Best Ball vs Scramble: Differences, How Tos, & Tips

Best ball and scramble are NOT the same.

  • Best ball: Each player plays their ball as usual, but the lowest player’s score is recorded as the team’s score for each hole. It is most popular in 2-person teams competing in a foursome.
  • Scramble: Each player plays their ball, but the captain chooses the best ball to play. Then, each team member hits from that spot, and the process repeats. It is popular with teams of 4 or more and is great for beginners.
Clint Mccormick at Russell Dort Memorial Golf Tournament
My local scramble golf tournament

In both best ball vs. scramble formats, only one score is recorded on the scorecard, but both require different strategies to be successful.

Having played in hundreds of these events (including my annual family tournament), I’ve outlined the essential differences between the best ball and scramble. Plus, I’ll show you how to optimize your play for success.

Confused by all the golf terms? Check out our full post.

Best Ball vs Scramble Golf Formats

Best Ball Format

With best ball, you would each play your ball but the lowest score in a team would be the team's score
Best Ball should actually be called “best score.” Play your ball as normal, but the lowest score is the team’s score.

Best ball is often confused with scramble, but in best ball, everyone plays their own ball and keeps their own scores. A more accurate name would be “best score” because, at the end of the hole, only the lowest score of the two players will count for the team score.

  • Best for: 4 players of similar individual skills in teams of two.
  • Best Known for: Ryder Cup and other international team events (known as four-ball)

Pros

  • Players can still record an individual score for handicap purposes
  • Great for four players who are equal in experience, no matter the experience
  • Adds a team element to a typical round of golf
  • It can be combined with other games such as Skins, Nassau, or Bingo Bango Bongo
  • You only need four players to enjoy as opposed to scramble, which is best enjoyed in large groups

How to Play Best Ball Format

  1. Start with four players and divide yourself into two teams; regular stroke play rules apply.
    • If you have two skilled players and two novice players, split them up to make the teams fair, one skilled player with one novice player.
    • Even though best ball format only requires one score from the two teammates, the other can still play the whole round and log an individual score.
  1. At the end of each hole, the lowest player’s score on a team will be the team score.
  2. Add up the scores at the end and the lowest score wins, as usual.

However, anyone can play best ball, even on your usual Saturday morning round, but scramble requires a group to get the most out of it.

Variations

Best ball has fewer variations than a scramble golf format.

  • If you play with two or three players, you can just play a regular stroke play event, which would not be the best ball golf event.
  • If you have more than four players, you can use the best ball format the same way they use it in the Ryder Cup. If you have 12 players, divide them into teams of 6, and everyone chooses a teammate. Then, matches are drawn out of a hat.

Lastly, you could play with four-person teams and record only the lowest of the four to be recorded for the event. This is rare, but it is an option for long-time golfers looking to play something different.

Scramble Format

Scramble is a golf format where the captain picks the best shot from a team, then the team plays that shot.
In a scramble, a team would play the team’s best shot for each hit

Scramble is the best format for beginners in recreational tournaments. Players need not worry so much about their own ball as many shots will be picked up and moved to a more advantageous location. This team event encourages low scores because every team member works together on each shot to secure the best result.

Pros

  • Accessible for players who have trouble recording a full 18 score
  • Encourages a lively and fun team atmosphere
  • Scores depend on the whole team and not one player
  • It can be played in large groups easily
  • Speeds up the pace of play

Strategy Tip: Try picking a team member who plays from the forward tees. If you’re playing with a woman or senior, and he or she can drive it into the fairway consistently, this is a big advantage.

How to Play Scramble Format

The best way to enjoy scramble is in scramble tournaments, where everyone is divided into teams of four.

  1. Once teams are established, each team member hits their tee shot.
  2. Based on the results, the team will select one shot to represent the next shot.
  3. All three other players pick up their balls and drop within one club length of the chosen ball.
  4. All four players hit their second shot and the best ball is chosen again.
  5. This process continues from the fairway to the green until someone holes out, usually the first one to make a putt.

Unlike best ball, players do not need to play their own ball all the way through; only one score will represent a team of four.

If your shot is not chosen as the best, then you simply pick it up and move to where your team ball is. This takes a lot of pressure off beginners as they won’t directly affect the team’s success.

Strategy Tip: To win a scramble, try playing your better players last. This takes the pressure off your weaker players. For example, if the weaker players miss, you’ll still have a shot with your best player.

Variations

You have a couple of other options if you have fewer players or more skilled players:

  • Less than 4 players: You can make scramble teams smaller if you don’t have a big group. Playing in teams of two is an excellent format for beginners as it allows players the chance to contribute without as much pressure and helps speed up the pace of play.
  • Skilled players: A variation for more skilled players is called Texas Scramble. In this case, players choose a drive, and all play their second shot, but from there, each player plays their own golf ball until they complete the entire hole. The lowest of the four scores is recorded to represent the team. This is a combination of best ball and scramble.

Strategy Tip: Remember each player can place their ball near the selected ball, so you can sometimes get a better lie than the original ball. Therefore, it’s often best to choose the ball with the longest distance.

FAQ

Is it faster to play a scramble?

Yes, playing a scramble in golf is generally faster than playing a best ball format. In a scramble, all players hit from the best shot's location, reducing the time spent playing individual balls from different spots. This streamlined approach speeds up the game, making scrambles popular in casual and charity events.

How does a scramble work on the green?

In a scramble format on the green, all team members putt from the spot where the chosen best approach shot lies. Each player attempts the putt, continuing until one team member holes out. This method applies to every putt, starting from the first putt to sinking the ball, ensuring a swift and unified team effort throughout the green play.

Is best ball and 4 ball the same? 

Best ball and 4 ball are similar but not the same. In a 4 ball match, each member of a two-person team plays their own ball throughout the round, with the lower of the two scores counting as the team's score for each hole. In contrast, a best ball format can involve teams of any size, where each player plays their own ball throughout, and the lowest score among all team members serves as the team's score for each hole.

 

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Clint is PGA-certified and was a Head Teaching Professional at one of Toronto's busiest golf academies. He was also featured on Canada's National Golf TV program, "Score Golf Canada," twice. He graduated with a degree in Golf Management from the College of the Desert in California and studied under Callaway's co-founder, Tony Manzoni.

He has a handicap index of 6.2 and spends the winters near Oaxaca, Mexico, where he plays twice a month at the Club de Golf Vista Hermosa. He's written over 100 articles at GolfSpan since 2021. You can connect with Clint at LinkedIn, FB, his website, or Clintcpga@gmail.com.

  • Best score: 68
  • Favorite club: Odyssey White Hot Two-Ball Center-Shafted Putter
  • Favorite ball: Titleist Pro V1x
  • Favorite food at the turn: Hot dog

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