Have you ever felt a little bored of simply going to the course and playing the same course as usual with the same singles format that you have played for the previous fifty rounds? Then maybe you need a few ideas about different formats that could make that same golf course provide a very different experience.
There is a beauty within golf that it is ever-challenging and that is what keeps a lot of us coming back time and time again.
Having said that, particularly as someone who plays copious amounts of golf, I can vouch for changing things up a little and playing some different formats on the golf course. Sometimes that has actually been far better for my development as a golfer as well!
Golf can be an overly tense sport and it is agonizingly unforgiving, so playing a game with a team aspect, or reducing the consequences of one poor shot, is a great way to free yourself up a little and perhaps just learn to love the game again.
In these situations, it can really help to know a few different games that you can play, either with yourself or with your group, to spice things up a bit and turn a tedious round into an engaging, competitive round.
This article will give you some ideas for games you can play by yourself, but also with playing partners.
The point of these games is either to have a lot more fun, or to create more pressure and competition between you and your friends.
Games for when you’re playing alone
This game requires you to play with either two or three golf balls (hopefully the course is pretty empty!) and it is similar to a scramble format where you pick the best shot each time. Starting from the tee, you hit your balls and then choose the best one, picking up the remaining balls. Repeat this process until the ball is in the hole.
It’s enjoyable simply because we get to shoot a better score, and who doesn’t enjoy that! But it’s actually quite good for your mentality as well because it proves that you can play the shots required to shoot this better score. When you only have one ball in play, you know that you can also execute these shots, you just need to try and execute consecutively.
2. Worst ball
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what this game is about. It’s ‘best ball’, but the opposite. The point of this game is that it will encourage you to retain full focus throughout your round. You can’t afford to make silly mistakes when you have to pull off two or three good shots. You might find that this game helps you to figure out the most effective ways for you to deal with pressure situations. Believe me, after you’ve hit two great shots in a row and you step up to the third one knowing it would all go to waste if you hit a poor one now, this game is a great way to assimilate competition pressure.
It might feel a bit less fun (and let’s be honest it will be) but this is more of a developmental game and you can learn a lot about how to improve your mentality while playing this format.
Games to play with playing partners
Skins is a very old game and was often used for exhibition matches between famous pros for television purposes. This game is often played for money, but the stakes can be whatever you want them to be, drinks after the game, funny forfeits…you name it.
You can play with anything between 2-4 players, the more the better. In order to win a ‘skin’ a player must score lower than the rest of the players on that hole. The skin begins on the first hole and it rolls over to the next hole if there is a tie for the best score on the hole. Let’s say you were playing for one golf ball per ‘skin’ and the first four holes were tied, then if someone wins the fifth hole, they would win five golf balls. At the end of the round, you will check the scores and see who owes what.
This game can lead to a brilliantly exciting finish as the holes can be rolled on and on until somebody steals all of the spoils right at the end, having played rubbish all day! It’s such a good way to keep everyone interested regardless of how they are playing because they can turn it into a good day with just one good hole.
In the UK, I have always just played this game as “9, 9, 18”, but I believe the more official name for it is Nassau. The point being that there are points up for grabs for the front nine, the back nine, and the overall scores. It’s another way of allowing someone to stay engaged and have something to play for even if they really struggled on the front nine.
What you play for is up to you, but generally the reward for the 18 hole score is double that of the individual 9 hole scores. Whenever I have played this game with friends, we have used the “two-tie-all-tie” rule, so if the top two scores are tied for any of the results, then that particular bet is written off. This game can create quite a fun team atmosphere as well, particularly if one player is leading by a few, then the other players will be egging each other on to try and tie with this player to keep their own losses down to a minimum!
3. Six, six, six
When playing this game there are six points available per hole; four for the win, two for second, zero for last. If there is a two-way tie for the best score on the hole then there are three points each, for a three-way tie, each player receives two points. If there is a tie for the second best score, those two players receive one point each, with the winner getting the full four points.
I have played this game a lot over the years and it’s great fun with how much things can change, particularly if the leader has a couple of poor holes then they can be caught up very quickly!
The “Wolf” is the person teeing off first, which alternates throughout the round so that each player is the Wolf one-by-one. The Wolf is the player who decides the teams for each hole, either by choosing to play against all three other players (Lone Wolf) with the stakes being multiplied by three, or by choosing a partner that they want after that players’ shot has been played.
When choosing a partner, you must make the decision after they have hit their shot, and prior to another player playing. This adds some more drama to the decision making as you don’t want to leave it to the last player if you’re not confident that they will hit a good drive! The teeing order is determined by the previous Wolf moving to the last position, and so on.
