Ryder Cup Style Golf Trips: A Complete Guide Loaded With Ideas

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play in the Ryder Cup?

I have now played in six ryder cup format golf trips over the past 15 or so years and I can genuinely say they have been the best experiences of my golfing life.

Who would have thought that a phone call from a friend of my brother would lead me to represent ‘Team Europe’ six times against ‘Team USA’ on some amazing courses on both sides of the Atlantic?

A ryder cup format buddies trip is one of the best golfing events you can play in so in this article I wanted to give you a few ideas for games and formats to consider playing with your friends on your next trip to make it a ryder cup style event.

Copying the Ryder Cup Event Format is Not Always the Best Option

The Ryder Cup itself involves 24 players in total, 12 each from the USA and Europe playing a match play event every couple of years with the venue alternating from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

It is a match play tournament and the official format is as follows:

  • 28 matches played over the course of the three-day tournament with one point going to the winner of each match. A tied match results in half a point being awarded to both sides.
  • On the first day 4 foursomes or ‘alternate shot’ matches are played over the initial 18 holes with fourballs being played again in 4 matches in the afternoon’s 18 holes.
  • 8 matches then take place on the second day and follow the same format as day 1 – foursomes or ‘alternate shot’ in the morning 18 holes with fourballs in the afternoon.
  • On the final 3rd day twelve individual singles matches are played with the winning team being the first that reaches the magic number of 14.5 points.
  • In the event of a drawn match with 14 points each the holder retains the trophy.

So if you are planning to play a ryder cup format game with your friends the official tournament itself clearly gives a itinerary to follow.

The issue with the official format though is that it can often be hard to get exactly 24 friends away to play golf together.

In addition, the foursomes or ‘alternate shot’ format is not necessarily the best one when it comes to groups of friends on a trip with a wide variety of handicaps.

Most buddies golf trips will involve a different number of players.

Sometimes you will have 16, or 18 or 22 and it’s not often you will have the same numbers as the official Ryder Cup.

If you can have 12 a side match on your buddies golf trip then that’s obviously great but if you don’t you can still easily make the event work and there are plenty of ideas you can use or adjust to get a trip that works for all your friends.

Indeed I would recommend, particularly if your group involves a big variety of standards of player that you don’t follow the exact format of the Ryder Cup itself.

And remember if you follow the official ryder cup format exactly 4 members of each side would be missing out on a match for the first two days and you would have to play a total of 90 holes in 3 days

That’s a very heavy workload for a relaxing golf trip away and most importantly does not leave a lot of time for downtime at the all important 19th hole!

Format and Team Ideas for Ryder Cup Style Golf Trips

For a ryder cup style golf event to work you probably need at least 8 players on each side but I have seen these type of events work with as few as 4 players on each side.

Less than 8 friends on your golf trip though and I think you’re probably better thinking of a different style of trip to play.

But if you are able to get 16, or 20 or the ideal 24 of your buddies away on a golfing trip here are some ideas to make it into a ryder cup style event.

With a few adjustments you can even accommodate an odd number of players so don’t think you always need an even number.

It makes things easier for sure but it can still work if you don’t.

And don’t worry if you have a wide variety of standards of players and handicaps.

Or indeed if some of the players don’t even have a handicap.

These format ideas have that specifically in mind to make sure everyone stays involved and enjoys themselves throughout.

They can also be amended to cover any amount of rounds you want to make part of the ryder cup format event.

For example rather than 3 rounds in 3 days you could amend them to work over 4 rounds in 4 days or 5 rounds in 5 days.

Idea 1 – Mix up the formats each day

One of the simplest ways to run your ryder cup style golf trip is to stick to the same format as the Ryder Cup itself – i.e. four player matches for the first two or three days followed by singles on the last day – but simply change the format of the matches themselves.

For example rather than making each match traditional match play where the low net score wins the hole you could make each four player match a scramble.

Scrambles involving 2 person teams working this way:

  • Each player on the team hits a tee shot.
  • The team then decides what was the best shot.
  • The team member whose shot was not taken pick up their balls and move them to within one club length of the spot of the best shot.
  • Each player then plays again from that spot and again select the best shot and this continues until the team holes out.

This format is great for the less able players on the trip as it lets them ignore their bad shots but also contribute at any point to the team during the round.

Or as we do in our events we play a ‘greensomes’ format on day 1 where each team member drives after which the pair switches to alternate shot.

On day 2 we then just play normal fourball better ball with handicaps where the low net score wins the hole.

