The Ryder Cup is a match play event, with each match worth one point. The format used in 1961 changed for the first time from the format used from 1927 to 1959. Instead of 12 matches of 36 holes, 24 matches of 18 holes (maximum) were played. The schedule of play in 1961 was as follows:
Day 1 (Friday) — 8 foursomes (alternate shot) matches, 4 each in morning and afternoon sessions
Day 2 (Saturday) — 16 singles matches, 8 each in morning and afternoon sessions
With a total of 24 points, 12½ points were required to win the Cup. All matches were played to a maximum of 18 holes.