Golf Games for Fun: 50+ Ideas Plus Bonus Side Games

Introduction

Watching golf on TV you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only way to play golf was 72-hole stroke play. It has become the staple diet of men’s professional tours. I’m going to give you some ideas on different ways to play or score.

Solo player escaping from sand but
Not another bunker!

Games for the Single Player

If you’re fed up of just playing stroke-play on your own then you could try some of the following. Make sure your club is OK with single players hitting multiple balls. Some committees can get upset!

Probably best avoided if the course is busy as well.

Best Ball

Just about the simplest game you can play when you’re out on your own. Just play an extra ball (or maybe even 2). Take the best scoring ball on each hole. It’s exactly the same as better-ball pairs but you are both of the pair!

Herman and Sherman

In this game, you attempt to alternate between draws and fades. Play the first 2 holes with a draw and then the next 2 holes with a fade. It would be a great game to play to help you develop better shot-making abilities.

Scramble

More usually played in groups of 3 or 4. There’s nothing stopping you from doing this as a single (assuming your club doesn’t object). Decide at the outset if you’re going to play 2 or 3 balls. At every stage, you hit 2 or 3 shots, pick the best of the bunch and then proceed to hit 2 or 3 shots from that position until eventually, you hole out.

Having an extra go for every shot should hopefully lead to you getting a great score.

Worst Ball

Best balls evil twin. Play an extra ball or 2 on every hole. Instead of counting the best score, you get on every hole you should count the worst score. This really does add an element of pressure to every shot. If you are still able to play to your handicap, then you deserve a pat on the back.

Scoring Systems

So far the suggestions are still based on strokeplay. However, there are a number of different scoring methods you could use even when you play on your own.

How to score bogey format
An imaginary round of bogey

Bogey (also known as Par)

Another format that was popular in the UK although Stableford has now overtaken it I would guess. Again you could play scratch bogey golf although that would probably be best left to groups of low handicappers.

Bogey is effectively you playing match-play against the course. Should you get a net birdie or better on a hole then you have won that hole so you will receive a plus (+).

Should you achieve a nett par then you have halved that hole and would receive a zero (0).

Net bogeys or worse mean a loss of that hole and therefore you get a minus (-).

At the end of the round, you add up all the pluses and subtract all the minuses. If the pluses outnumber the minuses then you have played well.

Golf games for fun
Are you a pot hunter?

Points Based Scoring

Instead of fixating on the number of shots, it takes you to complete the hole award yourself points for different aspects of your game. The challenge is to try and improve your points total every time you play.

You could try some of the following:

Fairways hit, give yourself a point for every fairway that you hit. Try to beat that score next time you go out.

Greens in regulation. Set yourself a realistic target for each hole based on your handicap. For example, it’s no good saying you should hit the green in 2 on a par-4 of 450 yards unless you hit the ball at least 250 yards off the tee. Once you work out a realistic number for every hole you can then award yourself a point every time you manage to achieve it. Try to beat your best score every time you go out.

Putts per green. Try to get your putts per green average down 2 or less. Award yourself a point every time you take no more than two puts on a green. Try to beat your score regularly. If you can get up to the point where you’re having no more than two puts on at least 15 holes then your scores will probably be improving as you should then be taking no more than 36 putts per round.

Stableford

Named after Dr. Frank Stableford, this scoring method uses points rather than counting your total strokes. Usually, the points are calculated based on your nett score per hole although I have played in competitions where you use your gross score. For example, the Frank Stableford Memorial Trophy played at Wallasey Golf Club.

Points are awarded as follows:

ScorePoints
Double bogey or worse0
Bogey1
Par2
Birdie3
Eagle4
Albatross5
Condor (4 under)6
Stableford points system

If you are using handicaps then you would need to look at the stroke index for the hole to determine the number of shots that the player would receive.

The Stableford system is very popular at most golf clubs in the UK. It allows you to have the occasional bad hole without completely ruining your chances of posting a reasonable score.

