The Games within the Game of Golf

The Games within the Game of Golf
by John Schneider

Golf for the sake of golf is great.  Keeping your own score to see how well you shoot is the best reason to take the sticks out and walk the course.  However when you are playing with your normal foursome it can be fun to add a little pressure to the situation.  While taking a few dollars from your friends during a round of golf is fun, razzing them in the clubhouse as they are handing the cash to you is even better.

There are countless different variations of golf games that you can add to your round of golf.  Some are easy to understand, some not so.  Some involve lots of rules, some not.  Within this article I will share 3 the standard games that I incorporate into my rounds of golf with my traditional foursomes.


Nassau is a standard game dating back over a hundred years.  In this game the traditional 18 hole round of golf is divided up into 3 different games.  The first game / wager is for the front 9; the second game / wager is for the back 9; lastly you have a third game / wager covering all 18 holes.

Within your foursome you split into 2 teams of 2.  Your team will win the hole by having the lowest (net – handicap used played against the lowest handicap in the group) score on that hole.  Only one score per team per hole is counted (this means that if your team partner drops his shot in the water you are not immediately out of the hole).  If you shot a 5, but your playing team partner shot a 4 your team would have a 4 in the Nassau game for that hole.  If the other team in your foursome had a score that was higher you won that hole.  Tie scores are just a tie and you move on.  You win the game you are playing (front 9, back 9, or whole 18) if you win more holes than the other team.   Traditionally I play a 5-5-5 game.  This means that my team is playing the front 9 for $5, the back 9 for $5, and the whole 18 holes for another $5.  If your team wins the front 9, loses the back 9, but wins the total 18 hole game then you would win $5 from the other team (+$5 for the front 9, -$5 for the back 9, and +$5 for the 18 hole game).

The real gamble of this game comes when “pressing” is involved.  A press basically starts another game within the existing game for another bet ($5 in my game).  Let’s say that on the front 9 my team loses the first two holes.  This means that we are down 2 holes with 7 more to play for the front 9 wager.  If my team decides to press the match that means we are playing the next 7 holes for another $5 bet.  If we win more holes in the next 7 holes then we will win the press wager.  The original front 9 wager remains in play.  Pressing can get complicated and help you win back your money (or lose even more).   At times the teams will agree on the first tee to make presses automatic once a team is down 2 holes in any of the individual matches.  The press wages can then also be pressed again once it is down 2 holes.

Nassau is a great game to play with your standard group of friends.  You can easily swap out one player for other by just adjusting the appropriate handicaps.  Additionally you can play the standard Nassau game in a one on one format, pitting you against one other person.  All of the other non-team related rules stay the same.


Skins is a game best played in groups of 3 or 4 (sometimes even more).  In this game a player earns a skin by having the lowest score on a hole.  The skin has a monetary value associated with it (any value will work – a quarter, a dollar, or even 5 dollars for the higher stakes player).  A player will win the hole that they are playing if they have the lowest score of the group (you can play with a handicap and use the net score if you want).  If the low score on the hole is a tie then the skin carries over to the next hole.  Carryovers could happen for multiple holes.  If a hole is tied 2 straight times then the 3rd hole would have a value of 3 skins.

Let’s say that you have a foursome playing skins with each skin worth $1.  If you shot a 3 and the other players shot 4 or 5 then you win the skin(s) assigned to that hole ($1 from each of the other players).  If you shoot a 3, another player also shoots a 3, and the others have higher scores then the hole is tied and the skins carryover to the next hole.  If on the next hole your buddy shot 4 and everyone else scores higher then your buddy would win 2 skins ($2 from each of the other players).

This is a game where if you are already out of the hole you will be wishing for your buddies to tie.  You may want someone to make or miss that 3 foot putt.  You also might be facing that 3 foot putt to win the cash (and the bragging honors).

Because the value of a skin is set on the first tee box your will know upfront what your maximum loss could be.  If you are playing skins with a value of $1 each then the maximum you could lose during the round would be $18 (18 holes times $1).  However if you think you might lose every hole then I would suggest playing other game instead of skins (perhaps you should consider playing on Wednesdays).

Some players add a slight variation for the skins game that states that a player must have a score (net) of par or better to win the hole.  If no one has a par or better on a particular hole then the skins carryover to the next hole.  This variation is added to ensure that a player that wins the skin truly won the hole and did not just back into it.


Wolf is a fun game to play with a foursome.  It is a game that will pair you with different people in the foursome on each hole.  On each tee (rotated each hole) a player is designated as the wolf – the wolf would tee off first.  The other three players then tee off in the traditional honors order.  As the wolf watches the other players tee he may choose any of the players has his partner for that hole.  However the wolf must choose his playing partner prior to the next person teeing off.  Once the next person tees off the previous player cannot be his playing partner.  If you are the wolf, this is where you have to predict if the next golfer may or may not have a better drive.  If you hold out for the next player and they hit the water you might be in trouble, however if they bomb it in the fairway a 90 yards out you may be golden.  If the wolf has not picked anyone after everyone has teed off then he can pick the last player or play as the lone wolf.  The lone wolf plays against everyone else and to win the hole he must have the lowest score of the foursome.  If the wolf selects a playing partner then that team’s (wolf and his playing partner) total score must be lower than the other team’s (the remaining 2 players) total score to win the hole.

Each hole is played for standard wager amount.  Let’s say $1 per hole / per player.  This means that if the wolf picks a partner and wins the hole then each person on the team wins $1 from the other players.  If a hole is tied then the wager for that hole is carried over to the next hole.  Using the last example the next hole would have a wager of $2 per person (the $1 from the previous tied hole and the $1 for the hole you are playing).  Playing as the lone wolf means that the wager for that hole is doubled ($2 per person – meaning if the lone wolf wins each player pays him $2 for a total of $6 in winnings, however if the lone wolf loses then he pays each player $2 for a total of $6 in loses).   Having carryovers and declaring to be the lone wolf is where the fun and pressure can begin.

Some games of wolf add opportunities to increase the stakes for the player designated as the wolf.   Since the wolf tees off first you could add a rule that the wolf may declare themselves the lone wolf before anyone else tees off.  In this case the wager for the hole would be tripled.  If the wolf has a great drive it may work out, but maybe the next player will have a better drive.  Adding another escalator would allow the designated wolf to declare themselves the lone wolf before he hit his drive.  In this case the wager for the hole would be quadrupled.

The traditional game of wolf only gives the designated wolf the power of picking a partner or being the lone wolf.  However another variation of the game allows the person being picked by the designated wolf to decline being a partner.  If the player picked to be a partner declines then effectively he is declaring that he is the lone wolf and must beat all of the scores of the other players to win the wager.  Wagers in this situation are double just as they would be if the designated wolf would declare themselves the lone wolf.  This variation adds some complexity to the game, but also gives each player more control over their game.  In this situation the designated wolf might not want to pick a player with as awesome tee shot as partner for fear that that person will decline and win the hole as the lone wolf.

Wolf is really a fun game and gets you cheering or jeering for the same person multiple times during the round of golf.  It also puts added pressure on many of the dreaded 3 foot slide sloped putts.

Published April 2010

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