What Is a Shamble in Golf? How to Play, Rules and Strategy


Man in purple chips his golf ball onto the green.

Team formats in golf come in all shapes and sizes and each one is designed to adapt to players’ skills and abilities. One format that is not as popular as the scramble or best ball formats is called the ‘shamble’.

So, what is a shamble in golf?

A shamble is a team format in golf in which the best drive of the team is selected on each hole, and where each golfer then plays their ball until it is holed. Then, depending on the rules, the team’s score will derive from the best one, two, three, or all four scores of the group.

Shamble teams consist of 2-4 players and since it requires each player to finish with their ball, the shamble format is not the best format for beginners. It does however provide a nice change of pace from the scramble and best ball formats for intermediate and advanced players.

A shamble can be a great addition to your weekly round of golf with your friends, so we encourage you to read on to learn about the rules, keeping score, applying handicaps, strategy, and more.

How to Play a Shamble in Golf

Throughout the round, each player will tee off and the best or most advantageous drive of the team is selected. From there, each player plays their ball until it is holed. The one, two, or three best scores (or all four scores) of the team are then totaled and tallied on the scorecard.

The # of Players

Shamble teams consist of 2-4 players and the format is great for golf outings of any size, from four golfers up to 100 or more golfers.

Variations on the Rules

One great thing about the game of golf is each format can be adapted to players of all skills and abilities. Here are some basic variations that can be made to the shamble format:

  • Require each team to count a certain number of drives for each player. This rule forces each team to strategically select drives throughout the round and is better for large scale outings with golfers of similar ability.
  • Alter the requirements depending on the par of the hole. For example: On par 3’s, each player plays their ball from the tee until it is holed. On par 4’s, the team selects the best drive and then each person plays their ball until it is holed. And lastly, on par 5’s the team selects the best first two shots on the hole and then each person plays their ball into the hole. (If you use this variation, be sure to expressly communicate the rules as the fluctuation of par throughout the round can cause confusion.)
  • Alter the number of scores to count depending on the par of the hole. An example here is to count one score on par 3’s, two scores on par 4’s, and three scores on par 5’s.

How to Keep Score in a Shamble

©matthewennisphotography via Canva.com

Keeping score in a shamble is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Scores in shambles tend to be lower than stroke play because each member of the team plays from the location of the best tee shot.

Here is an example of a scorecard for a 4-person shamble team counting the two best scores on each hole.

Hole 1
(Par 4)
Hole 2
(Par 5)
Total
Player 15 (+1)5 (E)10 (+1)
Player 24 (E)6 (+1)10 (+1)
Player 34 (E)4 (-1)8 (-1)
Player 46 (+2)5 (E)11 (+2)
Team Score8 (E)9 (-1)17 (-1)

Besides counting the one, two, or three best scores (or all four scores) on each hole, there are other ways to keep scoring interesting in this format. One option is to drop the highest and lowest scores on each hole and count the remaining scores.

Another option is to count the best gross and net scores, as long as they are not the same person. Counting net and gross scores require players to have a registered golf handicap with the United States Golf Association (USGA).

Applying Handicaps in a Shamble

Playing a shamble with player handicaps can be a fun addition to your average round but it does add some difficulty to calculating scores for each player. Before we get into the details, let’s first review what a handicap is in golf.

What Is a Handicap in Golf?

The USGA manages the handicap system for all golfers in the U.S. with a registered handicap. The handicap system was developed so golfers of differing abilities could compete against each other on a fair and equal playing field.

Each hole on a golf course is ranked by its difficulty relative to the scoring dispersion between a scratch golfer (someone who averages par on each hole) and a bogey golfer (someone who averages one over par on each hole).

The holes are ranked 1 through 18, from the largest to smallest dispersion between the average score of scratch and bogey golfers for each hole on a course.

The odd and even-numbered hole handicaps are split among the front and back nine. This means if the front nine holes feature the odd-numbered hole handicaps (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, and 17), the back nine will feature the even-numbered hole handicaps (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18).

A player receives a stroke reduction for every hole ranked below their handicap number. A golfer’s handicap is based on their average number of strokes over par for an 18-hole round.

