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Scramble Tournament Question:

Dear Pope of Slope,

We are having another of our annual golf tournaments at work. We have several tournaments every year. Unfortunately, the same several groups always win. We don't use handicaps as many players don't have them AND we play Florida Best Ball(Scramble). Several teams whose members are all great golfers have a distinct advantage.

How would you recommend handicapping this tournament so every team would have an equal chance to win?

Appreciate any help you can provide.

Greg

Answer:

You have asked one of the toughest questions in handicapping and achieving equity in a scramble format is hard to accomplish.

First off, in any scramble format, the teams with the best golfers always will have a big advantage. A single digit handicap player hits better drives, approach shots and putts than beginner golfers. Rarely does every team have one good player and usually there is a big difference in the skill level of the best (A-class) player on each team. The team that happens to have a near-scratch golfer has a big advantage over other teams that is hard to overcome.

Also, without knowing what the playing ability of the competitors are, you just can't have a competitive tournament. Players that show up without a USGA Handicap Index come without providing any evidence of their skill. What makes the problem even worse is that the term "playing ability" is hard to define in a scramble because USGA Handicap Indexes are based on total hole scores covering 18 holes. There are lots of different ways to develop a 17.0 Handicap Index, for example. You might be a "Wild Willy", who hits the long ball, but without much accuracy and not much finesse in the short game. This is a player who can help his team off the tee, but may not be much use for the rest of the way to the hole. You might be a "Steady Eddy" who hits short, but straight shots and stays out of trouble most of the time, unless there is a long carry over water on a hole. Steady Eddy is a great player to have on a team--after the tee shot has been selected. Most of us might fit better in the category of "Average Andy". We hit some good shots and some bad shots and some of our shots might get used by the team. Whichever category that a player fits into, the USGA Handicap Index is not a great way to determine "playing ability" in a scramble, just because handicaps are based on total scores and not how you got those scores. A scramble is based on the individual components of playing a hole--Driving ability, approach shot ability, and getting up and down, which includes chipping, bunker play and putting.

There is no answer to the question that will give you perfect equity, but this is what I think you should try:

1. Use USGA Handicap Indexes for those that have them.

2. Assign handicaps to everyone that does not have one. Ask for the best two scores that anyone has made (18 holes) in the past year. This should be a requirement for entry. subtract 70 from the second best score and assign that as the competition handicap.

3. Assign players to four levels, A, B, C, D based on the handicaps of the entered field.

4. Form four-person teams (as best you can) with an A-player, B, C and D-player on each team. Use a "reverse wrap-around" method of assigning players. That is to say, the best A-player should get the worst B-player on his team. DO NOT ALLOW PLAYERS TO FORM THEIR OWN TEAMS. You need to break up the "ringers" if you want to create any sort of equity. Besides, Scrambles are a great way to meet new people and this should be encouraged.

5. Handicap each team as follows: 20% of the A-player's handicap, plus 15% of the B, 10% of the C and 5% of the D. Add the results, round off the total to a whole number and that is the team's handicap.

6. Subtract the team handicap from the team's scramble score to determine the team net score. This will sometimes produce some extremely low net scores, but it does not matter. The net scores will "compress" the results and make for a closer and more fair competition.

7. If you want to even the results out even further, make each player use three of their drives/tee-offs in the team competition. Don't allow the same person to use two of their shots in a row on the same hole.--In other words, after a person's shot is selected, allow only the other three players on a team to hit the next shot. The first rule adds a lot of interesting strategy to the event and the second rule helps to prevent one hot player from carrying the team.

Good luck.

Best regards,

Dean Knuth
Pope of Slope

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