What Is the Maxwell Format for Golf Tournaments?

A "Maxwell tournament" is a format for 5-golfer teams. And the key factor for this format is pretty simple: On each hole, the worst score among those five golfers is tossed out.

The Maxwell tournament is also commonly referred to as the Maxwell format and the Maxwell system. Golfers playing the format are, it is often said, employing "Maxwell scoring."

A Maxwell tournament boils down to these elements:

  • The tournament uses 5-person teams.
  • Each golfer on the team is playing his or her own ball into the hole, standard stroke play (it works well with or without handicaps).
  • The five scores on a given hole are compared and the highest of those scores is thrown out.
  • The four remaining scores combine for the team score.
One other part of a Maxwell tournament that is commonly (but not always) in play: The team score on each hole is written down in relation to par, rather than as total strokes.

Let's say Hole 1 is a par-4. Player A scores 4, Player B makes 3, Player C 5, Player D 5 and Player E 6. Player E's 6 is the worst score and gets tossed out. That leaves 3 (1-under par, or -1), 4 (even par), 4 (even) and 5 (1-over, or +1).

What is the team score? In this example, it is 0, because the -1 and +1, combined with two zeroes, add up to 0.

Another example: Hole 2 is a par-3. Player A makes 2 (-1), Player B makes 2 (-1), Player C makes 5 (+2), Player D makes 3 (0), Player E makes 4 (+1). The team score is -1 (Player C's +2 is thrown out, leaving -1, -1, 0 and +1).

If the tournament organizers are using actual strokes, rather than relation to par, for scoring, then on Hole 1 the team total was 17 and on Hole 2 it was 11.

The Maxwell format can be used for charitable tournaments, corporate outings, association playdays and the like. It can even be used by a group of 10 friends who split into two teams (although note that playing fivesomes requires special permission at many golf courses). But it is probably most-commonly seen in high school and college golf. In those settings, most golf teams bring five players to the tournament anyway. Using the Maxwell format means that the coach can watch all five of his or her golfers at the same time, and for the full round. And coaches like that.

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