Mixed couple playing golf
golfing is usually better with 2 (or more)

Games for 2 Players (and probably more)

Moving up to 2 players gives a little more variety.

In addition to the games and scoring systems mentioned above you can add the following:

Best Ball

Both players in the pair play their own ball. Whoever has the best score on the hole is the one that counts. Variations on this are often used in club competitions where it might be the best two from three or the best two from four.  You can use stroke, Stableford or par scoring.

Bingo, Bango, Bongo

Three points are up for grabs on every hole. One point goes to the player who manages to get on the green first. Whoever is closest to the pin once everyone is on the green gets the second point. The first person to sink a putt after everyone is on the green gets the third point.

This game gives everyone a chance when there is a disparity in skill level since it’s not dependent on the total shots you are taking. 

Flags

Each player is given a flag. You then take a portion of that player’s handicap (1/2, 2/3 or 3/4) and add it onto the par for the course.

When a player has reached their allowed total number of strokes they plant their flag where their ball has finished. The winner is the one who gets furthest around the course before planting their flag. 

Tends to work better with 3 or 4 players.

Foursomes or Alternate Shot

Prior to the start of the round the players decide who will be teeing off on odd-numbered holes and who will be teeing off on even-numbered holes. For each subsequent shot on the hole, the players alternate until the ball gets holed. 

Goose and Gander

Two separate games, the Goose is played on the front nine and the Gander on the back nine.

You win the Goose or Gander by winning a hole. Should you manage to hold on to it to the end of that 9 then you have won the Goose or the Gander. If someone beats you before the end of the 9 holes then you have lost the Goose or Gander. It could then be picked up on another hole if a player manages to win the hole outright.

Greensomes

Similar to foursomes but both players hit tee-shots on every hole and they decide which one is the best. They would then take alternate shots from that point.

Murder/Long Ball

Each hole is worth a number of points equivalent to its yardage. So should you win the 450 yard par-4 1st hole you now have 450 points. If the hole isn’t won outright you can either carry that point total onto the next hole or let those points die.

Murphys

This is the modified Stableford format that is used on the PGA Tour in what used to be known as the International at Castle Pines. Now used in the Barracuda Championship.

ScorePoints
Double bogey or worse-3 points
Bogey-1 point
ParZero points
Birdie+2 points
Eagle+5 points
Albatross+8 points
modified Stableford scoring

Nassau

A format that is usually associated with a friendly wager. The winner of the front 9 gets a point, winner of the back 9 gets a point. The winner of the overall round gets a point.

Usually players will have agreed on how much a point is worth.

Diablo

A variation on the Nassau. Rather than use the front 9 and back 9 there are 3 bets during the eighteen holes. One bet on the first 6 holes, one bet on the second 6 holes and the third bet on the final 6 holes. You could then have a bet if you wish on the round as well.

No Alibi

In this game mulligans replace your handicap. Before the round, you would decide whether you are using full, 3/4 or 2/3 of the handicaps. The players then have so many mulligans. Everyone plays off scratch and the lowest score wins. There would normally be additional rules such as you can’t use a mulligan on the first tee and you can’t replay the same shot more than once.

Patsome

In this format, the pair would take the first 6 holes as better-ball, the next 6 holes as greensomes and the final 6 holes they would play as a foursome.

Portuguese Caddy

Almost like a mulligan. Before the round, you agree on how many times you can use a Portuguese Caddy. If your ball ends up somewhere you’re not happy with then you can declare ‘Portuguese Caddy’ and kick the ball without penalty to a more favorable spot. Obviously, the trick is not using up all of your nominated free moves too early in the round.

Scottish (or strict) Foursomes

Normally in foursomes, one player tees off on even-numbered holes and the other player tees off on the odd-numbered holes. In strict foursomes the alternate shot format is continuous.

If player A holes out and player B must play the tee shot on the next hole irrespective of whether it is an odd or even-numbered hole.

It would be possible for you to go many holes without having a tee shot if the other player in your pair kept holing out.