The points system works out by adding up each individual’s points and keeping a track throughout the round. The points system is one point to the team with the lowest score, minus one point to the losing team, zero for ties. If a player goes Lone Wolf then they can win three points for a win, or lose three points for a loss. It is important to keep track of the points throughout the round because you may get to a scenario where the Wolf has to go Lone Wolf and take on that risk in order to catch up a deficit, or other strategy altering situations.
This game is all about putting! Before the round you agree on a bet, in order to lose the bet you need to be the last person to make a three-putt during the round. So if you’re going to make a three-putt, make it early! This game can really get in your head, to the point where you might find players intentionally missing big greens with longer shots because they don’t want to leave themselves an eighty foot putt and risk becoming the Snake!
Foursomes is an alternate shot game where one player will tee off on the odd numbered holes, while the other will tee off on the even numbered holes. Once you begin a hole you alternate shots until it is in the hole, then return to the teeing off order regardless of who finished the previous hole.
The benefits of this game are that you get to play team golf and have a partner, you will play a lot faster, and you can avoid some tee shots that you might not like!
7. Greensome foursomes
This is a slightly more relaxing and strategic version of foursomes, if you want to keep things a little looser on the course! Despite the name, the difference with this game is on the tee shot. Each player plays their tee shot and you choose the best option, playing alternate shots from there until you finish the hole.
In my opinion, classic foursomes can be a bit of a struggle at times, especially if one team just can’t get any good momentum going, so Greensome foursomes is a more exciting team format. The extra tee options allow for a bit more aggression, particularly if your partner has hit one down the middle, then you know that you almost have a free shot!
8. Fourball better ball
Here is a low-scoring game that is great for helping you to play aggressive golf and make as many birdies as possible. You team up in pairs and the best score between your pair counts against the best score between the other pair. It can become very tactical with the order in which you play and whether one player will take less risk to make a par, while the other takes on more risk than they would otherwise do in order to get a chance at a birdie.
I would say this is one of the most common games that you would find being played in the UK. Most people still want to play their own ball for the full round, but perhaps enjoy the lesser consequences to a bad hole and more enjoyment from making birdies and helping their teammate out. It can be good fun to combine this game with something like Nassau as well, to add some extra incentive to keep the game spicy until the end!
9. Texas scramble
This is basically a game of best ball which is most frequently played in a team of four. Each player hits their own tee shot, then you choose the best option from the tee and all hit from that spot. You pick the best shot on each occasion until you finish the hole.
There are quite a few different versions of this game, most include a minimum number of tee shots that must be selected from each player. For example, the team must choose at least three drives from each player in the team. This adds in a genuine strategic element as you may have to choose a tee shot which is not necessarily the furthest, or in the best spot, in order to reach your quota of tee shots. Ending up with one person teeing off on the final hole, knowing that the team HAS to take their ball, is not the way to manage this game!
This game is one which I look forward to the most as it creates a great team atmosphere!
Playing for bits
‘Bits’ are basically smaller side bets within the round which each player can win. The stakes are of course much smaller than the overall stakes, but there are numerous different Bits that can be played for, and to be honest anything can be added as a Bit as long as the group agrees on it. Here is a list of some the Bits that I have played for;
- Longest – Longest drive on each par 5 (carries over)
- Neary – nearest to the hole on each par 3 (carries over)
- Sandy – up and down from the bunker
- Chip-in – any chip in from off the green with a club other than putter
- Par 4 greened – Hitting the green on with your tee shot on a par 4
- Birdies, eagles… – Bits awarded for under par holes, agreed on beforehand
- Multiplier – under par holes in a row multiply your returns
In my experience it seems that social golf in the US makes more use of these varying formats to play social golf between friends, and I think that this is a good thing. Playing singles all of the time doesn’t allow us to enjoy the team aspects of golf or really to get those juices flowing.
Many golfers will have grown up playing team sports so I think you might find that adding in that team aspect would add something that you might not have realised was missing from your golfing experiences.
I certainly understand the feeling of wanting to keep your own score and that is the most complete method with which to determine if you are improving or not. I also appreciate that many social golfers are only playing once, maybe twice a week, if they’re lucky. In that case you may want to use that minimal time to work on your handicap and play in singles tournaments.
Maybe you are not looking for variation in your golf games, but this article is more for the player who might feel a little disillusioned by their golf and be wondering why they are bothering. Particularly if you are not playing often enough to actually improve, then it can feel like you’re just putting yourself through the pain and frustration of golf without much fun coming back your way!
If you feel like that type of golfer, then give some of these games a go and it just might help you to reignite your enjoyment of the game, which I can guarantee goes hand-in-hand with better performances!