Another format option for matches is Nassau which splits the round into 3 different parts.

The first is played over the front nine, the second over the back nine while the third is counted over the full 18 holes.

This game is great because it can be applied to any format – for example match play, stableford, stroke play etc – but most importantly because it is based on the idea that the game’s result cannot be any worse than 3-0.

And that’s a great thing because it allows teams to have a chance throughout the round and not be out things straight away if they get off to a bad start.

To be honest you can choose whatever format you want for all the rounds (best ball, alternate shot, scrambles, shambles, las vegas, stableford, nassau, multiplier, ringers etc).

You could also mix up the formats during a round itself to make things even more interesting.

All can work well and provided you keep the ‘singles’ day – which in my view is an absolute must to make it feel like the real thing – the options are unlimited.

Just make sure everyone is clear on the rules at the outset before they start!

Idea 2 – Team selection

When it came to putting the teams together for our own ryder cup style event the selection of the teams was based simply on ‘Team USA’ vs ‘Team Europe’ so the make up of the teams was already decided.

If on the other hand your golf trip simply consists of a big group of friends and you need to find some way to create the teams in the first place here are a couple of ideas for you to look at:

  1. Use handicap categories/divisions – one way to create a set of teams is based on their handicaps. You want to make sure you have a good mix of standards across the two teams and that one team doesn’t end up being way better than the other. To do this you could divide all the players on the trip into A, B, C & D category players. These categories could be category A – handicaps of 6 or less; category B – handicaps of 7 to 13; category C – handicaps 14 to 21 and category D – 22+ handicaps. Once you have your categories made up the teams could be put together by putting the best player in group A and the highest handicapper in group D in team 1, then the second-best player in group A and second highest handicapped player in group D in team 2 and so on. Or you could draw a player from each of the groups into Team 1 and then draw a player from each of the groups into Team 2 until everyone is allocated to a team. To be honest the categories can be based on any grouping and the key is simply to split up the spread of playing abilities evenly across the group as far as possible.
  2. Draft your teams – Another option to put your teams together is to use use the first round of the trip to create a ‘draft’ system for the team picks. You can play whatever format of round you want for the ‘qualifying round’ but afterwards the ‘draft’ could work in the following way: the player with the best score start becomes the Captain of Team 1 and chooses their first teammate. The next best scoring player then becomes the Captain of Team 2 and chooses the first member of their team and so on and so on until all the players are allocated to the team. Again you will want to make sure there’s a good mix of abilities across both teams but it should work ok as the two captains get alternate picks. Just make sure though nobody is going to get offended at getting picked last. It’s a bit of fun after all and can lead to great stories afterwards if the lowest draft pick then makes the decisive contribution in the overall match!

The best thing about a ryder cup style event is that anybody can play no matter their standard of golf.

You could be friends from rival universities, colleagues from old companies or just a group of golfing buddies who fancy a crack at testing their skills in the most emotionally charged pressure-cooker environment in match play golf.

All that is going to be missing are media celebrities and the galleries of rabid fans!

Idea 3 – Focus on Singles Day

Another idea is to use a scoring system in the first 2 or 3 days to help you create the best match ups for the singles day.

For example if you use a stableford scoring system for the four player matches you can use each pair’s combined points score to determine who wins the match and one point for their side but also use the individual scores to give everyone a scoring average over the first couple or few rounds.

You can then use those individual scores to create the singles pairings – i.e. top Stableford points average on one side vs. top Stableford points average on the other side and so on.

This can really help keep everyone involved and make those who are not playing so well during the trip feel like they still have a chance to contribute to the team because they’re up against someone who is also struggling a bit in the singles.

One other method we have used in the past is to reduce the handicap of players who won their last match by one stroke and increase the handicap of those that lost for the next round.

Some may think this unfair but we found it a great way to make sure a team didn’t run away with the match which isn’t always the most fun.

We have had only one event thankfully which ended up as a runaway for one of the sides and although it was still a great trip we definitely missed a trick by not adjusting the format to stop it being so one sided.

The best ryder cup style trips with friends are always the ones where the result is still in doubt up until those last few matches on the last day!

Idea 4 – Dealing with odd numbered teams

Ideally you are looking for a number of players which when divided by 2 gives you an even number (e.g. 16, 20, 24) so that you can have an even number of four player matches before the singles but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.

In one of our ryder cup style trips we ended up with 11 a side.

For the first two days therefore we had a spare body after the initial 5 fourball pairings had been drawn.

