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While most Americans play medal play, which is stroke play golf, there are many scoring variations which make for enjoyable golf games for one, two, three, four and multiple players. Listed below are some of the most popular golf games where even a hack can win a wager or two against a scratch player.


ANIMALS:  Your actual score is not as important as the "animals" you accumulate. Before each round, the value of the animals is predetermined, for instance, each animal is worth $1. You must also determine whether at the end of the round you add up all your animals and contribute either $1 to the pot per animal or $1 to each opponent for each animal.

If your ball strikes a tree or you hit into the woods, you are awarded a monkey. If you ball comes to rest in the water, you get a fish, if it comes to rest in a bunker, you are awarded a camel. A three putt gives you a snake. The idea is to have the least amount of animals at the end of the round. The animals you accumulate are removed from you by an opponent getting the same animal. For instance, if you have a monkey on the first hole, and your opponent gets a monkey at a later time, he takes your monkey. However, if you get two monkeys in a row, your first monkey is "boxed in" and you cannot get rid of it. But your second monkey can still be given to you opponent provided you do not box in the second monkey as well. Your opponents can only take away an identical animal and only identical animals can box each other in.

BEST BALL:  (2 or 4 man) Each team golfer plays their own ball all the time and only the lowest teammate's score is counted on each hole toward the team's round and the bad scores are ignored. It can be as basic as 2 v 2 or as sophisticated a 4-man best ball team against  a field of hundreds of golfers in dozens of 4-man teams. Play can be either handicapped or not.

CRIERS AND WHINERS:  In a foursome, for each golfer the play is straight up without handicaps except each is permitted a mulligan for each stroke of their handicap or sometimes the difference between each of their handicaps.  For instance, if golfer A has a handicap of 8 and golfer B has a handicap of 10, golfer B gets 2 mulligan or perhaps golfer A might get 2 and golfer B might get 4. Some advise to further reduce the mulligan by 3/4.  A mulligan can be taken anywhere at any time except that you may only take one mulligan per each errant shot.

DOTS:  Played in a foursome with no set teams. Each player tees off and the two balls that are closest to right side of the hole form one team and the two balls that are on the left side of the hole form  the other team. The teams  play together for the duration of the hole and new teams are made following the next tee shot. Usually you play best ball or high-low as a team and if your team wins a particular hole, each player gets a "dot" on the score card for that hole. The player with the most dots wins. Sometimes each dot is worth set dollar amount.

DERBY:  The golfer with the worst score on each hole is eliminated from the tournament until either there is only one golfer left or all the holes have been played. If still tied after all the holes are played, the lowest score of the survivors is the winner. There must be a singular worst score on each hole, tied worst scores are spared. Large fields may eliminate all golfers with the worst score on each hole. Only those in the Derby can be eliminated or eliminate others. Can be played with our without handicaps. Players get back in the Derby with two net birdies anytime after elimination, and/or a single net birdie validated with a subsequent net par after elimination. A net eagles also gets you back in the Derby. If  you had not been eliminated, you can bank a net eagle  as a sort of "get out of jail free" card that must be used to prevent elimination. You can be eliminated and re-enter the Derby more than once. If your re-entry qualification is satisfied on the 18th hole, you are considered in the Derby even though there are no more holes to play.

FOUR BALL:  Typical of Ryder Cup formats in which a team consists of many 2-man pairings.  These pairing play against another teams pairings in a foursome. Each foursome is a self contained match. Within the foursome, the 2 pairings play best ball against each for a match  but not against the field or other pairings. The winning pairing adds their winnings to the teams totals and the team with the most winning pairings wins the tournament.

FOUR WAY:  (4 man) Each golfer is awarded 2 points for each golfer he scores lower than on each hole in his group, 1 point for each golfer he ties and zero points for being the sole high shooter. For Instance,  golfer A has 4; B has 5; C has 5; and D has 6. Golfer A gets 6 points (2+2+2) for beating everyone. Golfers B and C each get three points (2+1) for one tie and one win.  Golfer D gets zero. The winner is the golfer with the most points at the end of the round. Can be played with handicaps or without.

HIGH-LOW:  A foursome consists of two teams. On each hole, each team's high score is compared against the opponents high score. Whichever team's high score is lower will receive a point. A team's low score is also compared against the opponents low score. Whichever team's low score is lower will receive a point as well. Optionally, you can also use combined scores for an additional point. In that case, each teams combined score is compared against the opponents combined score, and the lower net team score will also receive a point. In the case of ties, no points are awarded. Whichever team has the highest point total at the end of the round wins. It can be pre-determined what each point is worth, for example, each point is worth $1 to increase the pressure.

MATCH PLAY:  Opponents play not for score, but to win each hole independently. The lowest score on each hole will receive one point. The score differential on each hole has no bearing. The match is over when one player is up more holes over his opponent than there are holes left to be played.

