Mike Montana

Scramble vs. Best Ball: What's the Difference?

Nov 24
11 minutes

Golf scrambles and best ball tournaments are probably the most common formats for amateur golf tournaments worldwide. These golf events promote team bonding, encourage everyone to do their best regardless of skill level, and maintain a system of fairness and equality that few other tournament types can match — especially compared to stroke play.

But if you’ve never played in a best ball or scramble tournament before, you probably ask, “What’s the difference between scramble vs. best ball?”

Whether you need a quick refresher, you’re playing one of these formats for the first time, or you simply consider yourself a less-skilled golfer who wants to get well-versed in the game, learn more about the format, rules, and other principles of scramble vs. best ball here.

Scramble vs. Best Ball: Understanding the Differences

Four golfers posing for a picture on the links

A golf scramble often gets confused with the best ball format, but learning the ins and outs can prove difficult for amateur players. Here’s a quick breakdown of each tournament type:

  • Scramble: In scramble format, the team (or team captain) picks the best shot from a single player on each stroke. Once the team chooses the shot with the best layup or lie, the team plays each shot from the new location. This continues until a hole out. At the end of 9 or 18 holes, the team with the best score/lower score against the competition wins the tournament. (Note that a four-person scramble is the traditional format, but you can also have two players or three players depending on the tournament.)
  • Best Ball: In the best ball format, every player plays their own ball for the entire hole, and then the lowest score is used. For example, Player A shoots a four on a par-5 while Player B shoots a five on the same hole. Obviously, Player A had the better ball, so the team would use that as their score on that particular hole.

Now that you understand the basics, let’s dive further into scramble vs. best ball to help you get your bearings.

How Does a Scramble Work?

A golf scramble is unequivocally the most popular type of golf tournament in the amateur, novice, or beginner ranks. Popular in charity events, informal gatherings, or just a leisurely weekend tournament with bragging rights or a small pot, a scramble in golf allows every golfer to have a chance to support the squad.

A scramble in golf is played by several four-man teams — this can range from two teams all the way up to 18 teams — or one at every hole, otherwise known as a shotgun start. Each team member hits their own ball throughout the match; who tees off first, second, third, or fourth is irrelevant. The team captain simply chooses the best shot off the tee. From that spot, every golfer hits their next shot, and the captain selects the best shot of that stroke. This continues until the team sinks a putt.

A Quick Golf Scramble Example

To make more sense of the golf scramble format and remove any doubt from the scramble vs. best ball debacle, let’s take four players on a par-3 hole: Player 1, Player 2, Player 3, and Player 4. On the tee shot, Player 1 hits one clean down the fairway. Player 2 and Player 3 tee off, but hit their shots in the rough. Player 4 hits the ball on the fairway, but not as far as Player 1. As such, the team captain — or the team collectively — chooses Player 1’s ball as the location for the next shot.

On the second shot, Player 1 and Player 2 hit poor shots, Player 3 hits over the green, but Player 4 knocks one a few feet from the cup. Obviously, Player 4’s shot is optimal, so the team decides to use this location for its next shot. On the third shot, Player 1 and Player 2 miss the hole, but Player 3 sinks the putt for par. Player 4 can shoot, but the point is moot because Player 3 already sank the putt.

As a result, the scramble team shoots par for the hole and continues playing golf in the same way throughout the duration of the tournament.

How To Win a Scramble in Golf

In the scramble golf format, the lowest score wins, just the same as if you were playing a 2 vs. 2 four-ball format, best ball, or using individual scores. However, you can ride hot streaks of individual players, pin your hopes on the best team member, or have a collectively great round.

Regardless of who takes the best shot, the team score is determined by how many shots the team takes to sink the ball. To this effect, not every person has to sink a putt at the end; just one person needs to get the job done.

What Is a 4-Man Scramble in Golf?

While you can have a 2-man, 3-man, or 4-man scramble in golf, the 4-man scramble is by far the most popular. Foursomes are the preferred organization, simply because it gives the team four opportunities to hit the best shot while also allowing the golf course or tournament organizers to maximize their income during a tournament.

Other Common Rules in a Golf Scramble

Beyond the examples and basic rules listed above, tournament organizers may have their own rules as well. In charity tournaments, it’s common for the organizer to sell mulligans to raise more money for the charity.

Moreover, most golf scrambles have some basic scramble rules that are almost always universally accepted:

  • The team or captain picks the best ball, and everyone shoots from there on the next shot.
  • If your team hits a shot on the green, each player usually plays within a putter’s head of where the ball came to a stop. This is the fairest way to ensure that every team member gets the best position to putt, while also keeping the game fair.
  • If your team hits a shot off the green, you must play your golf ball within a scorecard’s length of where the ball stopped.
  • If you hit into a hazard — such as water or a bunker — every team member should play their shot within one golf club length of where the original shot came to a rest.
  • You can switch the order of your team on each shot. Use it to your advantage.

Using these slight ball movements from the original approach shots, you can usually give yourself a slight advantage by choosing the best angle. This can often mean the difference between a bogey and a birdie — and take you one step closer to scramble golf tournament glory.