Someone escaping from a bunker

Skins

A point is assigned to each hole. In order to get the point, you have to win the hole outright. If the hole is halved usually people carry over that point to the next hole. There is a problem though in that you could conceivably get a run of 16 holes that are halved. One player wins the seventeenth and the other player wins the eighteenth. So both players have won a single hole but one player ended up winning the skins game 17-1. For this reason, some people tend to omit tied holes. Points are only handed out outright wins.

You could also vary this by assigning more points the further in the round you go. E.g. holes 1 to 6 are worth one point holes 7 to 12 are worth two points and holes 13 to 18 are worth three points. It will increase the pressure as the round goes on particularly if points are carried over for tied holes.

Stringball

With handicaps now going up to fifty-four, this could start to get a bit messy!

Each player gets a length of string the same number of feet as their handicap. During the round, if they need to move the ball out of a hazard or from a bad lie they cut off a length of string matching the distance they want to move the ball. Every birdie gets you an extra foot of string back. Don’t forget the scissors!

Texas Scramble

The only difference between a Texas scramble and a scramble is that each player must contribute a minimum number of tee shots during the round. This is more likely to be the format used in a club competition or possibly on a society day.

A three ball out on the course
A scramble can be a great format for a golf society

Games for Three Players

6-6-6 (Split Sixes or Cricket)

Six points are available on every hole. If you manage to win the hole outright then you get 4 points. The player who finishes second gets 2 points and the third player gets 0. If the second and third players tie then they each receive 1 point. Should two players tie for the win then they both receive 3 points and the other player gets 0. In the event that all 3 players tie then everyone gets 2 points.

Just add up all the points at the end to find the winner.

Alliance

Format well-loved at one of my former clubs. Every player teams up as a pair with the other players in the group. If you are a 3 ball then that means 3 pairs: player A + player B, player A + player C and player B + player C. Usually the format would be better ball Stableford.

Chairman

Sounds a little like skins. If someone wins a hole they become the chairman. If they win or tie then they remain the chairman on subsequent holes. Should someone else win the hole outright then they become the chairman. The winner of the game is whoever manages the most holes as chairman.

Ghost

In this game, you effectively play better-ball pairs but with only 3 players. One player joins up with the imaginary ghost to compete against the other pair. The ghost player is assumed to par every hole. In order to give a balanced game, it is generally best to put the worst player with the ghost.

You could probably score this either as match-play, stroke-play or even use Stableford or bogey.

Nines (81)

This is a variation on 6-6-6. Nine points are available per hole. If there is an outright winner they get 5 points. If someone finishes in outright second they get 3 points, leaving 1 point for the third-place player. Should the second and third players on the hole finish tied then they both received 2 points. In the event that all players tie then each player receives 3 points.

The winner is whoever has the highest total at the end of the round

Rabbits

To win the rabbit you need to win all 4 rabbit legs (holes). You do not need to win all 4 holes consecutively, however, you do need to win 4 holes before any player manages to beat you.

Should you have won a number of rabbit legs (holes) then you will lose all of them if both players beat you on a hole but they tie. No one would have any legs at this point.

If a single player has beaten you then you will lose all your legs and he would now have one.

In the event that a player manages to win all 4 legs, he has then won the rabbit. A new rabbit bet could then begin.

This is probably best played with the 2/3 players it would be difficult to win 4 holes without losing one in a group of 4 players.

Green snake
Will you be left holding the snake?

Snake

Prior to the round, you need to set a bet. For example, paying for the round of drinks. Every time anyone 3 putts they become the snake. Whoever is the snake at the end of the eighteen holes has lost the bet. You can also have an extra game called black mamba for anyone that 4 puts (or worse)

Three-ball

A match-play format where each player plays match-play against the other members of the group. So each player is playing two matches during the round. Normal match-play rules would apply for handicapping.

