of otherwise similar abilities; a husband and wife; a parent and child; a low-handicapper and high-handicapper. The reason is that switching balls after the drive allows the longer hitter to play the shorter drive, and the shorter hitter to play the longer drive. It evens things out, in other words, allowing both golfers on such a team to play roughly equal approach shots for their abilities.

So while the Chapman format is good for any golfers, it is great for mixed teams of mixed abilities.

Chapman can be played either as stroke play or match play. A group of four golfers might pair off into two teams and play a match. In tournament settings, it is more likely to be played as stroke play, but using match-play brackets for a tournament can also be done.

Step-By-Step, Playing the Chapman Format

In 1954, when Chapman System was still very new, the USGA described it succinctly: "In this style of play, both partners drive and then each plays a second stroke with the other's ball. After the second strokes have been played, one ball is selected to be continued in play by alternate strokes."

That's pretty straightforward, but let's walk through an example. We'll call our golfers Bill and Ted.

On the first tee, Bill and Ted both play drives. But they switch balls after the drive, so Bill walks up the hole to Ted's drive, and Ted walks to where Bill's drive came to rest. Both then play those second shots.

Both golfers walk up the hole to where the balls now rest. Which second shot turned out best? Let's say Bill's did. They select that ball to continue with. Because Ted's second stroke is the one that wasn't selected, he plays the third stroke.

After Ted's third stroke, Bill plays the fourth stroke. And they continue in that manner, alternating strokes, until the ball is holed for the team score.

Is there any particular strategy that comes into play in Chapman System? It's all about selecting which second shot to use for the third stroke. If there is a big difference between the outcomes of the second shots, then the choice is obvious. But what if the outcomes are fairly close? You might want to choose the lesser of the two second shots if that means that the stronger player on the team gets to play the third stroke.

Handicaps in Chapman System

During the 1950s, namesake Dick Chapman and the USGA conducted several studies and wrote several articles on the best way to employ handicaps in this format. A June 1959 article by the USGA listed the pros and cons of six different handicap methods for Chapman!

Today, the USGA says this is the proper way to handicap the Chapman format: "The partner with the lower Course Handicap receives 60% of his Course Handicap. The partner with the higher Course Handicap receives 40% of his Course Handicap. The percentage allowances are added together before rounding, and the total is rounded off with .5 or more rounded upward. The side with the higher Course Handicap receives the difference between the Course Handicaps of the sides. The lower‐handicapped side shall play from scratch."

Who Put the 'Chapman' in the Game's Name?

Chapman System is called that because it was created by Dick and Eloise Chapman. That husband-and-wife duo created the game in the late 1940s, then introduced it at Pinehurst Resort in the early 1950s. (Hence, the format's alternate name of Pinehurst System.)

Dick Chapman (read our bio of him), who was called "the Ben Hogan of amateur golf" by Time magazine, was the first-ever golfer to win all three of the U.S., British and Canadian amateur championships. He eventually won five different national amateur championships, along with many state titles and other big amateur titles. He played in The Masters 19 times and in the Walker Cup three times.

The Chapmans enjoyed playing golf together and competing against other couples. But they generally greatly outclassed any husband-and-wife opponents. Standard alternate shot and Greensomes (in which both players tee off, then select the best drive with which to continue alternate shot) didn't seem to do much to level the playing field.

In 1953, the USGA explained the game's origins:

Eloise and Dick developed this system of selected seconds after playing two rounds with Mr. and Mrs. Robert Pearse at Pinehurst in March, 1947. At that time Mrs. Pearse was playing well over 100 and Mr. Pearse in the low 90s. Mrs. Chapman was playing in the low 80s. In an attempt to equalize the sides, Mr. Chapman paired with Mrs. Pearse and the innovation of selected seconds was added experimentally. Each side scored 77! They tried it again the next day and each side returned the same score once more.
The idea of balancing out unequal players in such a manner appealed to Chapman so much that he offered a trophy, honoring his late mother, for a fall tournament and another trophy, honoring his late father, for a spring tournament at Pinehurst. Those tournaments were the occasions of the Chapman System's debut in the broader golf world.

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