Rules for Playing Best Ball Golf

By Sharon Penn
Best ball is enjoyed by golfers of all skill levels in a tournament style of play.
Best ball is enjoyed by golfers of all skill levels in a tournament style of play.

There are a variety of formats used for golf tournaments and outings. A popular one is best ball. This shouldn't be confused with the scramble format, which is sometimes mistakenly referred to as best ball. Both of these formats allow beginning and experienced golfers to compete with each other in a tournament. According to the United States Golf Association, the official Rules of Golf apply to best ball formats as long as they are not at variance with specific rules.

Best Ball vs. Scramble

In scramble format, all players tee off, choose which shot is best and all play their next shots from the location of the best shot. Play continues in this fashion for all of the 18 holes. For the best ball format, each player hits his own ball throughout the round. However, at the end of each hole, the lowest score or “best ball” is used as the team score. For example, if player A makes a 5, player B gets a 6, player C gets a 4 and player D gets a 6, the score recorded as the team score is 4, the lowest score. Best ball can be played with teams of two, three or four players.

Best Ball Strategies

Take handicaps into consideration so that weaker players receive strokes on some holes. Some tournaments require teams to record gross scores with adjustments for handicaps made after cards are turned in. Teams should be aware of which members are receiving a stroke or “pop” on the hole. This may be indicated as a dot on the scorecard. The player receiving a stroke may be asked by the team to play conservatively, giving the more experienced player the opportunity to take an aggressive swing. Or, the team may decide to allow the player with the stroke advantage to play aggressively in hopes of achieving a lower score for the hole. The players with the highest scores for the hole may putt first, to “show the line” to the team player with the lowest score.

Speed and Order of Play

For tournaments involving golfers with a wide range of abilities, it is important to design rules that speed up play. If it becomes clear that a player will not have the best ball for the hole, that player should be allowed to pick up his ball to move the game along more quickly. Players should play “ready golf” and not be penalized for playing out of turn. If convenient, however, the player with the lowest score on the previous hole might be given "honors" and play first.

Sudden Death

In the case of a tie for first place, a “sudden death” playoff can settle the score. If players are unavailable to play a “sudden death” round, the first and second prizes can be split between both teams.

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