MONKEY BOY: You need a small stuffed monkey. Every time someone in your foursome hits a tree or has his ball fly into the woods, he is handed (or thrown in an insulting way) the monkey.  The next person to hit a tree or into the woods takes the monkey from the previous golfer. The monkey must be visible, either on your person or in your immediate vicinity when you are the "monkey boy." The golfer with the monkey when the round is finished, must buy a pitcher of beer for the foursome.  If you loose the monkey, you automatically lose. This adds an interesting dimension when combined with other matches, a sort of game within the game. For instance, there may come a point when a golfer must chose between risking getting the monkey or winning the hole.

MULLIGAN GAME: Everyone knows what a mulligan is. But here is a neat twist you can play with handicaps. For every two stroke of the handicap you are entitled to, you get one mulligan. For example, if a 10 handicap is playing 5 handicap, everyone plays straight up, but the 10 handicap gets 5 mulligan's per round, and the 5 handicap will get two mulligans (rounded down).  Three conditions apply.  You cannot use a mulligan to putt. Once you use a mulligan, you MUST play it and abandon the previous shot.  And, you can redeem unused mulligans at a rate of one mulligan to one stroke off your score at the end of your round. This is particularly a nice game when the golf course is unfamiliar or you just got out of a car after a long drive to the course.

NASSAU:  Whoever has the lowest score on the front nine receives one point. Whoever has the lowest score on the back nine receives one point. Whoever has the lowest 18 hole score will also receive one point. The winner is whoever has the most points. Nassau is the home of the "press" which is a separate and new wager or game within the original game brought on by a player that is behind in the scoring. For instance, if a player presses his opponent on the 8th hole, that means there is an additional bet in the Nassau for who wins holes 8 and 9. The original wager for the front nine remains open so there is the possibility that one player will win the front nine Nassau while the other player wins the front nine press. There is also the possibility the same player will win the front nine Nassau as well as the Press. Presses can be banned, automatic or optional to the player that is trailing. Nassau can also be played in larger groups. Typically, you will award x-amount of points for the top players from each nine and then also for the total 18 holes.

NINE-POINT:  A three man game where points are awarded per hole. There are four possible outcomes on each hole.  If each player shoots a different score, such as birdie, par and bogey, the low score gets 5 points, the middle score gets 3 points and the high score gets 1 point.  If there is one low score and two tied high scores, the low score player receives 5 points while the other two receive 2 points each.  If two players tie for the low score, then the two low scores get 4 points while the sole high score gets 1 point. And finally, if all three players tie, they each get 3 points. Like most golf games, your can play where each point is worth a set amount of money or in the alternate, whoever has the most points at the conclusion of the round wins.

PINKBALL:  Each team is given a "pink ball." (It does not have to be a pink ball, but it must be separately identifiable) Each member of the team must play an entire golf hole with the "pink ball." Then the process is repeated until the tournament is concluded. Other scoring rules are usually in effect. Should the pink ball be lost, the team is disqualified. Sometimes it comes down to not which team has the lowest score, but rather, who still has the "pink ball."

PINKBALL ELIMINATION:  Similar to "Pinkball" except the person who loses the "pinkball" is subtracted from the foursome and they continue a scramble or best ball tournament as a threesome. Should another "pink ball" be lost, that golfer is subtracted from the threesome, and they continue as a scramble or best ball twosome and so forth.

SCOTCH:  In a two man team, each golfer alternates shots of the same ball. They must also alternate who takes the tee shot on each hole.

SCRAMBLE:  In a foursome, everyone hits from the tee. The best tee shot is selected and all members of the foursome hit from the spot of the best tee shot after collecting their original shots. Only the shot selected as the optimal shot will count towards the stroke tally. This continues until the hole is concluded and until 18 holes are concluded. Can also be played by two-man teams. If you want to incorporate handicaps into a two-man scramble,  divide each handicap by three, then add the results together for the teammates. Deduct the resulting handicap sum from the team's gross score to get the teams net result. For instance, a two-man team with handicaps of 10 and 15 are divided by three and the result is 3 + 5 = 8 strokes for the team.

SHAMBLES:  In a foursome, there are two teams of two players.  Everyone in the foursome hits their tee shot. Each team selects the best tee shot of the two tee shots. The player's who's tee shot is not selected, picks up his ball and drops next to the teammate who's tee shot is selected. They both then acts as if the better tee shot was their own. Then, everyone plays their own ball in and finishes the hole. Only the lowest score from each team is counted for the match. This is a relatively fast playing and fun game which combines a scramble with best ball.  It can also be played as a four man team.

SKINS:  In a group of 2 or more golfers, the player with the lowest score on each hole wins a skin. This can be the lowest net score or the lowest gross score.  The value of each hole is set at the beginning, of instance, 1 point or $10. Sometimes the value of the holes are be varied according to the holes difficulty or increases as the round progresses. At the end of the round the skins are added up and paid out according to the number of skins won, or if not playing for money, the player with the most skins is determined to be the winner. Hole that are tied are not awarded to anyone.

