How to Play a Captain's Choice Golf Tournament

Is There Any Difference Between a Captain's Choice and a Scramble?

A team of four golfers on the tee
A Captain's Choice golf tournament is typically played by teams of four golfers. Thomas Northcut/DigitalVision/Getty Images

A "Captain's Choice" golf tournament is another name for the scramble format. And the scramble is probably the most common format played at charity tournaments, corporate tournaments, association tournaments, and the like.

A Captain's Choice golf tournament is a team event, most commonly with four-person teams. But three-person and two-person scrambles are also possible.

Basics of the Scramble (Captain's Choice)

Here's how the basic scramble format works (using 4-person teams):

  • Golfers A, B, C, and D all hit drives. They compare the results. Who hit the best drive? Let's say it was B.
  • So Golfers A, C, and D pick up their golf balls and move them to where B's ball is. All four now hit their second shots from the location of B's drive. 
  • Compare the results of those second shots. Which was best? The others on the team move their balls to that spot, and all play their third strokes.
  • Repeat until the ball is in the hole.

Our scramble explanation goes much further in-depth into the ins-and-outs of the format, including strategies and handicap allowances.

Is There Any Difference Between a Captain's Choice and Scramble?

As the name implies, in a Captain's Choice tournament one member of the scramble team is designated as team captain and has the final say on all choices during play.

That means the team captain has final say on which ball the team picks after every shot and, in another example, on the order of play (which golfer hits first, who hits second, and so on) on every stroke, including on the putts.

Of course, nothing stops a team from picking a captain in any scramble (whether designated a Captain's Choice or not) or in any other team format. And it really is a good idea to do so. Democracy is great, and team members can make decisions by acclamation. But a team captain can break ties, settle any arguments, and generally (if he or she is good at the task) speed up play.

Our recommendation is to treat every scramble as a Captain's Choice. When your team is set, decide among yourselves which team member to call the captain. And then that captain should settle arguments, make final decisions, and keep the pace of play moving during the round.

The 'One Man Captain's Choice'

There is also a golf tournament format (or a competition format for a couple friends) called One Person Captain's Choice in which one golfer plays two golf balls. In that case, the golfer tees off twice, compares her drives, then plays the second stroke from the spot of her best drive. The golfer continues in that fashion until the ball is in the hole.

Captain's Choice vs. Captain's Pick

Do not confuse the terms "captain's choice" and "captain's pick." As we've learned, Captain's Choice is another name for the very common scramble golf tournament format. Although "captain's pick" is a very similar term, its meaning is completely different.

"Captain's pick" refers to the wildcard selections made by team captains in international team competitions such as the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup, In such events, there are generally automatic qualifying criteria that fill out the teams. But several player's spots are left open for the team captains to fill as they see fit. A golfer added to a team in that fashion is a captain's pick.