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The GolfWRX Guide to Playing in a Scramble

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This story is part of our new “GolfWRX Guides,” a how-to series created by our Featured Writers and Contributors — passionate golfers and golf professionals in search of answers to golf’s most-asked questions.

Scramble tournaments mean one thing: birdie-fest! How could you not be excited to play golf where others make up for your mistakes and you get four runs at birdie on nearly every hole? Before you lies the opportunity to team up with three of your closest friends or favorite ringers.

Unfortunately, golfers or entire groups miss the point of playing in a scramble event.

There’s no right answer, but you don’t want to show up at the event without an agenda. If you’re competitive, you might be in it to win it. If you’re charitable, your goal is to raise money for the cause. If you’re generous, your No. 1 concern is to ensure that your friends have a great time and come away with a great story to tell.

You may be inclined to assume that if you’ve played one scramble, you’ve played them all. Before you fire that shot across the bow, let’s take a look at your check list for a successful scramble golf tournament.

Know your format

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It’s a bit odd to call an event a traditional scramble, but it seems that tournament organizers are jonesing to separate their tournament from the rest by way of an altered format. The traditional scramble event follows the following protocol: each golfer plays from the tee, then the group selects one drive. From there, each golfer hits a second shot and then the procedure is repeated until the ball is holed.

In recent years, the Shamble has gained some traction, perhaps to keep teams from riding one player too hard to victory. The shamble requires each golfer to tee off, then have the team select its best drive. From there, each golfer plays his own ball to the end of the hole and the team records the two best scores. While a traditional scramble score will be in the low 60s with handicap, a shamble tally doubles that figure.

Knowing your format is critical to picking your participants.

[quote_box_center]Before teeing off, work out a game plan between you and your partners,” said golf journalist Rusty Cage. “Each person has strengths and weaknesses. Depending on the format, you can cover up for each other’s mistakes.[/quote_box_center]

A number of Buffalo-area golfers and professionals chimed in with their thoughts as well — No. 1 being the need for great putters. The more guys you can get to drain those eagle and birdie putts, the better.

One club pro mentioned 300-plus yard drives. These are the white buffalos of scramble participants — rarely seen, but when you do it’s a pleasure. If you can snag yourself one of these 300-yard driving white buffalos, you’ll be looking at a bunch of birdies, eagles, and hitting from shorter distances than you’ve ever seen. If not, it may be just a helpful to have guys who know precisely how far they hit the ball, with every club in the bag. Realistic strikers help way more than the dreamers.

Preparation breeds success

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Mulligans and strings are the boon and the bane of many a scramble event. Offered before play begins by the tournament committee, mulligans are do-overs and strings are lengths of cord used to move the ball closer to the hole. Each is sold at the check-in desk, with all proceeds going to charity. I have a friend who purchases mulligans, then invariably uses each one twice. Whether he simply loses count or knows what he is doing, it’s cheating! Since he has yet to win an event, the golf gods clearly believe in karma. However, if your goal is to take home the tiny, first-place jug, then get your money in and purchase those mullies and strings.

Remember that order of play is a big deal in scramble events, so you should prepare properly within your group. There is usually one skittish player in every group, so he should hit either first or second each time to alleviate the pressure. If he hits a bad one, he has three golfers to bail him out.

If you play your weak players toward the back of the order, they’ll feel the pressure (self-imposed as it is) every time. There is usually one chap who loves the attention and jumps up to be lead-off man, no matter the shot. Try to reel him back as much as possible. Finally, there is one father figure, the guy who perceives himself as Mr. Pressure. He’ll offer a quiet nod when you ask him if he doesn’t mind the anchor slot. Keep the batting order for as long as it works, but don’t be afraid to mix things up if you get stale.

