2009 Solheim Cup: What is alternate-shot match play?

With the 2009 Solheim Cup set to kick off on Friday at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, IL, inquiring minds want to know: What exactly is the format for the biennial, trans-Atlantic competition? And is the format for alternate shot matches in next week’s Stone Cup, sponsored by the Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts’ (WGAM), similar to Solheim Cup play?

U.S. vs. Europe. In both the Solheim Cup and Stone Cup, teams of two players go up against each other. In the Solheim Cup, the best 12 women golfers from the U.S. will take on the best 12 from Europe. (With Korean golfers winning two of the last three LPGA and PGA majors championships, the U.S./Europe concept seems somewhat outdated, but that’s a column for another day.)

Foursomes and four-ball. Solheim Cuppers will play two sessions of eight foursomes and eight four-ball matches on Friday and Saturday, and 12 singles matches on Sunday. Days 1 and 2 will feature four-ball play in the morning and foursomes in the afternoon. In four-ball competition, each golfer plays her own ball throughout the match, recording only the better score of two teammates on each hole.

Foursomes, which Stone Cup golfers will play as well, involve two-person teams hitting alternate shots using the same ball. So, if U.S. golfers Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie are partners, Creamer could tee off, Wie would hit the second shot, and so on, until they hole the ball. In addition, the partners would alternate tee shots. Solheim Cup golfers will play alternate-shot match-play rounds, while Stone Cuppers will start out with alternate-shot stroke play on Day 1 and alternate-shot match play on Days 2 and 3.

Stroke vs. Match play. In stroke (or medal) play, a golfer plays her own ball and tallies her cumulative total of strokes for the entire 18-hole round. Solheim Cuppers will compete in singles stroke play on Sunday.

Match play, on the other hand, sets one golfer against another in a hole-by-hole competition. The golfer who wins the most holes wins the match, which may end before the 18th hole. A 3-and-2 final score, for example, means that the match was over on the 16th hole because the winner was three holes ahead with only two to play.

Stone Cup. Closer to home, mixed (male and female) teams of two golfers will tee off at Crumpin-Fox Club (Bernardston) on Monday, August 24, in the WGAM Stone Cup. Golfing members of the same golf course will play 18-holes of alternate-drive stroke-play on Monday to qualify for four flights. Tuesday and Wednesday will feature two rounds of alternate-shot match play each day.

The Stone Cup goes back a long way. The Massachusetts Golf Association (MGA) held the first mixed-foursome championship in 1924 and invited WGAM to join a year later. In 1928, Mrs. Edward C. Stone offered a cup to the winners of “The Club Pair Mixed Foursome Championship.” WGAM assumed full responsibility for the tournament in 1957 and has run it annually since.

2009 Solheim Cup facts

Where: Rich Harvest Farms, Sugar Grove, IL

When: August 21-23

Format: Foursomes, four-ball, and singles matches

Scoring: 28 points available on a points system: one point for each match won and half a point for each match ending in a tie

Who wins: Defending champion (U.S.) needs 14 points to retain the Cup, contender needs 14.5 points to win

TV coverage: Golf Channel, Thursday, 6. p.m.-7 p.m. (opening ceremony); Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m.