Strategies To Win a Scramble in Golf

Man fist pumping after sinking a shot during a golf scramble or best ball tournament

Golfers of all skill levels may tell you that there’s no true strategy to win a scramble in golf; you just go with the flow. Someone asking, “What is a scramble in golf?” before the tournament is just as valuable as any other player — or at least for one shot.

However, the game of golf is a fickle mistress. Nothing goes to plan in many cases — even PGA Tour professionals can vouch for that idea.

But if you’re serious about bringing home the title in this team format, you might want to apply a few of these basic strategies:

  • Put the right team together: In some scenarios, this might be impossible. But if you can pick at least one or two other players who play somewhat regularly, you’re setting yourself up for a great outing.
  • Finish your shots on the green: Even if every player makes a shot, have everyone finish their putt. Think of it as a little extra practice that keeps everyone fresh.
  • Use the best person for the job last: Because you can switch up the order on each shot, you should usually use your worst person first and the best person last. For example, if you’re great off the tee, go last. Don’t let the worst person go last and feel the pressure of trying to hit the perfect shot.

Different Formats of a Golf Scramble

While a golf scramble typically uses the same format, you may come across one with slightly different rules or formats. Most commonly, you’ll see either a Florida scramble or a Texas scramble, but other variations also exist. Both offer a slight twist to a traditional golf scramble but are generally similar. Here’s a quick breakdown of other scrambles you may see.

What Is a Florida Scramble?

A Florida scramble is almost identical to a regular golf scramble except for one minor variation. While all golfers hit the tee shot, the golfer with the best shot must sit out the next shot, leaving only three golfers to hit. On the next shot, the golfer with the best shot of the three must sit out while the golfer who was left out after the initial shot hops back in.

A Florida scramble also comes with several other names that refer to the same format, including:

  • Step Aside Scramble
  • Dropout Scramble
  • Stand Aside Scramble
  • Mexican Standoff
  • Stand Out

What Is a Texas Scramble?

A Texas scramble is another common format that — surprise, surprise — is a common golf scramble used in Texas. However, this one’s easier to understand than the Florida scramble. In a Texas scramble, every player must hit at least four drives, regardless of where the ball lands.

So if you’re playing a Texas scramble and your worst player hits even a halfway decent drive, you may want to take their shot, regardless of how the other people on your team do off the tee.

What Is a Las Vegas Scramble?

Although it’s a less popular format, you may stumble across a Las Vegas scramble from time to time. This adds a bit of a gambling aspect to the game in true Las Vegas fashion.

In a Las Vegas scramble, teams use a six-sided die to decide which player’s tee shot is used on the hole, regardless of the quality of the shot. So, for example, if you roll a 1, Player 1’s shot is used no matter what. The other members can still tee off, but Player 1’s tee shot is automatically used.

How Does Best Ball Work?

Four golfers posing for a photo in the tee box

Though not as popular as a scramble, best ball relies more on each individual player than the team as a whole. Nevertheless, the feel and pace of play are markedly similar.

Unlike a scramble, best ball plays similar to stroke play that you’d see in any PGA Tour major or event. Each team member plays the hole just as they would in a regular game of golf. The only difference is that your own score — provided it’s the lowest score — is your total for each hole.

An interesting aspect of best ball is that your team may never use your low scores on any hole. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hit the driving range or brush up on course management; your teammates, collectively, had better scores on each individual hole. But best ball can certainly help you hone your own game, regardless of how you shoot.

Interestingly, one of the notable features between scramble vs. best ball is that best ball doesn’t really have any alternative formats. It’s cut-and-dried, making the distinction between scramble vs. best ball that much easier.

A Quick Best Ball Example

To understand scramble vs. best ball, you only need a quick example. In a best ball tournament, each player on your team plays a hole as they normally would, shooting their own shots on every stroke. You don’t take the best shot on each stroke.

Let’s say you have a foursome, and your hole is a par-3. Player A hits a 5, Player B hits a 4, Player C hits a 7, and you hit a 3. In this case, your score is 3 for the hole because you had the best score for the hole. This format continues on for every hole in the tournament, whether you’re playing 9 or 18.

Best Ball at the Ryder Cup

The Ryder Cup is one of the most prestigious golf tournaments, but it doesn’t follow the format of traditional pro tournaments. It consists of three different playing formats, including best ball:

  • Singles (stroke play): In this format, each team has players going against each other one-on-one. The player with the lower score wins the hole.
  • Foursome: A foursome at the Ryder Cup is similar to best ball, involving two-man teams. Each team plays one ball per hole. They alternate shots until they sink the hole. The team with the lower score wins.
  • Fourball: This is best ball at its finest. Two two-man teams play against each other, and each golfer plays their own ball. The person who gets the lowest score on each team provides the score for the hole. Whichever team has the player with the lowest score wins the hole.

How You Can Bring Your Team To Victory in Scramble vs. Best Ball

The only surefire way to bring your team to victory is by choosing the right team and having yourself prepared. Choose the right clubs, start asking your preferred golfers if they’re interested well before the tournament, and abstain from drinking too many beers while you’re on the course. With any luck, you’ll end up a champion.

As to which format is better between scramble vs. best ball, it’s all about the skill level of your team. But as long as you’re having fun and learning, best ball vs. scramble isn’t a debate — it’s merely a matter of preference.

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