Load up your team

LongDrive

Golf offers one simple rule to all of its competitors: the hottest player wins. The local scramble brain trust, always intent on winning an event, assembles a team that includes one long driver, one solid iron player, one top-notch putter and a fourth boasting some necessary skill (like money, to purchase the mulligans and strings mentioned above). The problem with this approach is, if one of the experts is off his particular game, the team suffers appropriately. Camaraderie, rather than talent, usually wins the day. Four guys who get along, forgive each other’s misses, and keep the smiles big and the attitudes positive will capture the flag over an all-star compilation.

The other way to do this is to grab three of your greatest friends, guys who love to talk friendly smack, have a cold one and roar when the big dog eats. Whether you win or not is inconsequential; what matters is that a good time is had by all.

Let’s be honest: who brags about winning a scramble? They don’t bring you local ranking points and you can’t qualify into the state amateur by winning one. Keep your priorities in order and your head level. You’ll have a great time and your friends will invite you out to their next scramble.

Get advice from others

Opinions, like noses, are what everyone has. Throughout my fact-gathering process, I was told by experienced scramblers to have the best putter go last. One guy thought outside the box and said to have the best putter and driver hit first. If those skill guys show you the line or put it in play, it frees everyone else up to hit their best shot.

In events where everyone has to count a certain number of drives, swinging free and loose is critical. No matter what they say, however, remember that your partners are flawed. If they were great, they would be on tour somewhere, or playing in the local amateur championship. They aren’t, so they’re not. Having a great time ensures that you will play together again. The more you play together, the more likely you are to have success.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

40 Comments

40 Comments

  1. Daniel

    Apr 30, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Nice article, I especially like the part about preparing mentally before the round. I am usually the “A” player when I play a scramble, not because I’m a great golfer, but because I happen to be better than the guys I play with. The hard part of this is the expectation that I have to get it done if the team is going to play well. Mostly this expectation is self imposed, and it’s hard to just go out and play my game. For example, the team has a 20 ft birdie putt and I’m the last one to go. I miss the putt and get upset because I have seen the line and I didn’t make it. Now if I’m playing my own ball and miss a 20 ft birdie, it’s no big deal.
    I like the advice someone said in the comments about having the best putter putting 2nd or 3rd. It’s so hard when you’re last and you are trying to make sure you don’t leave it short, so you end up blasting it through the break.

    I guess it’s tough being a skittish A player.

  2. Steve

    Apr 27, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Here’s a head gamer tactic we’ve employed. I won’t promise that it will make you win, but it will affect other groups nearby. Eagles really are game changers in a scramble. Of course, when they happen, your team will likely be heard by other teams in the same area of the course. So what’s to stop you from letting out an equivalent cheer, no matter the score? I realized this once on an eagle putt I made from really far across the par 5’s green. We roared when the 70+ footer went in. The green was perched about 20′ above (by elevation) another green and tee box. That roar HAD to get in the heads of our opponents. Pick your locations wisely (for most effect) and let that same roar happen even if your anchor misses that 12′ birdie by an inch. He taps in quickly but the team reacts like they’ve gained serious strokes on the field.

    It’s just a head game. And your opponents will feel the multiplied pressure, no doubt.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 28, 2015 at 10:56 am

      What goes around, comes around. If everyone employs that strategy, will it be golf? More important, will it be good form?

  3. Double Mocha Man

    Apr 24, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Rule #1… you always need one player who is good at flagging down the cart girl.

  4. Gary Gutful

    Apr 23, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Enjoy playing scrambles but typically find that it’s the team with burglars that do really well. A 18+ handicapper who generally hits the ball well but has the odd blowout the stops their handicap coming down is perfect for this type of format. Pair two burglars with two solid single figure golfers and you are laughing.

  5. Tre

    Apr 23, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    Good article. The most fun I have ever had on a course was a scramble with a group of teachers I worked with on the last day of school. Any tips on when to use the mulligans and strings? We had two, used them on long birdie putts which changed a par to a birdie. I could see benefits to using them on approaches and par 5s in 2.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 23, 2015 at 10:04 pm

      I would use them early, to gain momentum or to keep it going. If you save them for later, the pressure to make them count multiplies. I am a fan of approaches on par fives, so that’s another good option.