SKINS WITH CARRYOVER:  Same as Skins except that if a hole it tied, the "skin" is carried over to the next hole. The points or money continue to carry over and add up over the successive tied holes until there is a definitive winner on a hole. Then the following hole defaults to the original value and the process starts again.

STABLEFORD:  A Stableford competition is a golf tournament in which the object is to get the highest score. That's because in Stableford, golfers are awarded points based on their scores in relation to a fixed score at each hole. That fixed score can be par, bogie or any number of strokes agreed to in the beginning. USGA and R&A define Stableford points in this manner:

  • More than 1 over fixed score (or no score returned) - 0 points
  • Bogie (One over fixed score) - 1 point
  • Par (Fixed score) - 2 points
  • Birdie (One under fixed score) - 3 points
  • Eagle (Two under fixed score) - 4 points
  • Double Eagle (Three under fixed score) - 5 points
  • Four under fixed score - 6 points

If you have a bunch of hacks are playing, do not set the fixed score at par, it would be better to pick bogie or higher.

STABLEFORD (MODIFIED): Just liken the Stableford system but uses a progressive scale and also detract points for bad scores.  Points are awarded on this scale:

  • Double Eagle: 8 points
  • Eagle: 5 points
  • Birdie: 2 points
  • Par: 0 points
  • Bogey: -1 point
  • Double Bogey or Worse: -3 points

Like the regular Stableford system, you can alter this scale to fit your golfers.  If you have a bunch of high handicappers, don't use this scale. Make par worth 2 points and bogie worth 1 and so forth.  However, if you are going to use net scores by way of handicaps, the scale would be fine.

THREE-BALL (aka Sam golf):  The only three player golf game we can think besides Nine-Point. There are three human players in the match plus "Sam" who is merely an imaginary player who always shots an assigned number. Usually Sam is scratch and shots par on every hole.  Over the 18 holes, each human player takes turns playing on "Sam's team" for 6 holes. The other two players play with each other on another team until it is time to switch. For instance, Player A and B are on the same team for the moment and shot par and bogie respectively on a hole. Player C and "Sam" shot par and par. Therefore, player C is awarded one match point for winning the hole. On the next whole, A and B shot par and bogie again and C shots double bogie and "Sam" gets his customary par. Player A and B are each awarded one match point for winning the hole.

THREE-TWO-ONE:  In a foursome or even a threesome, the low score on each hole is awarded three points. The next lowest score, regardless if two or more golfers ties for the next lowest score, will each received two points. The 3rd lowest score, if any, receives one point. If there is a 4th lowest score, he receives zero points.

THREE LITTLE PIGS:  After your round is done, each competitor disregards his three worst hole scores and then add up the remaining scores. Worst hole scores can be in relation to par.  

UMBRELLA GAME  :  Played is by points, there are six points available per hole: Four in a match, two against two players. Each hole is worth 6 points as follows:

  • One point per team for nearest to the pin, on the green in regulation. (this is probably the most important point, because it is almost impossible to tie, and even though it is only worth one point it has been used to prevent many "Umbrellas")
  • Two points for individual low score per team. If both teams tie, no points awarded.
  • Two points for low total score of team. If both teams tie, no points awarded.
  • One point if team makes birdie. If both teams tie, no point awarded.

If one team gets all of the above points, then the points are doubled and "the Umbrella" is opened. Instead of six points, the team would be awarded twelve points. But the team must achieve all qualifications, in theory six points. As  an example, if a team has low total (2 points), low individual score (2 points) and a birdie (1 Point), but the team did not win the pin shot, they would only get five points. If you are playing automatic presses, then that would double the bets accordingly. The total points are added at the end of the round and a point and can be worth anywhere from twenty five cents to big bucks a point. It is a great game because it brings in every aspect of each individual player playing.    

WOLF (aka Boss):  Players alternate being the being the "Wolf." It can be a predetermined rotation before the match or it can be the player with honors on each tee. The player designated as the "Wolf" gets to choose whether to play the hole alone against the three other golfers or can choose a partner to play against the other two golfers. If the "Wolf" chooses to play two on two, he must choose his playing partner for the hole immediately following that playing partner's drive and before the next player tees off. The side with the lowest better ball score wins the hole. A player may also chose to be a "Lone Wolf," in which the Wolf announces before anyone tees off (including himself) that he's going it alone. The "Lone wolf" can win double but can also lose double. If you have uneven skill levels, we suggest you use handicaps and play by net scores.

YARDAGE GAME (aka DIME-A-YARD, BUCK-A-YARD...):  Each hole of the round is worth a set value based on the length of each hole. You can make each yard worth a point, penny, ten cents, a dollar, etc... Lets say player A wins a 580 yard hole and each yard is worth a penny, then that player has won $5.80.  If his opponent wins two par threes of 120 yards and 140 yards, then player B has won only $2.60. Player B owes player A $3.20. This can be played by as many players as you want, you just need to figure the low score for each hole. Bring a calculator. Can be played with our without handicaps. 


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