Explaining the Bowmaker Format for Tournament Play

"Bowmaker" is the name of a golf tournament format, a name that is much more commonly used in the U.K. than in the U.S. But golfers outside Britain probably are familiar with format, just under a different name.

In a bowmaker tournament, 4-person teams compete. On each hole, two or more of the team members' scores are combined to create the team's score. But in a bowmaker, scoring is typically based on Stableford points.

The term "bowmaker" for this type of format is rarely used in the United States. But similar and familiar formats include 1-2-3 Best Ball, Fourball Alliance, Arizona Shuffle and Low Ball/High Ball, among others. All combine two or more team members' scores to form the team's score on each hole. The thing that typically distinguishes the bowmaker tournament from those other formats is the use of Stableford points.

(Note that on the British PGA circuit that predated the European Tour, there was a tournament called the Bowmaker Tournament. That tournament had nothing to do with the format we are describing on this page.)

Examples of Bowmaker Scoring

One of the most common ways of playing a bowmaker is to combine the two best scores among the four golfers on the team on each hole. The two low balls count for the team score, in other words.

If, on the first hole, the four golfers on a team score 6, 3, 5 and 4 on the hole, and tournament organizers have set the low two scores as the rule for the day, then the team's first-hole score is 7. (The 3 and 4 were the two low scores, and the two low scores are combined in this example.)

But keep in mind that when a tournament is called a bowmaker, that usually means Stableford scoring. In Stableford, each score in relation to par (birdie, bogey, etc.) is worth a set number of points. Those point values are typically dependent on the wishes or whims of the tournament organizers. So let's say the tournament has set these Stableford values: an eagle is worth 5 points, a birdie 2, a par 1, a bogey 0, a double bogey -2, triple bogey or higher -3. (We just made those values up. If Stableford is in use, you'll be informed of the score values before the tournament.)

On Hole 1, our group of golfers records scores of par, par, bogey and birdie. In this example, the two low scores are the birdie plus one of the pars. Based on the example scores we listed above, the birdie is worth 2 points and the par is worth 1. So the team score on Hole 1 is 3. Obviously, in Stableford lower stroke totals lead to higher point totals, and higher point totals are what gets you in contention in a bowmaker tournament.

Variations for Bowmaker Format Scoring

In addition to the simplest versions (two-low-balls-per-hole scoring), there are multiple variations in the number of scores per hole that count and that can be used in a bowmaker.

One common variation is this:

  • On Holes 1-6, only the one low score on the team counts;
  • On Holes 7-12, the two best balls are combined for the team score;
  • On Holes 13-18, the three low scores are combined on each hole.
Another variation is to use the one low ball on par-3 holes, two low balls on par-4 holes and three low balls on par-5 holes.

But a bowmaker always boils down to this: It's a 4-person-team event in which members of the team are playing their own golf balls throughout, and a specified number of the team members' scores count on each hole. In addition, the scoring is typically done with Stableford points.

More formats:

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