  6. Joe

    Apr 23, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    I played in a scramble with a marker where we legitimately shot 50 (-22). Par on one and then 5 eagles (1 on a par 4) and birdied the other 12 holes. We missed from 10 feet on 1 and then made everything including a few putts over 30 feet. It can happen, but with the same group we haven’t shot better than -17 in over 15 years. -20 3 straight years as mentioned above is some high quality BS.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 28, 2015 at 11:00 am

      I agree, Joe. We’ve played in a scramble at a course you can get, and only once did we catch lightning in a bottle. It was a great ride, though!!

  7. Andy

    Apr 23, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    For 10 years in SE Missouri, I played 4-man scrambles for money. For 9 holes, the “A” players picked his partners, every player puts in 10 bucks, winning 4some takes all… Then do it again & again, heck all day.
    As an “A” player, my first choice was the best iron player, somebody that hits it close. Even with 4 of us putting on 30-footers, need luck to hole it. 10-footers we make 99% of the time.
    Next pick is the good putter, last pick was the long drive guy, which is funny in that Sean Fister was in this scramble game for years, and nobody hits it longer…

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 28, 2015 at 8:15 pm

      That’s an excellent point, Andy. Someone who can stuff it in there and feels no pressure is better than golf.

  8. MarkNado

    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    The most important thing in scrambles is to down shooting 10 under after playing by saying things like “we couldn’t make any putts” or “we had 3 eagle putts but they all lipped out”…that’s all I ever hear

  9. MarkNado

    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Make sure one of your teammates uses a pencil wedge.

  10. Truth

    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    I love playing a good scramble its always a lot of fun because i never really care about winning. Simple fact is there will always be one group who takes it too seriously and will end up cheating. Im not saying they wouldnt of had a low score anyway but there will always be a handful of holes they lip out a putt and count it anyway or someone takes a second go at it. You will never escape cheaters in this format just dont let it bother you have a good time

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 28, 2015 at 11:01 am

      It’s up to every group to police the one ahead of them. We know what birdie putts and birdie/eagle reactions look like. If the guys were blaise about it all day, they didn’t shoot the number they turned in.

  11. Nate

    Apr 23, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Great article, Ronald. Thanks for posting this!

    I prefer to go with a set order off of the tee and on the green but go with the “next man up” philosophy for approach shots and chipping.

    Off the tee, I think the ideal setup is to have the most consistent or accurate guy go first so that he can put one in play. Have your weakest or most skiddish player go 2nd so that you can minimize the liability, and then have the big dogs go 3rd and 4th. On the green, I really like having the best putter go first so that he can show the group the appropriate line and pace. I’ve found it difficult though when putters 2-4 struggle to make consistent contact. Nothing worse than having your best putter go first to show you the line and then have the other 3 guys mishit their putts – a waste of great opportunity!

    At the end of the day, playing well in scrambles comes down to having a fun group and having at least one person get hot with the flat stick.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 29, 2015 at 9:35 am

      Thank you, Nate. If you only have one good putter, you won’t be in the mix. Your top putter has to be borderline arrogant about her/his stroke. You should have a mate who can hit a line, if not the hole, and she/he should go first. Everyone agrees on the line, then that “crash test dummy” goes ahead and hits the anticipated line. 2 gives it a run, then your best putter goes 3rd. If you get to #4, don’t worry if it doesn’t go in.

  12. RobG

    Apr 23, 2015 at 11:42 am

    A few years back in our company scramble me and a buddy (both avid golfers) got paired with two absolute beginners. I’m a long ball hitter, JP is phenomenal iron player and we both have decent short games and putters. We shot 58 (-14) riding basically just the two of us. If we had one more guy who could putt, a 52 probably could have happened. It is the lowest round (by 9 shots) to have been recorded in the 15 years of the tournament and it was the 2nd lowest 4-man scramble score ever posted at that golf course – the record is 56. Golf came easy that day and I doubt I will ever have another day on the course like that again.

