What Is A Shamble Format In Golf?

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Believe it or not, having a shambles in golf does not always refer to playing a rubbish round. 

A shamble is a team game within golf that draws upon elements from the ever-popular scramble format and strokeplay. 

The game type is less well known in the golf community compared to other formats like best ball or texas scramble, but shamble is by far one of the best formats if you can find a golf tournament playing shamble rules

And shamble is a great way to play golf as part of a team but still allows you to focus on your own game, making it an excellent way for new players to learn from more experienced golfers.  

How To Play Shambles Golf

In a shamble format, players will get into teams of two or four and will play 18 holes of golf. 

Each player will tee off at every hole, and the teams will select the best drive to play their next shots from. 

After each player has hit their second shot, the teams will decide who’s hit the best shot and will all play their next shots from that location. 

Players will continue to play in this format until each player has holed out. 

That means some golfers on a team will record slightly larger scores than others on their team, and each player needs to keep track of their own score. 

The Rules

Shambles golf rules are very simple to understand and adhere to, but there are eight technicalities you should be aware of if you’re going to play in a club tournament. 

  1. As participants approach the green, each team member can only place a golf ball in a location within one club-length of the selected shot. 

  2. The ball cannot be placed in a location closer to the hole

  3. The ball must be placed on the same lie as the selected shot. For example, if the chosen shot lands on the secondary rough, the next player’s ball must also be played from the spot in the secondary rough. 

  4. On the green, each player may place a ball within four inches on the left or the right of the selected shot. Again you cannot place your ball closer to the hole. 

  5. Note, you must always hand place your ball, and you cannot drop your ball as you would if you were taking a penalty drop. 

  6. Your ball will become in play when you address your shot. After that point, you cannot alter the position of the ball without conceding a shot. 

  7. And if any player hits their second shot or tee shot from where it came to rest, that is considered the chosen ball to play from. 

  8. Golfers must putt out on every hole of the course and cannot rely on just one team member to hole out, like in scramble format. 

How To Score In Shamble Golf

Depending on the rules, there are various ways you can score in a shamble tournament, but the shamble scoring system is basically a variation on stroke play. 

The majority of clubs will require golfers to each record their own score after each hole. 

Typically they will often take an average score from each team for the round and compare those scores against other teams to see who has shot the lowest. 

When playing in four-ball tournaments, some clubs will allow players to take away the highest and lowest scores and record the two middle scores on each hole to calculate the team score. 

But if you’re playing in a two-ball format, you could play match play against your competitors, with the player who records the lowest score on each hole winning a point for their team. If two golfers from opposing teams reach a tie with a low score, the hole is then halved, and each team is awarded half a point. 

Other competitions will also count the net and gross scores a shamble team posts. This allows golfers of all levels to compete with and against each other using their handicaps.

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How Does A Golf Handicap Work In Shamble Golf

A gross score is the number of shots a player actually hits over 18 holes in a standard stroke play match. 

For example, let’s say you hit 90 shots on a par 70 golf course. That means you hit 20 more shots than the par for the course. 

Then let’s say you have a handicap of 18. You will then be able to take away 18 shots off your handicap to reach your net score, which will be 72. 

But in a shambles format, because teams are playing their shots from the same positions on the course, players are required to reduce their handicap by around 25%

Once your shamble handicap has been adjusted accordingly, golf tournament organizers can then work out your net score for the tournament, average that with your team, and compare that to your competitors.

Rule Variations

There are many variations on the rules you can incorporate to liven up your game. Here are several additional rules I have come across playing when shambles golf. 

Par Three Party

As par three’s can be pretty short holes, some tournaments instruct players to play their own ball for the entirety of each par three on the course. This adds a little more fun to the round, especially if you’re playing match play, as teams can easily pick up shots when they stop playing from their best ball.

Approach and In

Some golf tournaments will also only give players a limited number of scramble shots per hole. For example, if you’re playing a par four, each team will select their best drive, and each player will then have to play their own ball for the remaining three shots. On par-five holes, teams can scramble and select the best ball for the first two shots but will need to play their own ball for the remaining three shots on the hole.

Driving Masterclass

Challenging each player’s ability to hit the ball well off the tee, some tournaments require teams to use a certain number of drives per player. This ultimately stops golfers from relying on the big hitters in your team and also adds a tactical element to the game. For example, if you’re good at drawing the ball and there’s a right to left dog leg on the 5th hole, your team might rely on you to hit a good shot on that hole. 


On that note, let’s talk strategy, as you’ve got to be in it to win it. 

Every golfer has a different array of strengths from their teammate. Perhaps you’re playing with a left-hander, who can reach certain angles you can’t, or maybe you’re playing with the world long drive champion. Each player can bring something different to the game that will inevitably come in use as you navigate your way around the course. 

That’s why I advise you to assess the course before you play.

Plan out a strategy with your team about which holes you think will suit each player’s game. There might be a hole that suits your partner’s drive more than yours, but your chipping skills might be needed to get the ball up and over a water hazard just lying in front of the green. 

Particularly if you’re also playing to rules where each player has to hit a minimum number of drives, the best teams are those who manage the course the best and get the most out of each player’s strengths while mitigating their weaknesses. 

Shamble or Scramble?

The great thing about shamble tournaments is that they encourage teamwork. With each player bringing something different to the game, you’ll feel like you’ve torn your way through the course as you sit back to review your round on the 19th hole. 

The same can’t always be said for scramble tournaments, where golfers can feel like they haven’t got their money’s worth for the round, often not being able to play out the full 18 holes with their teammates syncing the ball at a low score before they get a chance to putt themselves.  

Plus, the shamble format can really test your individual game too

There are occasions where you won’t always be able to rely on your teammates to help you out if you hit a poor shot. You’re going to have to do the leg work yourself at some stage during the round, and the pressure’s going to be on you to hit the green. 

As opposed to scramble or best-ball formats, the shamble format requires you to play out every hole, meaning you’ll feel like you’ve had your money’s worth of golf as you drive, pitch, and putt your way around the course.

But there’s no right or wrong answer to which format is better; some may prefer scramble, others may prefer the shamble game type. 

So why not try it out and get a game of shamble going on one of your next golf outings!

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Ed Carruthers
Ed Carruthers
Ed Carruthers is a London-based semi-professional golfer. He loves traveling and is a bit of a sports fanatic. When he’s not at his desk, he’s either hacking around the golf course, kicking a footy around with his mates, or watching his beloved football team Everton.