So what we decided to do was simply have the additional player each day play a singles match even though it wasn’t officially singles day.

It worked great and provided the individual doesn’t have to play singles twice on those days – so that they are essentially only playing singles matches throughout the trip – it still lets you have a great event even though you maybe don’t technically have the ideal number of players.

As long as you have an even number overall you can make it work!

Take Your Venue into Account

When it comes to venues for your ryder cup format golf trip I genuinely think you can’t go wrong wherever you go.

That’s not to say some courses aren’t better than others and it is a big part of the trip if you are lucky enough to get to somewhere which has a great reputation.

Our ryder cup style golf weeks have taken us to some of the best golf courses and resorts in the world – Pinehurst, Turnberry, Valhalla, Kiawah Island, Royal County Down in Northern Ireland and Vilamoura in the Algarve in Portugal – and getting to play these courses has without question provided me with lifetime golfing highlights.

But the best thing about all of these trips has been the friendships made and the venues have simply proven the huge dollop of icing on the cake.

If you have a great bunch of people together and manage to get the format right I’m a firm believer that the venue does not matter.

The event itself and the stories which result will provide top billing.

The one thing I would say on venues though if you are heading to a venue or resort which has a signature course – such as Pinehurst No.2, the Ailsa Course at Turnberry or the Ocean Course at Kiawah Valhalla course which provided the location for the official 1991 Ryder Cup matches – is to organise the event if possible so you get to play the signature course more than once.

Lots of golf trips I know will head to the one course and play all their rounds on the one course but if you are spreading your ryder cup trip events days across a few different courses then I would suggest trying to get two of the rounds on the best course culminating with the singles matches.

Our absolute best events involved having a round earlier in the trip on the main signature course, either as the fourballs or foursomes or even a fun practice day event where the teams got mixed up, before finishing things off the singles matches on that same signature course.

And this was especially important to the group we found if it was somewhere we were going for the first time.

We would always play a couple or more courses across the rest of the trip but there was definitely something special playing the final set of matches on the ‘big course’ of the week having already had a chance to get to know it in less ‘pressurised’ circumstances than the deciding singles!

Finally venues with courses which had loads of different tee options to allow different standards of golfers play from the sets of tees they wanted was another big advantage when it came to putting the matches together.

It allowed everyone no matter their ability to enjoy the course.

The less able players didn’t feel they were having too much of a slog and the better players got to play off the back tees without thinking they couldn’t because it would make the course too hard for everyone else.

5 Top Tips for Any Ryder Cup Format Golf Trip

If you get a chance to play in a ryder cup format event with friends I would take it.

Don’t hesitate.

Just say yes first and work out later how you are going to manage to fit it into your everyday life later.

Trust me it’s one of the best golf trip experiences you can have and having played in 6 of them now on great courses on both sides of the Atlantic, I can honestly say they have given me lifelong friendships and some of my best golfing memories.

To help make sure your event is as much fun, and competitive, for everyone who is playing as possible here are my 5 top tips for any amateur ryder cup style golf event:

Keep the format simple

Whatever format you decide on for your event, and there are lots of options, my advice is to keep things simple.

Too many rules or even games within games can get tough to keep track of and even a bit annoying in my experience.

Lots of events I know run an individual event in addition to the ryder cup style team event.

The last thing you want is some members not feeling part of the event because of the format

There’s nothing wrong with that obviously but for me it takes away a bit of the point of the ryder cup style trip which is to play ‘team golf’.

If players are also focused on individual side games it can sometimes take the attention away from the team stuff which can then remove some drama from the overall matches, particularly as they build towards a climax.

There can no better feeling than having your team mates head out on the buggy after their match is finished to watch your match and keep you updated on how the outcome will effect the overall match.

It can really get the nerves going and half the time you think you’re playing in the main ryder cup event itself!

And if you want individual stuff why not just have each Captain nominate their ‘player of the week’ and award them a prize.

When it comes to choosing the format I would always thing about the less able players on the trip first and make sure it works for them.

There’s nothing worse than struggling with your game and then not feeling part of the event.

And that risk is highest for the high handicappers who are not as familiar or comfortable with dealing with loads of rules at the same time as trying to play well.

Choose a format that keeps it competitive

Being on the winning team at a ryder cup style event is a great feeling.

The stories at the 19th hole after the event are sometimes worth the trip alone as the length of the winning putt gets longer and the quality of the shots improve as time passes in the bar!

