Fun golf tournament formats for teams

Here’s the first segment in a four-part series of fun golf tournament formats and golf games, team events.

Image of golf team shoes

AN ORIGINAL golf tournament format we called the Love Scramble demonstrated that golfers of both genders enjoy a little bit of variety now and then. Typically, however, it’s the women’s club that has themed events with coordinating costumes, tee prizes, favors and lunch. It’s the women’s club that’s open to unique and nontraditional golf games and golf tournament formats.

In the spirit of sharing among both women’s and men’s clubs, GottaGoGolf has compiled this collection of traditional and nontraditional golf tournament formats and golf games. These are the best for charity and corporate events, where team play is in good fun.

Scramble: The favorite charity golf format is the scramble. In this format, also widely known, incorrectly, as “best ball,” four players tee off and then all of them play from where the best ball lies, and so on, all the way to the hole. It’s a good format for charity golf tournaments because there’s no pressure on novice golfers, who may contribute by making a putt or a lucky chip. Sometimes each team is required to use a minimum number of drives from each player, which does create some pressure. Even more extreme, sometimes the player whose shot was just used is not eligible for the next shot, and so on, until each player’s shot has been used and (for instance on a par-5) the foursome again chooses from all four shots. Here’s a guide to scramble strategy.

Shamble: This variation on a scramble is fun for players with golf experience. All players tee off, then go to the point of the best shot and all play their own ball into the hole from there.

Cha-Cha-Cha: All players play their own ball. On the first hole, count the best net ball of the four. On the second hole, count the two best balls of the four. On the third hole, count the three best balls of the four. Then repeat the cycle six times, a reason why one of my clubs calls this version the “Six-Shooter.” In another version, teams count three balls on par-3 holes, two on par-4 holes and one on par-5 holes, which is why this version is often called “3-2-1.”

ABCD: This is a popular icebreaker early in league seasons. All of the players are classified based on their handicap, with As being the lowest and Ds being the highest, and teams are assembled with one from each category. Now what? Well, any of the team game variations can be played. One alternative, though, is to count the gross ball of the A and B player and the net ball of the C and D player on each hole. This lends itself to individual as well as team prizes. One of my clubs uses this unique format: The A player gets the five hardest holes, the B player the next four, the C player the next four and the D player the five easiest. While one is playing a hole, the other three play a scramble for the team’s second score on the hole.

Sucker in the Bucket: When it comes to pressure, this one is the opposite of the scramble. It will make some players quiver. All players play their own ball. On the first hole, the team records the best of its individual net scores. If there is a tie, the players decide which score to use, with volunteers willing to wait most appreciated. On the second hole, the team records the best of the net scores of the remaining three players, again deciding which to use in the case of a tie. On the third hole, the team records the best of the net scores of the remaining two players, but here it is tricky to break a tie because on the fourth hole, the sucker in the bucket goes to the remaining player, who is the only player whose score can count. The rotation then starts all over again, usually with a couple of “anyone” holes along the way, maybe at 9 and 18. One of my clubs leaves an actual bucket of lollypops behind the four sucker holes, sweetening the potentially sour experience of being the sucker.

Orange Ball: You can use any color ball (try pink for Valentine’s Day), but this one is particularly fun for Halloween with each team in themed costumes. Each foursome is given a specially marked orange ball that it will rotate among players on each hole. Whatever order of play the foursome uses on the first hole is then repeated on subsequent holes. The team with the lowest net orange ball score wins; sometimes the best net ball of the remaining three players is also included, or that may be the tiebreaker. Of course, if no team brings home the orange ball, the team that kept theirs longest wins. Like Sucker in the Bucket, Orange Ball is not a favorite of newbies.

Plant Your Flag: A fun event around the Fourth of July, for this one each player is given a small American flag that has taped to it a card with the number representing their course handicap plus 65. So if you’re a 20, your number is 85. When you have taken your 85th shot, you plant your flag along the cart path where the ball came to rest. If it was on the green, you write on your card how far the ball was from the hole. The last player to plant her flag wins.

Tombstone: This fun variation of “Plant Your Flag” is played the same way, but each player is given a numbered “tombstone,” usually a piece of paper or cardboard attached to a stick. When players reach their designated number, they write an epitaph on the tombstone before planting it. Here are a few samples, courtesy of the Broken Tee Saturday Women’s Golf Club in Colorado: “With the wind in her face and her game out of place, she died without ever recording an ace.” … “A 9 on #11 was the nail in my coffin!” … “She’s praying her putter finally works in heaven.” … “She died of thirst — lack of birdie juice.” You get the gist, pardner.

Lucky Seven: Before the round begins, each player in the foursome draws a card and becomes Ace, King, Queen or Jack for the day. After they play each hole, they go to the next tee to find the card that tells them which player’s score was used on the previous hole. Two holes are assigned Lucky Sevens, meaning that the best score of the four may be used on that hole.

Two Best Balls: Each player plays her own ball. Count the two best net scores in each foursome on each hole. If there’s a tie in the end, go to the third best ball.


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