An editor once called me to ask about what he thought was a weird typo in my column. He thought I must have meant “scramble” when I typed “shamble.” After clarifying that I meant shamble and explaining the difference in the 2 golf formats I had to admit I had no idea why it was called a shamble.
I got curious and hunted around, but I couldn’t find an explanation. Every source found just explained the rules and said it was called a shamble. I’ve never been one to avoid adding to the world’s store of uninformed speculation, so here’s my best guess for why a shamble is a shamble.
First, did you know a shambles is an old word for a meat market or butcher shop? Me neither, but I don’t think that information helps solve our golf problem. The word “shamble” migrated to meaning a place of disorder or chaos, which seems to get a little closer to the way a shamble is played. But my guess is that the use of “shamble” as meaning a walking gait with widely spread legs is closer to where the golf game name comes from. I can (just barely) imagine someone thinking the balance wide legs provide someone who is unsteady on their feet is like the balance teams get from picking the best drive.
If you’re wondering, the reason a wide-legged gait is called a shamble is because the gait reminded someone of the widely angled legs on an old-style butcher’s table (remember the meat market definition?). That makes just as much sense to me as my explanation of the golf format name, so I’m sticking to my story.
Luckily, you need no reason to play golf and no reason for calling the game whatever you like, so everyone was happy to play a shamble at the last Flying L Men’s Golf Association event. Larry Cramer and Buddy Antwine were particularly pleased when they shot 63 to take 1st place after a scorecard playoff with Ted Brown and John Palmer, who also shot 63. Roy Rodriguez and Van Tom “Coach” Whatley teamed to take 3rd place with 65.
To muddy the waters a little more, the shamble golf format is also called a bramble format. I can find no explanation for calling it a bramble and I don’t want to associate a prickly shrub with golf more than absolutely necessary, so I’ll avoid any speculation on where that name comes from.