But ask anyone who has played in our series of matches and they will all agree, whichever side they played on, that the best events are the ones which are the most competitive.

One of our ryder cup trips even ended up going to the last green on the last hole on the last match!

After ‘Team Europe’ holed a 25ft putt across the 18th green to what we thought was to ‘win’ the match ‘Team USA’ followed in with an 18ft putt to steal the trophy with the last shot of the week.

There was pandemonium from both sides, particularly as that final putt secured ‘Team USA’ a 5 point comeback on the final singles day.

Even on the losing side, it provided one, if not the best, memories in our events history and nobody who was there will ever forget it.

And you can imagine how long those putts are now when talked about all these years later!

You want a good competition of course and want to create something which everyone thinks is fair but watch out for formats which can potentially let one side run away with things.

It’s great to win but trust me it’s just not as much fun.

Honesty with handicaps is vital

Not everyone on your trip may have a handicap and other players may have an ‘official handicap’ but having not played for a while are worried they won’t get near to playing to it at the event.

In our experience as long as everyone is honest about their handicaps then things will work out.

We’ve never had the situation where someone has given a doggy handicap which others felt unfair.

In each event we have had two Captains set up the matches before each round splitting their teams up using their knowledge of the playing abilities involved.

Our group has always had a wide range of handicaps with some of the group not really having an official one and having the captains set the match-ups after a bit of debate has always let things even out.

If you’re a bit worried about handicaps also you could think about adding a rule where if a player wins a match their handicap goes down 1 the following day or if they lose their handicap goes up 1 so help ensure things even out over the event.

The night before the trip can often involve a drink or three and hours of arguing over what guys handicaps actually are but if everyone is honest it will work out.

The good news also is with the introduction of World Handicap System in 2020 it will be much easier to handicap players, even from different parts of the world from now on.

So ensuring a balanced set of handicaps on different courses for your next ryder cup style event should now be much more straight forward.

Flexibility is key

We have also found a bit of ‘flexibility’ has always helped on our trips.

For example if a particular match wants to play of a particular set of tees then let them decide amongst themselves.

Or indeed if a group wants to mix up the tees within the same match then what’s the problem if everyone in the match agrees?

Or if its a Stableford format you could let the groups decide if they want to handicap the individual holes or use the final points tally for each team decide the result.

It may not be traditional match play format but all that really matters is who gets the winning ‘point’ from the match.

Just remember to make sure it stays simple though!

Sometimes also we’ve found that some individuals within the event want to make sure they play at least one round against a member of the other team.

We’ve always found that if the captains add a bit of flexibility to accommodate these sorts of things it always leads to some great matches and better overall event.

Make an effort with the gear

This is a much easier thing to do now than it used to be and if you can get matching team ‘outfits’ organised for your event it will undoubtedly add a bit of uniqueness and specialness to your ryder cup format golf trip.

The night before each of our events each of us would be ‘presented’ with our different polo shirts for each of the 3 ‘ryder cup’ days and it was a real thing to look forward to each time.

You could also get trousers or shorts ordered for everyone also if you want to really take things to the next level!

We even ended up getting our own logo designed as we had more events and I’ve still got every one of those shirts from all of the trips I went on.

Walking to the putting green before the matches began and seeing two sets of teams in matching outfits getting ready for ‘battle’ really adds a sense of theatre to things and gets the butterflies going as you start to imagine what it would be like to play in the real thing!

And if you want to add that little bit extra too as we did, and introduce a trophy, you can get the winning team to take that famous ryder cup shot which happens at the end of every set of matches where all the winning players gather around the trophy and touch it.

These ‘extras’ can make the trip a bit more expensive but if you’ve got the time and money to get them organised they are well worth it to help build up the sense of occasion and drama!

Final Thought

Whatever type of match or venue or trip you choose for your ryder cup style trip with your friends though the overriding mantra is always to have a good time.

Having too much to each and drink, often into the small hours of the morning, playing some great golf mixed in with alot of very ‘suspect’ shots and then repeating for as many rounds as you can get away with is really the core of the recipe for these types of events.

They are very special trips, win or lose, if you get a chance to play in one and can make you very lucky as I have been over the years to make some friends for life!

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Graeme Hay

Graeme Hay is the owner of GolfingFocus.com. Graeme started playing golf when he was only 4 years old and has loved the game ever since. A single figure golfer all of his adult life and a member of Royal Troon Golf Club he lives in London and still enjoys playing whenever he can with friends and family.

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