  13. BD57

    Apr 23, 2015 at 11:24 am

    My “rule” for order of play (for what it’s worth):

    Identify the person who’s going to hit last for every “shot” – who’s your anchor off the tee, on second shots, short game shots, putts? Doesn’t have to be the same person (probably isn’t).

    Once that’s done, the first to play of the other three should be the person most likely to hit a decent shot (whatever the shot may be). That person coming through allows everyone else to take a rip.

    Important (IMO) in putting is that the first player to putt be decent on speed – we want to see what the putt does when hit at decent speed so we can adjust our read accordingly (if necessary).

    Playing with friends is a VERY good idea. Scramble teams that enjoy each other’s company tend to do better.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 28, 2015 at 11:09 am

      Friends make the day. If you can raise a toast to each other and laugh off your foozles, you will have a great scramble.

  14. Bob Quigley

    Apr 23, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Speaking of your three guys in denim comment, we have a foursome like that who the last three years have won our outing with reported scores of -20, -20 and -22. This year, we thought we would slow them down by requiring at least 4 drives from each player in their foursome. When they reported their score at 20 under, I bet them $100 to play against them any hole they wanted, me against their foursome. They selected hole # 1. They scored a double bogie and I was lucky enough to score a par. I am not so sure we will be seeing that group again!

    • BD57

      Apr 23, 2015 at 11:30 am

      Your experience is evidence of how important it is that there be little to no “Prize” for “winning.”

      Played years ago in a scramble with good friends: Husband & wife (he was a 2, she played golf in college), a long hitting buddy who was about a 5 at the time, and me (also a 2, at least back then).

      We went on a hot streak, aided by the wife playing from the women’s tees (we were using her drives all day), three of us being good putters who had a good day (H & W and me), and our long hitter having a good day. We were 15 under.

      Guys in front of us reported 16 under. There was no way … we saw pretty much every shot they hit, saw them putting, etc. There’s “celebration” in a group which is dropping putts from all over (there was in our group), and we didn’t see it there.

      BUT – – – there was no real “prize” for winning, so it didn’t matter. We’d played well, had a very good day, enjoyed each other’s company, and helped raise money for a worthy cause.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 29, 2015 at 9:38 am

      One word: Inconceivable!

      Another word: Awesome.

  15. Josh Spangler

    Apr 23, 2015 at 10:30 am

    In arkansas we have so many good golfers …if you don’t shoot 17-20 under in a 4 man…u ain’t winning

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 23, 2015 at 10:31 am

      Is that a scratch or handicap 4 man, Josh?

      • Josh A

        Apr 23, 2015 at 11:47 am

        I can’t speak for the other Josh, but I am also from Arkansas and have played in a number of scramble tournaments here. There are multiple areas in the state–Jonesboro for example–which have a number of charity scrambles each summer that are very competitive. Players will come from all across the state to compete in these, and if you’re not in the low 50s (scratch) then you have no shot at winning the championship flight. These tournaments are expensive, but also provide very generous payouts, so the top teams in these areas basically treat this as a summer scramble tour.

  16. Gorden

    Apr 23, 2015 at 9:56 am

    I like the bland draw scramble where players are put in A,B,C,D rankings by handicap. Each team is a made up of one each A<B<C<D player. Only drawback with this type scramble is the A player that is not really an A player….we all see the 10 handicap showing up with a 15 handicap but far worse is the 15 handicap showing up with a 7.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 23, 2015 at 10:33 am

      Good points, Gorden. If the people all know each other or are all very gregarious, the blind draw works well. Many golfers eschew this format, as they must leave their comfort zone to perform in front of golfers they don’t know.

    • Person of interest

      Apr 23, 2015 at 11:42 am

      We often have the same ABCD events at our club, i often end up being the A player. The biggest factor seems to be if your C and D players can hit good drives, I’ve had some D’s that can outdrive me and is always in the short grass, and have had others who are lucky to hit it 100 yards and while keeping it in play! Those are the challenging days.

