Golfers LOVE competition, history would also tell us that they like a bit of gambling too. So it’s no surprise that there are a bunch of different golf games to play on the course.
If you want to mix it up a bit from just counting your shots and getting depressed when you hit a 13 on the 4th hole, or even take a break from the standard Stableford scoring, there are several golf games you should check out.
As usual, golf has its own language, and hearing your playing partners say…”fancy a game of Nassau today? Or what about Wolf?” Would leave anyone new to the world of golf with the look of utter bewilderment.
But we’ve got you covered. Here are some of golf’s most popular games that are played on the golf course.
Note… I personally still like to apply Stableford point scoring to the games, just in case there is one player that is significantly better than the other. If you are evenly matched then you don’t need to worry about that.
In match play golf, 2 golfers play against each other, where the goal is not to score the lowest score over 18 holes (although that will help), but to win more holes than your opponent. How do you win a hole when playing match play? Simple (not easy)… You score better than your opponent.
I prefer to use handicaps, especially when you have players of different abilities. So you record your net scores, and that determines who wins or loses the hole.
You score a net birdie, while your opponent scores a bogey… well done, you just won that hole and go one up.
Lose the next hole and you are back to “all square”. Tie the hole, and it is considered “halved” and you move on to the next hole.
Similar to the match play format, in that you are playing against an opponent, and instead of a total score across 18 holes, you play entirely on a hole-by-hole basis. Each hole has a point or in this case a “skin”, up for grabs. Have a better score than your opponent and you win a skin.
The main difference is that in Skins if you happen to halve (tie) the hole, no one wins that skin (yet), and it carries over to the next hole, making that next hole worth two skins. If you tie again, it holds over again, making the next hole worth three, and on and on and on.
You could also easily play this game as a 2v2 if you have a four-ball. Just take the best score from the pair against the best score from the other pair on each hole.
Now you might have one question throughout all of this—where did a name like “skins” come from? The Scotts of course… at least that’s what we think.
The game of golf comes from Scotland, and legend has it that American fur trappers visiting Scotland used to gamble on holes with their pelts.
In this game, one player is designated as a wolf. The wolf rotates every hole, and always tees off last. Once the rest of the players have hit, the wolf decides whether he wants to team up with one of the other players or be the “lone wolf”.
If the wolf teams up with someone, they play that round as a team against the other players. If they choose to be a “lone wolf”, they play against everyone else.
If the wolf and their partner win, they win two points. If the wolf wins solo, they win four points. If the non-wolf partners beat the wolf, they win two points each—if the wolf chooses to go alone, it only takes being beaten by one person to lose, and everyone else gains a point.
This is one of my favorite golf games. Best Ball is a team match, using the matchplay format, played between 4 players, 2 v 2. It’s one of the formats in the Ryder Cup, often used when golf clubs play against each other and a regular on golf trips when you have two teams battling it out.
In your pair, you both play the hole and record the score of whichever person scored better. So if your partner scores a birdie and you get lost in the trees and hit a double. No panic, your team registers the birdie.
If your opponents get a par and a bogey, they register the par, but lose the hole to your birdie. Congrats you go 1 up.
It’s a nice way to take some pressure off because it doesn’t matter if you have a bad hole… hopefully, your partner rescues you.
There’s an alternative to Best Ball, it’s called Worst Ball, which works the exact same way, except you only keep the worst stroke number for each hole. This game is better for those who really want to step up their game, because the pressure is higher. We recommend not playing this game if you are a group of higher handicappers as your round might take forever and can be demoralizing (possibly speaking from personal experience).
Bingo, Bango, Bongo
So far we’ve covered “Skins” and “Wolf” and next up in the odd name list of games we have Bingo, Bango, Bongo. I tell you golf has its own language. It makes the game slightly less intimidating by giving points for things other than getting your ball in the hole.
The first player to get a ball on the green wins a point (bingo), the closest player to the hole once all the balls are on the green wins a point (bango), and the first person to get the ball in the hole wins a point (bongo).
This is great for beginners because they’re able to work on an individual part of their game.
As a fresh-faced 18 year old I remember walking up to the tee box, to meet 3 members that I was set to play with, I was new at the club and knew no one. One of the guys casually said… everyone up for 2, 2 and 2? The other 2 guys agreed, and so as not to look silly I said… “yep totally”… before admitting I had no idea what they were on about.
Turns out they were suggesting a game of Nassau.
Rather than just counting the scores up after 18 holes, you break up a round into 3 bets—one for the front 9, one for the back 9, one for the whole 18.
You bet on all three phases of the game, and a certain amount of money is given to each—the perfect game for players who want to make their game “a little more interesting”. Win the front 9 and you’ve got yourself some money from your opponent.
So what that guy meant that day was, £2 for the front 9, £2 on the back and £2 overall. Meaning the most I could lose was £6. I think they usually played for more, but assumed £6 was probably within my budget. But I tell you, adding the thought of winning/losing £6 on the final putt on 18… certainly adds some pressure.
The name comes from Nassau Country Club in Long Island, New York.
It’s a game I thoroughly enjoy, as it adds some great pressure, but also means you can have a stinker of a front 9, turn it around on the back 9 and still walk away with some money.
Texas Scramble is a fantastic format and one that you’ll often find on charity golf days. Normally played in groups of 3-4, it can also be adapted into a 2 person team or even a 2v2 match up.
Here’s how to play…
You all tee off, you then select the best drive and all hit your second shots from there. You then select the best shot from those, and hit your next shot from there, continue this until the ball is in the hole. So with a 4 person team you basically are getting 4 chances at each shot.
It’s a great format to play with new golfers or those that perhaps haven’t played for a long time as it takes a lot of pressure off them. We also enjoy this format on the first day of a golf trip (normally a 2v2 situation) as it’s a great way to ease everyone in.
To stop just one person carrying the team and others having no impact on the score, which can be demoralizing, there are some extra rules that are often put into play.
- You have to take a certain number of drives from each player on the team. For example, you could say that with 4 team members, you have to take at least 3 or 4 tee shots from each player
- Another rule that could be utilized is that whoever’s shot you decide to use, can’t then take the next one. So if we decide to use my drive (unlikely based on my current driving form), then I couldn’t have a go at hitting the approach shot. You would only use this rule if playing in groups of 3 or 4.
How low do you reckon your 4 ball could shoot at a game of Texas Scramble?
Stableford is a common way to score and as I said before I would use this alongside most of the golf games described above. It’s a handicap-based format, so you can play with your friends of any skill level. We’ve written an in-depth guide here, but here is a quick run down.
Essentially with Stableford, you score points for how well you score on each hole based on your handicap. Here’s how it works.
- An eagle (two shots under par) is 4 points
- A birdie (one shot under par) is 3 points
- A par is 2 points
- A bogey (one shot over par) is 1 point
- A double bogey (two shots over par) is 0 points.
Let’s use the example of a player with an 18 handicap (makes it easy), they get a shot on every hole. So let’s say they are playing a par 4, they actually get 5 shots to get a net par and get their 2 points. Play your round and the person with the most points in the end wins!
Which of the golf games will you play next?
As you can see, there are many golf games out there for you to add a different flavor to your rounds. Try a few of them and who knows maybe you’ll find a new favorite.
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