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four-ball: golf’s greatest game

I recently took a trip to Canton, Ohio to Brookside Country Club, which is a 1922 Donald Ross design that is one of his most unknown but an absolute must-play.

Despite the classic design, I was most caught off guard by something more nuanced -- the scorecard. The Brookside scorecard has a prominent pace-of-play guideline with some notable phrasing:

Wow. This club gets it.

Why? For two reasons: 1) pace of play can make or break an enjoyable round, and 2) matches make the game more fun.

But, of all the games like wolf hammer, lone wolf, 5-3-1, or Vegas, one stands alone as the best: four-ball.

The rules of four-ball are as simple as they are elegant -- you have four balls in a foursome, two pairs of competitors, and one best score per pair per hole. Each hole can have one outcome -- one pair wins the hole or the hole is halved. It is a game of strategy, purpose, and variety. It’s golf as it was meant to be played.

“Surely there is far more fun in a contest against flesh and blood than against a card and pencil… it is always the hole that gives the most lasting pleasure and excitement.” - Dr. Alister MacKenzie, The Spirit of St. Andrews

In four-ball, the pleasure, excitement, and variety lie entirely within the game. Every shot presents crucial decisions and each new hole the “score” is reset, giving both teams the chance to let previous shots fade away. Instead of worrying about tallying points or betting on a shot’s outcome, four-ball can be played as an 18-hole battle of backs and forths.

Four-ball requires the player to continuously respond to the course, his partner’s play, and his opponent’s play. This presents an increasing frequency of situations where a player must make precise decisions and execute the exact golf shot. When is the right time to push? When’s the time to try the hero shot? Can I pull off the spectacular recovery? Can I sink this putt and close the door on the match?

No other game opens the potential for elation and dismay all in one.

So, next time you are out with your buddies, consider a game of four-ball for some guaranteed fun and excitement. Oh, and have a walk while you’re at it.


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