      This guide is just OK, most of it is fairly obviously advice. Putting strategy is very important, I think the best putter should putt 2nd or 3rd, so he gets a read, but doesn’t have the do-or-die pressure of being the final person to putt.

      • Jive

        Apr 24, 2015 at 11:14 am

        Our club has a stag day ABCD, where the A hits from the men’s tees, the B from what some would call the old man tees, and the C&D from the ladies tees. Use everyone tee shot 3 times. Very little money on the line, but good food before, good food after and libations that whole day. Great kickstart to the season after the Masters. Format levels the playing field, usually a 5 shot gap between first and worst. More money is won or lost on the braggadocios emergency nines or cards afterwards.

  17. Scott

    Apr 23, 2015 at 7:31 am

    The other rule:

    Everyone cheats, and be prepared to have your honest score that you think will do it squashed by 3 guys in denim and a 4th man with a senior flag on his cart by 6 strokes.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 23, 2015 at 10:31 am

      I’ve been fortunate to not play in those events, Scott. Either we are in the running or we have played so poorly that we know we won’t win. I think the tip-off to cheating is the amount of strings and mulligans purchased. If guys are buying buckets of each, you chalk it up to a good day with great friends, on a great course, followed by a great meal and fellowship.

  18. other paul

    Apr 23, 2015 at 1:36 am

    People that clicked “shank” are dumb. I play in a charity tournament every year and we do just about everything here. 2 of us bomb it. One accurate iron player, one putter. And one of us is solid around the green. Shot 63 last year. And won a few of the other prizes as well. Good article.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 23, 2015 at 5:26 am

      Other Paul,

      At least the shankers voted. Not every “Guide” is 100% thorough (as I found with the Push Cart piece last week) but it opens up a dialogue, making WRX a place to be for golf. I enjoy the scrambles as well. Unless you’re the greatest friend in the world, in a normal outing, you’re trying to beat your buddies. Here, you play together for a cause of sorts. Thanks for your commentary…Keep on reading and scrambling!

      RM

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Opinion & Analysis

What does it really take to play college golf?

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Much has been written and speculated about this question, both in popular media and by junior golfers and their parents and coaches. However, I wanted to get a more definitive answer.

In collaboration with Dr. Laura Upenieks of Baylor University, and with the generous support of Junior Tour of Northern California and Aaron R. Hartesveldt, PGA, we surveyed 51 players who were committed to play college golf for the 2021 year.

Our sample was comprised of 27 junior boys and 24 junior girls. Most of our respondents were either white or Asian. As for some other notable statistics, 67% of boys reported working with a coach once a week, while 100% of girls reported working with a coach at least once a week. In addition, 67% of boys were members at a private club, while 100% of girls were members of a private club. Here are some other interesting findings from the data:

-The average scoring differential for a boy who committed to college golf was -1.48
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-The average girl was introduced to golf at 12 years old
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Another interesting showing was that 75% of boys surveyed reported receiving “full scholarship”. At first glance, this number seems to be extremely high. In 2016, in a GolfWRX that I did with Steph Acosta, the data we collected estimated this number was between 5-10%. This number is seven times greater, which could be due to a low sample size. However, I would also speculate that the data speaks to the extrinsic motivation of players in the data set, as they feel the need to get a scholarship to measure their athletic success.

Finally, boys in the survey report playing with a mixture of elite players (those with plus handicaps) as well as 5-9 handicaps. On the other hand, no female in the study reported playing with any plus handicaps. It also stood out that 100% of junior girls report that their fathers play golf. In ongoing research, we are examining the reasons why young women choose golf and the impact their environments have on their relationships with golf. The early data is very interesting and we hope that it can be published by the end of this year. Altogether, we suspect that girls hold lower status at golf courses and are less able to establish competitive groups to regularly play with. This could impact how long they stay in the sport of golf as well as their competitive development.

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