Golf's Scramble: Rules and Strategies for Playing (and Winning)

By Jackson Lewis

Four golfers walk up a fairway

Given that a scramble allows golfers of all abilities to compete pressure-free, the format has become wildly popular among charity outings and local club tournaments.

So what exactly is the scramble format in golf, and how do you play it?

Golf Scramble

In a scramble, golfers play on a team, usually with two or four players per team. After each player tees off, the team chooses one shot to use, and each team member plays from that spot. This process is continued until the ball is holed. Since golfers are not playing their own ball, the team simply cards one “team” score per hole.

The scramble format is welcoming to beginning and less-skilled golfers because there is typically no consequence for hitting a bad shot, unless every player on the team hits a poor shot at the same time.

In large tournaments, the scramble organizers might mix the skill levels of each team in order to provide a more fair competition.

Scramble Rules

The rules of a scramble are not covered in the Rules of Golf, and each tournament committee may implement different rules for their event. There are, however, some rules and procedures that are common in most scrambles.

Marking Your Ball

You hit a nice drive down the center and your team has chosen your shot as the one to use. Before you hit your ball out of the fairway, make sure to mark it so your teammates have a reference point to play from the same location.

Playing From Off the Green

The tournament committee hosting the scramble should specify where in relation to the chosen shot team members must play from. It may be one club length from the chosen shot (no closer to the hole), or there may be guidelines on keeping the ball in the same cut. For example, if the chosen shot is in the rough, one foot from the fairway, the committee may require you to play the next shot from the rough, even though the fairway is within one club length.

On the Putting Green

The committee will also specify the maximum distance, in relation to the result of the chosen shot, the ball must be played on the putting green. This is likely to be just a few inches, as opposed to the club-length given off the putting green.

Holing Out

In a scramble, it’s important to mark any missed putt rather than tap it in, because doing so could cost your team a stroke.

When a member of your team holes out, that score becomes your team score for the hole. Say, for example, you’re in a two-person scramble and you are the first to putt for birdie. Your putt finishes one inch from the hole and you walk up and tap it in for par. Your team takes a par for that hole and your partner no longer has the opportunity to putt for birdie. Instead, be sure to mark your ball and give your partner the chance to hit an aggressive birdie putt.

Strategies for Winning a Scramble

One of the aspects of a scramble that people enjoy is the opportunity to play aggressive. Having a second, (and maybe third and fourth), player as a back-up can free golfers up to take on risks they may otherwise avoid.

Safety First

The ideal strategy in a scramble is for the team to secure a safe option on each shot as quickly as possible, and follow that up with higher-risk, higher-reward shots. This can be done by having the best player in the group play last, yielding to a more accurate player from the tee. If the team has a ball in the fairway that is playable, this allows the better player to take rip at their tee shot to possibly get much closer to the green, without fearing the consequences if the shot heads into a penalty area or out of bounds.

The same strategy can be used on the putting green. The first player to putt should lag a putt as close to the hole as possible to ensure a tap-in, allowing their teammates to see the line of the putt and hit a more aggressive putt without worrying about the length of a potential come-backer.

Of course, if the first putt is inside 10 feet or so, every player should be trying to make it.

Scramble vs. Best Ball

Given that in a scramble, teams select the best ball of their group and play from there, the format is often confused with the best ball format, but the two are actually different.

The “best ball” format is another term for four ball, where each player on a side plays their own ball throughout the entire round, and the best score made on each hole becomes the team score.


Image: Yellow Dog Productions/The Image Bank via Getty Images

About the Author

Based in Memphis, Jackson Lewis has been writing on technology-related material for 10 years with a recent emphasis on golf and other sports. He has been freelance writing for Demand Media since 2008. Lewis holds a Master of Science in computer science from the United States Naval Postgraduate School.