The Complete Golf Scramble Rules: How To Play & Win A Captain’s Choice!

Were you recently invited to play in a captain’s choice with your buddies or your boss?

We want you to be prepared and understand the golf scramble rules.

Yes, golf terminology can be tricky and yes, a scramble and a captain’s choice are the same thing!

We will get you ready to perform. A golf scramble is a team game and we want you to be a valuable member of your squad.

Let’s get started.

golf scramble rules

What Is A Golf Scramble?

Before we dive into the golf scramble rules, let’s talk about the format itself. The how, why, and when you play this style of golf.

A golf scramble (or captain’s choice) is a team golf format. Typically, a team is made up of 4 players, but you can also play a 2-person scramble.

All players hit each shot and then the team can select the best shot and play from that location. Let’s walk through how your team would play a par 4.

Everyone on your team hits their tee shot. You pick the best one (longest, in the fairway, etc.). You move all 4 golf balls to this location.

Everyone on your team hits their approach shot to the green. You pick the best one (closest to the hole).

Everyone on the team putts from this location. If one player makes the putt, your team has made a 3 on the hole (birdie) and you proceed to the next hole.

If everyone misses the putt, you move all 4 balls to the best one (closest to the hole) and you attempt your par putt.

The golf scramble rules are designed to make golf easier.

Golfers of all abilities can play in a captain’s choice tournament (it does help if you have a couple of experienced players on your team).

Golf scramble tournaments are often used by charities and non-profit organizations to raise funds.

This type of golf is fun and allows beginners to participate and help their team. You might hit two terrible shots, but if you roll in the putt, you are the hero!

golf scramble rules

What Are The Golf Scramble Rules?

Now that you understand the format, let’s talk about golf scramble rules.

There Are No “Official” Golf Scramble Rules

The USGA (United States Golf Association) governs the game of golf and publishes the rules for how it should be played.

They define the rules for stroke play and match play, but don’t actually lay out the details of how a golf scramble should be played.

If you search the USGA rules database for “scramble” you will get the following response:

Although only certain forms of play (match, stroke) are specifically covered by the rules, golf is also played in many other forms, such as scrambles. The rules can be adopted to govern play in these forms of play by the tournament committee.

In other words, if you are hosting a captain’s choice tournament you can define the golf scramble rules.

golf scramble rules

The Most Common Golf Scramble Rules

The USGA may choose not to get involved in golf scramble rules, but that doesn’t mean captain’s choice tournaments are totally anarchy.

In fact, the vast majority of these events use the same rules. Scramble golf is typically more relaxed than other formats, but here are three rules you should know.

#1: Winter Rules Apply

“Winter Rules” is a term used by golfers that means you can improve your lie prior to each shot. In other words, you are playing “lift-clean-place”.

In golf scramble rules, this applies to all areas of the golf course. You can improve your lie in the fairway, the rough, sand traps, and hazards.

The common technique to improve your lie is to lift it, clean it with your towel, and place it back on the ground.

Where can you play your ball? Check out rule #2!

#2: Place Your Ball Within One Club Length

Once your team selects your best shot, all 4 balls are moved to this location. The typical golf scramble rules include a note that you must place your ball within one club length.

The best way to measure this is to use your driver. It is the longest club in your bag and will provide you with the largest area to place your ball.

Use this process. All players tee off and you select the best shot. Put a golf tee down where this ball is located.

Now each player can put down their ball down to hit their approach shot within one club length of the tee you put down.

One caveat – you cannot place your ball closer to the hole than the original location.

golf scramble rules

#3: All Players Should Putt From The Same Location

Once your team reaches the green, rule #2 no longer applies. You shouldn’t putt from different locations.

In fact, it is the better strategy to putt from the same spot, because you can learn how the putt is going to break by watching your partners’ putt.

Follow this process. Place a coin or ball marker on the green 2-4 inches to the right of the golf ball you select (the closest shot to the hole).

