How Does the Modified Stableford Scoring System Work?

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A cartoon gopher cutout showing how the Modified Stableford scoring system works at the 2013 Reno-Tahoe Open

If you were to flip on a normal PGA Tour event or one of the four major championships and see the leader at +41, you’d likely think there was some sort of error. Or that perhaps the golf course being played that particular week is just really freaking hard. But the only time you’d ever see such a score would be during a tournament using the Modified Stableford scoring system, a format that encourages aggressive play and can keep players competitive even if they have a few bad holes.

The original Stableford scoring system was first introduced in the 1930s

The Stableford scoring system was developed by Dr. Frank Barney Gorton Stableford, who was born in the early 1870s in Oldbury, Worcestershire, England. Said to be a solid player, Stableford became frustrated with the traditional way of scoring a round of golf and informally introduced a “points” system at an event at Glamorganshire Golf Club in Wales in 1898. But the format didn’t catch on and wasn’t repeated.

But in 1931, while playing the second hole at England’s Wallasey Golf Club, Stableford once again began to wonder if a different system could be developed, the result of which was the original Stableford scoring system, which was officially introduced in May 1932.

Under the original system, the number of points awarded on a hole is determined by a player’s score in relation to par. The beauty of the Stableford system, especially for amateurs, is that double-bogey is the maximum score allowed. So if you’re already 2-over for the hole, still in the sand, and don’t want to continue, you just pick your ball up and move on. At the end of the round or tournament, the player with the highest number of points wins. Easy enough, right?

Here’s how the scoring works under the original Stableford scoring system.

  • Double-bogey: 0 points
  • Bogey: 1 point
  • Par: 2 points
  • Birdie: 3 points
  • Eagle: 4 points
  • Albatross: 5 points
  • Condor: 6 points (yes, an ace on a par-5 has happened)

This format is still very popular at the club level, especially in the United Kingdom.

How does the Modified Stableford scoring system work?

A cartoon gopher cutout showing how the Modified Stableford scoring system works at the 2013 Reno-Tahoe Open
A cartoon gopher cutout explaining how the Modified Stableford scoring system works at the 2013 Reno-Tahoe Open | Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Then, of course, there’s the Modified Stableford scoring system. The structure is the same as points are awarded on a hole based on the number of strokes taken. And double-bogey is still the maximum score. But under this format, a player actually loses points for a bogey or a double-bogey, and no points are awarded for a par. Here’s how the modified version is scored.

  • Double-bogey: -3 points
  • Bogey: -1 point
  • Par: 0 points
  • Birdie: 2 points
  • Eagle: 5 points
  • Albatross: 8 points

The beauty of the system is that it encourages players to take risks they might not normally take. A birdie is worth double the number of positive points as a bogey is worth negative points, so players might fire directly at a pin instead of going for the middle of the green or might attempt a shot over water they wouldn’t normally try.

The system is currently used at the Barracuda Championship on the PGA Tour

Currently, the only time the Modified Stableford scoring system is used on the PGA Tour is during the Barracuda Championship, which was formerly known as the Reno-Tahoe Open. The first tournament to use the system was The International, which was played just south of Denver at Castle Pines Golf Club from 1986 to 2006. The Sunshine Tour in Africa has been using the format during the Investec Royal Swazi Open since 2003.

The European Tour’s ANZ Championship, which only ran from 2002 to 2004, also used the Stableford scoring system, as did a couple of short-lived events on the Champions Tour. The celebrity-packed American Century Championship has also been using it since 2004.

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