What is a Golf Scramble?

Golf Scramble 101: What You Need to Know Before You Play

I’m going to make a bold prediction here: your friend, boss, colleague, or someone in your network invited you to a golf scramble tournament and you said “yes.”

I mean — golf, food, drinks, prizes, and a day on the golf course — who would pass that up? 

The only problem is, you don’t know what a scramble is and you aren’t sure about the second-hand clubs that have been sitting in your garage for the last 10 years.

Have no fear!

A scramble tournament is one of the best ways to play golf.

Regardless of your skill level, a scramble is designed to be fun and competitive for both casual and serious golfers. Scramble tournaments are typically set up as business or charity events, which means they don’t have the same pressure as an invitation to a fancy country club.

Scramble tournaments are often set up to expand networks, raise funds or increase awareness, so the tournament committee utilizes a format that facilitates the most fun for everyone involved.

In a scramble, even an inexperienced golfer such as yourself can contribute to the team.

What is a golf scramble?

A golf scramble is a competition that is most often played with teams of four competing against other teams of four. Play begins with each golfer hitting his or her own golf ball from the tee. Once all the tee shots have been completed, the team chooses the best of the four shots and plays their next shots from that location. This pattern continues, including putting, until the hole is completed with the ball in the bottom of the cup.

If you’re not a good golfer, that’s totally fine. You just need to get lucky and hit a decent shot or two during the round. Sinking a putt is another great way to contribute.

Putting in a Golf Scramble
Less talented golfers can still contribute in a scramble by sinking a lucky putt.

This setup makes a scramble format one of the most inclusive to players of all skill levels. Good players can carry the team through most holes, and less talented players get to chip in along the way.

Consequently, the golf scramble tournament is arguably the most popular format for large scale charity and business golf events. Both the novice or the occasional golfer experience minimal pressure and maximum hope of contributing to the team.

Placing the Golf Ball

The beauty of the scramble format is having the opportunity to utilize a great shot while disregarding less favorable shots. For those whose shot was not used, they are permitted to move their ball to the location of the chosen (“best”) ball.

The general rule for ball placement is within one club length of the spot of the chosen ball (except on the putting surface). The driver is usually the longest club in the bag and therefore offers the greatest benefit in determining placement. 

The one club length rule is designed to protect the second, third and fourth shot takers from a disadvantageous lie, like in the divot of one of the preceding players. However, the one club length variance cannot be abused to move the ball closer to the hole or to enhance the shot opportunity for shots two, three and four.

For instance, if the chosen ball is a long drive just two inches off the fairway in the first cut rough, the second, third or fourth shots cannot use the one club length rule to place the ball in the fairway thus providing a better lie. This is sometimes called the Same Condition rule.

The same principle would apply if the chosen ball were on the perimeter of a sand bunker. The one club length rule cannot be used to radically change the texture of the ground under the golf ball. 

Lastly, the one club length rule cannot be used to move a ball to the green when the chosen ball was positioned on the fringe or just beyond.

Golf Scramble Rules and Strategy

To make for a more exciting golf outing and to protect the field against a couple of ringers on one team, the tournament organizers may implement the “Two Tee Shot” rule.

This rule requires that the team use at least two tee shots from each team member. 

If you’re not an experienced golfer, this is the one rule during the scramble tournament that can make your life a bit stressful. Simply put, you’re going to need to hit two decent tee shots.

Why This Rule Matters

Imagine a scenario where a team is composed of two really good golfers and two casual golfers (that’s a nice way of saying hackers).

The team must use at least two tee shots from each of the casual golfers, for a total of four tee shots combined. Taking the “best” tee shots of a casual golfer can be a bit of a disadvantage, so the team must employ a bit of strategy. 

The greatest strategic move is to use the two casual golfers’ shots earlier in the round rather than later (or to save their tee shot for a shorter hole like a par 3).

If the team is scoring well and in contention but hasn’t utilized the weaker golfers’ tee shots, the tournament can be lost in the closing holes because of the obligation to use a bad, horrible, or unplayable shot.

Make sure your team is planning ahead.

You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you have to come through with a clutch shot on one of the last four holes, but some simple planning can help mitigate this scenario.

The ideal strategy is to look at the hole layout (usually found on the scorecard) and identify holes that have less of a possibility for catastrophe. These holes may be the best holes to utilize the casual golfers’ tee shot (even if it doesn’t make it past the red tees).

How does scoring work in a scramble?

Each chosen (best) shot is counted toward the cumulative score for the hole and is recorded on the scorecard. At the completion of the round, the score on each of the 18 holes is added together for the team’s total score. 

The team with the lowest aggregate score is the tournament winner.

Why You Should Play in a Golf Scramble Tournament

The scramble format is a great large group, low pressure event suitable for all skill levels. Even an infrequent golfer can positively contribute with just a few good shots.   

The novice player will take comfort in knowing that this format is not designed to calculate handicap or post a personal best individual score. This event is not for individual achievement nor personal highlight. 

So don’t fret! 

Enjoy your time on the course, hit some good shots, contribute to the team, eat some good food and soak in the extended happy hour. You got this!

Golf Scramble FAQs

What is the starting format for a scramble?

The starting format for a scramble is most often a shotgun start. A shotgun start utilizes all 18 holes as starting locations and every team has the same tee time, simultaneously teeing off across the golf course. This is the most efficient starting format for a large golf scramble tournament.

How long does a golf scramble take?

An 18 hole golf scramble usually takes over 4 hours, depending on the skill level of the golfers and the size of the tournament group. Other factors like walking or riding a cart and the amount of play the course is experiencing can increase or decrease that time.

For a scramble tournament, there could be up to 36 teams spread out over the 18 holes. Although a scramble format is designed to speed up the round, there probably won’t be any sub 4 hour time being recorded. A scramble tournament is often a 5+ hour event. 

What do I wear to a scramble golf tournament?

First, check with the Tournament Committee for any information regarding dress. The tournament will likely mimic the course requirements. 

Second, research the course and its membership requirements and dress codes. Private golf courses and country clubs often require a stricter dress code. 

Third, having taken into consideration any dress code requirements, dress for comfort including paying attention to the weather conditions. If there is a chance of inclement weather conditions or drops in temperature, bring a jacket, pullover, sweater, etc.  

I live in Northeast PA and there is nothing more torturous on the golf course than having to wait for the foursome in front of you while experiencing agonizing discomfort because of the weather.

What is the best golf scramble strategy?

If there is a two tee shot rule in place and you have weaker players on your team, the best golf scramble strategy is to use the weaker players’ tee shots early (or on the easiest holes).

Getting their tee shots out of the way will help eliminate extra pressure as you approach the final holes of your round.

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