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How Does Disc Golf Match Play Work?
Alex WilliamsonWriter, Editor
Sep 16 • 6 min read
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Nate Sexton (left) and Janne Hirsimäki (right) were captains of the U.S. and European teams, respectively, in the 2019 Presidents Cup that preceded that year's European Open. The event included a match play portion that made the captains think hard about strategy. Photo courtesy of Discmania.

Match play is a spinoff of traditional disc golf where players earn points for beating each other on individual holes rather than tallying up stroke totals through an entire round. These scoring rules alter the typical risk/reward dynamics, and often players attempt shots in match play they'd never try except in desperate situations at the end of a traditionally-scored tournament.

The increased likelihood of spectacular shots and the drama they create is probably why both the Disc Golf Pro Tour and Professional Disc Golf Association announced their intentions to utilize this format in big events in 2021. The DGPT is inviting top players on the tour to a Match Play Championship from September 17-19, 2021, and the PDGA announced there would be a round of match play in a new Major event it's calling the PDGA Champions Cup that will happen for the first time in April 2022.

Just as the pro side of the sport is embracing match play more, leagues and competitions using the format are becoming increasingly popular among amateur groups across the disc golfing world, too.

Whether you plan to play or watch a match play event, it'll help you enjoy it more to know the rules thoroughly. Keep reading to find out how match play works.

All the rules you'll find below are based on information from the PDGA's Official Rules of Disc Golf, Appendix A: Match Play, which can be found in searchable format in the More tab of the UDisc app.

How Match Play Is Like Normal Disc Golf

Though there are some exceptions, players generally follow the same rules while completing a match play hole as they would when playing traditional disc golf. This means out of bounds, mandatories, taking a legal stance, relief, and most other basics of the game matter in match play.

The Rules & Norms of Disc Golf Match Play

Here's how disc golf match play works:

    1. A match is a one-on-one competition, but it has to be played in a group.

    • Formal match play has to be played in groups (or with an official) because otherwise rules couldn't be enforced, but each player's match is with just one other player in the group.
    • For example, if Player 1 and Player 2 are in a match but playing their round in a four-player group, the results of Players 3 and 4 don't matter in the least to the match between Players 1 and 2 (and vice versa).
    • Even if the results of another match in the group don't matter, players need to pay attention to the throws of the other group in order to be able to confirm or deny whether any rule was broken and/or to help locate discs.

    2. The goal is to "win" more holes than an opponent, so the total of throws needed to complete a round is irrelevant.

    • To win a hole, a player must simply complete it in fewer throws than their opponent.
    • Importantly, it doesn't matter how many fewer throws the hole winner makes than their opponent. Winning a hole by one stroke is the same as winning it by two, three, eight, etc. – the player who needed fewer throws to complete the hole gets one hole in their column.
    • If both players complete a hole in the same number of throws, the holes are a draw. Unlike another disc golf variation called Skins, tied holes do not "push."

    3. Match play scores are typically talked about in reference to how many holes "up" one player is.

    • Having a one-hole lead in match play is called being "one-up," having a two hole lead is being "two-up," and so on.
    • When players are tied, it's called being "All Square."
    • Below is a visual example of how scores in match play are totaled. Note that there is no norm of 12 holes in match play. We're using this because the DGPT Match Play Championship will be played on a 12-hole course in 2021. "AS" is shorthand for "All Square" and the upward arrow indicates the word "up" after the score.

    An example match play scorecard

    • In the example match above, you would say that Player 2 won "2-up."

    4. What happens if players are tied in disc golf match play after all regulation holes are played?

    • There's no standard tie-breaking method in match play. The tournament director determines how ties are broken.

    5. Which pair goes first, second, etc. from the tee is always the same. Within the pair, teeing order is based on performance on previous holes.

    • Say a group consists of Player 1, Player 2, Player 3, and Player 4 (P1, P2, P3, and P4). P1 and P2 are in a match and P3 and P4 are in a match. P1 and P2 appear first on the scorecard, so for the rest of the round, they tee off first at every hole and P3 and P4 tee off second.
    • P1 starts off the round because their name is on the scorecard first, P2 follows, and so on. After that, which person in each pair throws first is determined by who won the previous hole. If a hole is a tie, the order stays the same as it was on the previous hole.

    6. A player can concede a hole at any time. When a hole is conceded, neither player has to finish the hole.

    • In traditional disc golf, a player who doesn't complete a hole (i.e., get their disc in the basket) receives a hefty penalty. In match play, it's legal for one player to concede that a hole is lost before they finish playing it and neither player must complete the hole.
    • An example of when a player might concede a hole: Imagine Player 1 (P1) putts their disc under the basket from the tee and Player 2 (P2) throws OB. P1 is sure to finish the hole in two throws, and with the OB penalty, it is literally impossible for P2 to finish the hole in fewer than three throws. P2 could concede the hole since they're all but assured to lose it. In this case, P1 would win the hole, but neither player would throw their next shot. They'd pick up their discs and move on to the next hole.
    • Concessions have to be accepted, and they can't be taken back once made.

    7. Players can agree a hole is a draw at any time. If they do, neither player has to finish the hole.

    • For example, say Player 1 makes a long putt for birdie and runs after their putt in excitement. If their opponent, Player 2, is parked for a birdie, P1 can acknowledge that P2 isn't going to miss the easy putt, say the hole is a draw, and, if P2 agrees, P1 can pick up P2's disc and return it to them, saving them an unneeded walk to the basket.

    8. Once one player's lead exceeds the number of holes left to play, the match is over.

    • Here's a visual example of how this rule could play out in a 12-hole match:

    Example of a match play scorecard where one player wins two holes before the full round is over

    • In the example above, you'd say "Player 1 won 4 and 2." "Four" refers to how many holes up the winner was, and "two" is how many holes were left to play. You can use that same pattern any time a match ends early: "[winning player] won [number of holes a player won] and [number of holes left to play/not played]."

    9. Only players competing in a match can call a rule violation on each other.

    • Only the person a player is in a match with can call things like stance violations, taking more than 30 seconds to throw, or any other rule or courtesy violation on them. Other people in the group not competing in the match cannot initiate such calls.
    • However, the calls need to be seconded by others in the group or an official accompanying the group for them to be enforced.
    • As it's stated in the PDGA's Official Rules of Disc Golf, "penalties and warnings assessed between holes apply to the next hole."

    Game, Set, Match Play!

    Hopefully this post has helped answer most of your questions about how disc golf match play works. Clearly, the above rules all relate to formal competition, but we hope you can use them to try out a new, interesting way to play with your favorite disc golf companions in the near future.

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