The Ambrose Scramble Format Explained

You've signed up to play in a charity golf tournament that is using a format called Ambrose. Do you know what you've gotten yourself into?

Don't worry, you're probably already familiar with the Ambrose format, but perhaps not under that name. In some parts of the world, "Ambrose" is just another name for a scramble. This format can be called Ambrose scramble, Ambrose competition, Ambrose handicap, or, simply, Ambrose.

All those names mean the same thing: An Ambrose scramble is a scramble that is played using team handicaps. The members of each team (whether 2-person, 3-person or 4-person) take their personal course handicaps, add them together, and then (in most cases) divide by twice the number of team members:

  • A team of four golfers adds the four course handicaps and divides by eight.
  • A team of three golfers adds the three course handicaps and divides by six.
  • A team of two golfers adds the two course handicaps and divides by four.
(Note that some tournament organizers might choose to divide by the same number as there are team members — a team of four would add their handicaps together and divide by four. This is simply an average of the four handicaps. Dividing by twice the number of team members, as described above, is much more common, though.)

So: An Ambrose competition is just a scramble that uses a team handicap. And the scramble is one of the most-familiar formats in golf. To summarize a basic scramble: Team members all tee off. The best of the drives is selected and team members all move their balls to that spot for the second strokes. The best of the second strokes is selected, and team members all play their third strokes from that spot. And so on, until someone holes the putt that ends the hole and produces the team score.

Now we know what an Ambrose scramble is. But why is it called that? What, or who, is the "Ambrose" in an Ambrose handicap?

Who Put the 'Ambrose' in the Format's Name?

The Ambrose names for a scramble are most common in Australia. Because that's where the format was first named "Ambrose."

In the early 1960s, a couple from Michigan, Richard (Dick) Ambrose and Mary Ambrose, bought a home in Victor Harbor, Australia, and became members at Victor Harbor Golf Club. Richard Ambrose brought with him a golf format that others at the club were unfamiliar with. He called the format "Shotgun."

But Ambrose's "Shotgun" was, basically, a scramble played with handicaps. He introduced it to other couples at the club, and the format became very popular at Victor Harbor Golf Club. From there, it rapidly spread across Australia. And in 1974, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper wrote an article about the Ambroses and the format they called "Shotgun."

But by then, and cemented by that newspaper article, other people had long been calling the format after the couple who brought it to Australia. It was entrenched as "Ambrose." Today in Australia, "Ambrose" and "scramble" are virtually interchangeable.

Related articles:

Bardwell Valley Golf, "The Ambrose golf game system invented by Richard Ambrose,"
Kapriskie, Ron. Golf Digest's Complete Book of Golf Betting Games*, 2007, Doubleday.
The Scramble, Rules/Format,
Victoria Harbor Golf Club, "About the club,"
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