When it is their turn, each player can place their ball 2-4 inches left of the coin and leave the coin on the ground while they hit the putt.

This is compliant with the golf scramble rules and will ensure everyone on your team putts from the same spot.

The Complete Golf Scramble Rules: How To Play & Win A Captain's Choice! 1

4 Strategies To Help You Win Your Captain’s Choice Tournament

We have explored the golf scramble rules, but it is time to turn our attention to how to succeed in this form of golf.

Just like other formats, it always helps to have the best players. 4 scratch golfers will always beat 4 beginners, but there are strategies that can give your team an edge.

#1: Longest Player Should Tee Off Last

Due to the golf scramble rules, there is a strategy in the order you play each shot. We recommend you let the longest golfer in your group go last.

The idea is to set them free. Let them try to crush the golf ball.

Let your most accurate player go first – if they hit a good one down the fairway, the rest of the team can “swing for the fences”!

golf scramble rules

#2: On The Green, Let Your Best Putter Go Last

The strategy is slightly different once you reach the putting surface. You want the best putter on your team going last.

What is the most challenging part of making putts? We would argue it is reading the green and knowing exactly how the golf ball will break.

Since your entire team is putting from the same spot, the player going last will get to watch the putt 3 times.

By the time your 4th player putts, there should be little doubt about how that putt is going to break.

Your best putter can make a confident stroke because they know the correct line.

The other consideration is the ability to execute under pressure. If the first 3 players miss the putt, the 4th putter is your last chance. There is pressure to “save the team”.

Trust us, you want your best player going last. The person that can make a clutch putt!

#3: Be Crazy Aggressive

When you are playing your own ball, course management is critical. You have to make smart decisions and think your way around the golf course.

The opposite is true when you are playing a scramble. You should always hit the driver and always aim at the pin.

Remember, the golf scramble rules state that you get to play the best shot of the four, so it is ok if a couple of your drives go out of bounds. You only need 1 good one on each shot.

Grip it and Rip it! There is no laying up in a golf scramble.

golf scramble rules

#4: You Better Go Low

As you have probably figured out, golf scramble rules will create a bunch of birdies. If you want to compete in your tournament, your team will have to shoot a low number.

Depending on the “crazy rules” (see below) it is not uncommon for a captain’s choice team to shoot 18-under or better.

If you are playing in a scramble, you need to avoid making too many pars. Unlike other golf formats, par is not a good score in a captain’s choice.

“Crazy” Golf Scramble Rules You Might Encounter

Captain choice tournaments are meant to be fun, so may encounter some “crazy” or “creative” rules when you play in an event.

We have seen all kinds of stuff, but are a few of the most common.


It is very common for a golf scramble to include mulligans. A mulligan allows you to re-hit (or try again) if you hit a bad shot. It’s a “Do Over”.

Sometimes you get one mulligan per player or you can buy as many as you want – this is a great way to make more money, but makes the scores really low.

The best time to use your mulligans is on the greens. Let us say all 4 of your players miss a 10-foot putt. Use a mulligan and give it another try.

golf scramble rules


One of our favorite “crazy” golf scramble rules is giving each team string. Typically, you get 3 feet of string when you tee off.

How does string help? You can use it to count a putt that you barely miss. Let’s walk through an example.

Your team misses a birdie putt and the best putt is 3 inches from the hole. You can cut off 3 inches of your string and count the birdie putt as made.

If you have string, you don’t need to make putts, as much as you need to leave them very close to the hole.

If used correctly, the string can drastically improve your team’s score.

Gorilla Toss

This allows you to pick up your golf ball and throw it. The throw does count as a stroke.

Typically, each player on your team gets one “gorilla toss” they can use on any shot during the round.

You can use it to extend a tee shot or use it if your team misses the green. Simply toss it up next to the hole for a short birdie putt.

A golf scramble or captain’s choice tournament can be a lot of fun. Look for one in your area, grab 3 buddies, and enjoy your afternoon!

Up Next: Let’s Learn About Match Play

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Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +2 handicap.

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