So a golfer with an 8 handicap will either receive a 1 stroke reduction to their score on the eight hardest ranked holes or an eight-stroke reduction from their final 18-hole score.

When two golfers with different handicaps compete against each other, the golfer with the lower handicap ‘gives’ strokes to the player with the higher handicap.

The number of strokes ‘given’ is the difference between the two numbers. For example, let’s take a 4-handicap golfer playing against a 12-handicap golfer. In this instance, the 4-handicap golfer gives one stroke to the 12-handicap golfer on each of the eight hardest ranked holes.

Applying handicaps to a scorecard correctly is imperative to any competitive round of golf. The scorekeeper will put a dot or asterisk in the box for each hole that a player receives a handicap stroke (see an example below).

The score without the handicap applied is the golfers ‘gross’ score and the score with the handicap applied is the golfer’s ‘net’ score. On a scorecard, the gross score is written in the box first and the net score second with a slash between the two.

With this refresher in mind, let’s return to applying handicaps in a shamble tournament. Because each player on a team plays their second shot from the same place, a reduction in a player’s overall handicap is needed to accommodate for making the hole a touch easier.

A typical handicap in a shamble is reduced by 20-25%, at the discretion of the tournament organizer.

Here is an example of what a scorecard might look like in a 4-person handicap shamble, counting the best gross and net scores on each hole. Note that the same player cannot count both their gross AND net scores.

Hole 1
Par 4
Hole 2
Par 4
Total
Hole Handicap515
Player 1
(4 HCP)
437
Player 2
(17 HCP)
5/4*5/4*10/8
Player 3
(6 HCP)
4/3*59/8
Player 4
(10 HCP)
5/4*49/8
Low Gross43
Low Net34
Team Total7 (-1)7 (-1)14 (-2)
Handicaps above reflect 25% reduction     HCP = handicap    
* = handicap stroke     / = gross/net score

2-Person vs 4-Person Shambles

In a shamble, the size of the team dictates which rules and scoring variations can be applied.

In a 2-person shamble, teams can either play stroke play against the larger group of teams in the tournament or match play against the other team in their foursome. Scoring is also limited to the one or two best scores of the team.

However, in a 4-person shamble, the team has a much broader scope of format and scoring variations available. The 4-person team size is better utilized for larger charity tournaments with golfers of widely differing skill levels.

Golf Shamble Strategy

Lady in red prepares to tee off with her driver.

The first key to determining your strategy is to read and learn the rules of the tournament.

As discussed earlier, it is important to know how many scores will count, whether it is a handicap tournament and what the percentage reduction is, and the difficulty of the golf course (lots of water hazards, the length of the course, etc.).

If it is a handicap tournament make sure all your players have active and verified handicaps. A harder course may make for more handicap strokes for your team but it may also lead to higher scores.

Find a balance between low and high handicap golfers for the right diversification of skill. Once your team is assembled, determine the strengths of each player and pinpoint the most accurate drivers off the tee.

This format emphasizes driving accuracy so sometimes it’s not a bad idea to have your best driver tee off first to secure a great location on the fairway or have them tee off last in case the other team members find the rough.

Shamble vs Scramble

The scramble format is one of golf’s most popular team formats. Designed for golfers of all skill levels, the scramble rules call for each player on a team to hit a tee shot.

The team selects the best and most advantageous shot and every person hits their second shot from that location. This process is repeated until one member of the team is the first to hit their golf ball into the hole.

The team records only one score for each hole and once the ball is holed, everyone else picks up their ball, and the team moves onto the next hole.

The shamble format is a variation of the scramble format. Here each player plays a scramble off the tee but from the second shot on, each player plays their golf ball until it is holed.

Depending on the scoring format of the tournament, the team will record the best one, two, three, or all four scores on each hole.

Shambles also differ in that it is not designed for golfers of ALL skills and abilities. Beginner golfers who play only a few times per year tend to struggle in this format as there is too much reliance on them keeping their score after the tee shot is selected.

While that should not limit one’s opportunity to play this format, it should be remembered that golf is meant to be fun and if a format becomes too hard or frustrating, it can be a deterrent to that person playing more golf in the future.

Now that you know the ins and outs of the shamble format, don’t be shy about presenting it to your golf group at your next outing. They may be glad you did!

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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