Scramble vs. Best Ball

There is a common misconception among golfers that scrambles and best ball tournaments are the same. Some even say “best ball scramble,” but there really is no such thing. The guy (or gal) who came up with the terminology must have been drunk or crazy, because both are very misleading.

The one thing both formats have in common is that teams typically have 2 or 4 golfers, competing against other teams.

Now, you might think that in a best ball format, you would use the best ball out of your team. Nope! In a scramble format, you might think that each player is scrambling around the course. Wrong again!

In a scramble, each player hits their own shot from the tee. The team then chooses the best shot. Players whose shots were not selected, go pick up their ball and the entire team shoots their second shots from where this “best shot” came to rest, (typically) with the option of shooting from within a club length of this “best ball” spot (except on the green of course). You cannot, however, move from rough to fairway, or fringe to green. After the second shot, this process continues as many times as necessary until a ball is in the hole. The team score for each hole is how many “best shots” were needed.

In a best ball format, each player on a team plays their ball from where it ends up (no “best shot” or picking up and moving the ball to another location). It can be viewed as each player playing a typical round of golf, with their own score for each hole. The team score for each hole is the lowest score by any one player. As an example, a team of 4 players shoot 4, 5, 4, and 6 on a hole. The team score for this hole would be a 4 because it was the lowest score.

Both formats have advantages and disadvantages.

By playing in a scramble, teams are able to put up some low scores, because there is a good chance that 1 out of 4 golfers will have a pretty decent shot. One thing I do find in scrambles is that players do no play their typical golf game. If the first player to tee of hits one safely down the fairway, every player after usually tries to crank one a mile, leading to bad habits.

When playing a best ball format, each player gets to play their own game. This gives everyone the chance to know how they scored for the course, because each player has an individual score for each hole. The team scores are usually much higher with this format, because it’s not a collective effort for each shot, like in a scramble.

When playing in a scramble, “Drive for show, put for dough!” In order to win, your team must be able to make putts of a decent length.

13 thoughts on “Scramble vs. Best Ball

  1. Jere says:

    I have played in both and I agree that the names of them are misleading…I like both of them, but I like scrambles a bit more because it is a little bit more team oriented and that is something I like to have once in a while when golfing.

  2. Niel says:

    I appreciate your attempt to educate people. I have been trying hard in my area to enlighten the uninformed for quite some time now. It appears to be somewhat regional as the current area that I live in calls the scramble a best ball whereas just 100 miles to the north where I used to live they had it right.

  3. Krissy says:

    I am planning a golf scramble for my work and I was calling it a “best ball scramble”. I am going to rename it now, thanks to you. Now I won’t sound drunk or crazy! I definitely think the names are deceiving and would make more sense if reversed. Thanks for the clarification.

  4. mike says:

    does anyone know any exciting games besides best ball or scramble that 4-5-foursome can play(something new we have tried them all

  5. Tom says:

    mike, we tried another scramble type of game and it worked out very well.You play it the same as the regular scramble except that the person that hit the best ball is not able to hit the next shot from where his /her ball landed , they will have to sit out that shot and after the second best ball is pick the person that hit that ball will have to sit out the next shot too, this continues untill the ball is in the hole .Even when putting what ever ball has been choosen to hit from the owner if that ball will sit out the next shot

  6. Ed says:

    For small groups of just your normal four-some or five-some you could try Bingo, Bango, Bongo. Or First On, closest to, first in. which normally carries a small monetary value for each depending on your group. For larger groups try an Alternate shot or a jazzed up version of the four man best ball described something like :

    each player on the team plays his own ball throughout the round. On each hole, a predetermined number of the lower scores is used.

    One the first hole, the lowest net score among the four players counts as the team score. On the second hole, the two lowest net scores become the team score. On the third hole, the three lowest net scores become the team score. On the fourth hole, it’s back to the one lowest score, and so on throughout the round.

  7. Eric says:

    We have played “Attrition Golf.” It works best with either 2 individuals or two teams playing each other. After each hole the winners are allowed to take one club out of the loser’s bag (excluding putters). Meaning if you lose a hole, you have a chance to have your driver taken away. You can only get the club back by winning another hole, at which time you can choose to either take away a club from the opposition or take back one of your clubs. Of course this works best with two players or teams of similar skill level. If you are playing with someone that is not of the same handicap, you may play some sort of adjusted scoring.

  8. Jim says:

    One game that we play with a foursome is each player alternates “owning” the hole and picking a partner for that hole only. Before I confuse everyone, I’ll give you an example. This is played in a best ball format.

    Player 1 hits first and then asks player 2 to hit his tee shot. Once player 2 hits his shot, player 1 has the option of picking player 2 for his partner for that hole only. If he does not choose player 2 he then asks player 3 to hit. Once player 3 hits his ball, player 1 cannot go back and ask player 2 to be his partner. After player 3 hits, player 1 can then ask player 3 to be his partner. If he decides not to ask player 3 to be his partner, he than asks player 4 to hit. He can ask player 4 to be his partner or play the hole alone. We typically play a buck a guy per hole with carryover. There are no honors in this game. Player 1 hits first on holes 1, 5, 9, 13, and 17. Player 2 hits first on 2, 6, 10, 14, and 18. Player 3 hits first on 3, 7, 11, and 15. And player 4 hits first on 4, 8, 12, and 16. It makes for a fun day and everyone will be partners with everyone else throughout the day.

  9. BEn Grant says:

    I worked at a golf course while i was a college student. I think both of these formats are fun but definitely when there are work tournaments people come and are confused by the misconception they’re the same. Anyway, I think it’s a BIT strong to say that scramble’s lead to bad habits. I mean sure, yeah, when someone hits a good shot in front of you, you go for it. But sometimes, we all play golf too safe and plateau. Going for it is a good way to push the envelope. I think Tiger does it often, seems to work out okay ;). But seriously, very good post!

  10. Bill says:

    I have been looking at how to choose scramble teams. Specifically I have heard that if you have a list of players with handicaps. you list them in order of handicaps. The A players are listed in order first, then the B players are listed next in reverse order i.e. weakest A player gets the strongest B player and A strongest A player gets the weakest B player. The C and D player are assigned in the same manner starting with the strongest C player going to the team with the strongest A player and the strongest D player going to the team with the weakest A player.

    Our club plays numerous scrambles in this fashion and I would like to find a software program that would perform the task of assigning teams using this methodology. Can you help?

  11. Val says:

    Have you ever heard of a “best 2 ball scramble”? I’m joining a tournament in Bangkok Thailand called the Father Joe Maier’s Human Dev Foundation charity Golf Classic and they mention that the tounament is a best 2 ball scramble — this is while having 4 man teams, I’m not sure if I know what this means and how it will be played.

  12. Cam says:

    We played a scramble with “mother ball” – a specially decorated ball that rotated among the people on the foursome. The team to take their mother ball the farthest, or all the way to the end without losing it won a special prize. in the event of a tie, the team with the lowest score ON the mother ball won. It really added a fun element, especially for those of us who were not as good as some of the other golfers.

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