Best Ball vs Scramble: Differences Explained

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Best Ball vs Scramble

When it comes to golf, the format you play has the potential to make or break your day on the course. Choose the right format and your group will have a blast. Choose the wrong format for your twosome or foursome and you will find the experience proves somewhat disappointing or simply does not live up to your expectations. 

However, you won’t know which format is optimal for you and your group unless you try them out for yourself. Let’s take a look at two of the most popular formats for golf in best ball and scramble to give golfers a better idea of which is better for their group. This piece also delves into how these unique formats for golf differ from one another.

What is a Best Ball in golf

Best ball, commonly referred to a fourball in the context of the Ryder Cup, is typically played by teams of two golfers. Best ball is centered on golfers playing each hole as they would with regular stroke play conditions. 

The golfers play their respective golf balls until the hole is complete. Once everyone on the team has finished the hole, the best score from the twosome, threesome or foursome’s team is added to the team scorecard. As an example, if team one is comprised of Jim and Paul and Jim shoots a four while Paul shoots a three, the team enters Paul’s score of three on the scorecard.

In general, Best Ball is referred to as “Better Ball” when a team of two golfers plays it and “Best Ball” when a team of three golfers plays the game. 

In short, the team is taking the best score from their team and adding it to the scorecard. It is interesting to note one team of golfers can concede the hole or the entire match to the other team when that opposing team’s score is lower. Play moves forward until all holes are played or until the point at which one team cannot surmount the other’s lead, rendering the remaining holes meaningless. 

Though the teams can continue playing the course after it is statistically impossible for the trailing team to surmount the lead, there is also the option of ending the competition prior to the completion of the entire course. In the end, the team with the lowest score wins.

What does a Scramble mean in golf

The scramble format is typically centered on two-person teams in which each team’s player hits a tee shot. The players then decide which shot is superior. The players continue playing from the position of the superior shot. 

The golf ball of the player whose shot was inferior is picked up and moved to within a single club length of the chosen ball. Once this position is selected, both players follow through with a shot from this location then proceed to choose the ball position that is better. This process continues until the hole is completed. 

Players are permitted to position their ball within a single club length of the spot selected yet not closer to the hole. Furthermore, players cannot change the cut of grass that their ball is in. This means if the marker is in the rough, the ball cannot be positioned in the fairway. Players continue playing in this manner for each successive shot until holing out.

Let’s take a look at an example of scramble golf play to give players a better idea of what this format is all about. 

The initial golfer hits his or her shot into the rough from the tee box. The next golfer hits a beautiful drive smack dab in the center of the fairway. The team opts to play the fairway ball for their second shot.  They use their golf rangefinder to get an accurate yardage from there to the flag.  The golfers proceed to hit their second shots from that position of the golf ball in the fairway. The initial second shot lands in a bunker short of the green. 

The ensuing second shot lands on the edge of the green. The team opts to play the golf ball on the edge of the green. The third shot results in one ball landing on the green and rolling within a few inches of the cup and another attempt that lands beyond the flagstick and rolls off the green into the rough. 

The team chooses to play the golf ball that remained on the green. One player misses the fourth shot in the form of a putt. However, his or her teammate makes this final shot, meaning the team has finished the hole in a mere four strokes. The mishits are not factored into the final score as the team chose to play the better of the golf balls throughout the hole.

Check out this article from St Cloud Country Club showing some of the Scramble rules as well as some additional strategies for your team.

Scramble Benefits

The scramble format is optimal for beginning golfers as it merely takes one bad drive to ruin a “newbie” golfer’s round. Those who mishit their initial drive or another shot can simply play their partner’s shot. 

The more experienced golfer’s shots can be used by less experienced players, setting the stage for golfer to take more risks, knowing full well that their partner’s shot will be available to play if necessary. 

Furthermore, the scramble format increases risk-taking all the more as it gives the teammate who hits second a chance to see where his or her teammate’s shot lands before swinging. This means if one teammate’s drive goes down the center of the fairway, the other teammate can afford to take a chance with his or her shot knowing he/she can play the ball that was initially struck.

Scramble vs Best Ball: How the Two Formats are Similar

Both best ball and scramble are team games. Both formats are typically played with groups of two to four people. Both best ball and scramble can be played with as many players as desired. However, it is not advisable to play with more than four golfers as doing so has the potential to make the golf round quite long.

Best Ball vs Scramble: How the Two Formats Differ

Golfers enjoy playing both scramble and best ball as each format empowers golfers with minimal skill to contribute to their team’s success. Those who are new to the game and want to be a part of a team will find scramble is particularly intriguing as it sets the stage for a single good shot to advance the team’s overarching goal all the more. 

Alternatively, best ball requires golfers to play well on an entire hole in order to contribute to the team effort.

In terms of complexity, scramble is more complicated than best ball. Best ball does not require selecting shots and collecting golf balls. Rather, the golfers simply play the hole as they normally would and proceed to determine which team member has the lowest score. 

Each format empowers golfers to take risks on the course, ultimately making the game that much more enjoyable. 

However, scrambles are particularly appealing as they empower golfers to try particularly challenging shots that would otherwise be considered too risky as a teammate’s solid initial shot sets the stage for teammates to prove that much more aggressive when hitting from the spot.

Best ball scores are typically a bit higher than those in scramble as each player plays his or her own shots. This means if a bad drive is hit, the ball will have to be played while hoping the golfing partners plays significantly better. 

This is not to say best ball does not yield low scores as there is certainly the potential to shoot low. However, in general, scramble scores tend to be lower than those of best ball as there is a good chance at least one team member will have a solid initial shot.

Why Scramble Golf Causes Players to Stray From Their Normal Game

The format of scramble golf increases the chances of players playing differently than they regularly do. After all, there is a good chance at least one teammate will have a solid shot. This means the players who hit after the initial accurate shot is executed will prove more likely to go all-out, swinging uber-hard or trying another risky shot, leading to quite the unpredictable outcomes.

Alternatively, in best ball format, each individual player plays his or her own game. So even if you have different wedge distances, you can still win!  This format provides everyone with an opportunity to get a sense of how they actually played and scored on the golf course as there is an individual player score for each hole.

Team scores are typically significantly higher with the best ball format as there is no collective effort for shots as occurs in scramble. Furthermore, scramble players are forced to make pressure-packed putts to emerge as the victors.

Which Format is Better for Your Group?

Give both scramble and best ball a try and you will find they are enjoyable. As long as you have two groups of golfers looking for fun, you will have a blast regardless of whether you select the scramble or best ball format. 

Give both formats a try several times and you will likely find you favor one over the other. In general, those who want to work on their golf game while still being a part of a team will find best ball is the better of the formats. Those who want to be a part of a team yet be liberated to play all sorts of unique, fun and creative shots will gravitate toward the scramble format.

Comment below and let me know which you prefer, Best Ball or Scramble.  My personal preference, Best Ball.  I like playing my own ball all the way through!

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