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Play fast, play fair, play smart, play Best Ball Scramble

 By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Images from YouTube

We’ve heard it all before. The game of golf isn’t growing because of reasons x, y and z, with time, expense and difficulty typically filling in the blanks as excuses for why more people aren’t taking up a game which tens of millions of Americans have enjoyed for well over a hundred years.

Those of us who’ve played golf practically all our lives don’t fully understand the gripes of potential newcomers, with only the cost figures entering the realm of undisputed reason. Yes, golf can be pricey depending on where you play and how you choose to outfit yourself (with attire and equipment), but cost alone shouldn’t keep folks away from teeing it up if there’s a desire. There are lower priced alternatives in nearly every category and you don’t have to drop hundreds of dollars -- or even fifty bucks -- to play a round in many places.

So time (as in the number of minutes and hours it takes to play) and difficulty are a big part of why the game isn’t growing. I’ve argued that golf will get a bit of a boost during the coronavirus lockdown periods in many states, because it’s one of the few activities anyone can partake without excessively worrying about social distancing. Even the most skittish of health neurotics can find a way to play golf and not fret about contagion from fellow foursome members.

Golf is hard, too. And it’s impossible to master. The pros on TV advance the ball from point-to-point and make putt-after-putt seemingly without much effort but even they make bogeys (or worse) and no one’s ever shot a perfect round (birdie or better on every hole). Watch any fresh golf aspirant on the practice range and you’ll see frustration, anger and fear -- that they’ll never “get it” when it comes to hitting the little ball with the strange looking stick.

Far too many -- including some I’ve introduced to golf -- give up after one or two bad experiences. Golf is a game for life, and Rome wasn’t built in a day, but try telling it to someone who can’t get the ball in the air (some people never accept the swing down on the ball concept) or advance it more than twenty yards.

What to do? Try playing best ball scramble with your newcomers. In fact, don’t experiment with it, just do it. Sometimes referred to as Captain’s Choice (or Four-Ball in the Ryder Cup is another type), best ball allows everyone to hit a tee shot and then the group decides which shot is “best” to play from for the next shot. Each player then gets a chance to see what a great drive is like and still maintains a stake in the game.

Even better, everyone still gets to hit iron shots, chips and putts. If it can be said -- and it’s true -- that short shots make up half the game, then players are all “working on” their skills while largely avoiding the advanced irritation that accompanies every neophyte onto the links.

My own annual Thanksgiving family group started playing best ball scramble rounds years ago, which makes everyone’s round more enjoyable. Occasional golfers only play in certain circumstances, which to some means getting out once or twice a year. Inconsistency reigns but it doesn’t have to spoil the outing if they’re provided a chance to play from the fairway (or at least not from the trees) and keep up with the pace-of-play without overly rushing things.

Best ball scramble is terrific for wide gaps in ages, too, as senior players who can’t hit it as far as they once did can still tee from different tee boxes -- and, from experience, the older folks always excel in the close-to-the-pin challenges.

I started my son playing golf at age seven by getting him an inexpensive set of junior clubs and helped him learn by… watching me in a best-ball scramble format. Now he’s thirteen and we still enjoy playing games with some good-natured ribbing and competitive spirit thrown-in. When he hits a good one, sometimes I don’t. And vice versa.

Both of our short games have dramatically improved because removing the “pressure” to keep up allows for discussing shot strategies and assessing putts rather than merely hitting the ball to finish a hole.

And our Thanksgiving group? We broke seventy last year -- twice. Not bad for two mid-handicappers, a guy who only plays a couple rounds a season and the over 80 patriarch of the family.

If you’re trying to break-in new players and provide a means for golf to be fun for all levels of experience, try playing best ball scramble. It’s fun, fair and fast. And smart, too.