Threesome

In this game, a single player plays against the other two. The pair play in a foursomes format. So each plays alternate shots until the ball is holed/conceded. One player would tee off on odd-numbered holes the other player would tee off on even-numbered holes. You could play this either as match-play or stroke-play (Stableford even)

Games for Four Players

Alliance

The same as for 3 players but with 4 players in the group you end up with a total of 6 pairs, so 6 cards to mark.

American Foursomes

A variation on greensomes. Both players drive and then play their partner’s ball for the second shot. The pair then decide which ball is in the best position and play alternate shots from there.

Better-ball Aggregate

A point is awarded to the pair with the lowest better-ball score on each hole. The pair with the best aggregate (both player’s scores are added together) on each hole also get a point. So potentially 36 points are available. Generally played off full handicap.

Bisque

A player is allowed to nominate when they take their handicap strokes rather than using the stroke index. The player must nominate before teeing off on the hole.

Blood-some Scramble

A variation on a normal scramble but rather than picking the best shot on every hole you pick the worst. Everyone has to hole out from the same place in order to complete the hole. It means this format could be quite time-consuming and you may be best sticking to 9 holes.

Canadian/Pinehurst Foursomes

Similar to greensomes but the best shot is picked after each player has played their second shot. The pair then played alternate shots from there.

Fourball Better-ball

Taking the better ball format mentioned earlier. If you have 4 players you now have the option to play a match-play format. The lowest handicap would play off scratch with all other players receiving shots based on the difference to their handicap. These days the handicap allowance is set at 90%.

This format is also used widely for club competitions, often using the Stableford scoring system in an effort to speed up play.

Hopefully, players that are no longer able to score on that hole would pick up.

Fourball Aggregate

As the name suggests, in this format you play in pairs using your own ball. However, rather than taking the best score from each pair, you add up the scores to give the total for each pair.

Daytona

An even more difficult variation of fourball aggregate that I have only played once. This involves taking the scores and combining them e.g. if you both scored 4 then the pair’s score would be 44. If at least one player has par or better then you take the lowest score and add the highest score as the second digit. So, on a par 4 player A gets a 3 and player B gets a 4 that would be 34. Conversely, if both players make a bogey or worse then you put the higher score as the first digit. If one of the pair got a 6 and the other got a 5 then that would be 65.

Las Vegas
Viva Las Vegas

Las Vegas

A variation of Daytona where you take the difference between each pair’s score. This can be further complicated if you apply the rule of 10. This means if someone were to score 10 or more on a hole then their score would become the first digit. For example pair A score 3 and a 4 and get 34. Pair B scored 10 and a 6 so their score would be 106. Pair A would score 72 points for that hole. (106-34).

Las Vegas Amigo

In this variation the pairs change on every hole. Players are paired by the 2 tee shots that finish on the left of the fairway and the 2 tee shots that finish on the right fairway. That pairing stay together for the hole.

Las Vegas Amigo for Highrollers

A further variation on the Las Vegas. If both members of one pair manage to get gross par or better then their opponent’s scores are reversed. E.g. if they get a 5 and 6 then that would become 65 rather than 56. This would also occur if a member of one pair had a gross birdie.

Should a member of a pair score a gross eagle then the other player’s scores will be reversed and the difference between the two scores would double. So on a par 5, pair A gets a 3 and a 5 to score 35. The other pair scored 6 and a 7. It means their score now becomes 76 rather than 67. This gives a difference of 32 but because of the eagle, it is doubled to make 64 points for pair A.

Nice and simple!

Foursomes/Greensomes/Betterball

If you have 4 players then you can play any one of those formats against the other pair either as match-play or stroke-play.

Gruesomes

A variation on greensomes where the pair you are playing against gets to pick the drive you will be playing. If it’s a friendly game then hopefully they won’t be too cruel. It 

does put quite a lot of pressure on the tee shots.

Hi-Low

Another point-based game for pairs. On each hole, you would give a point to the pair that has the best of the lowest score from each pair. You also award a point to the pair who has the best of the 2 higher scores. Should either the higher or lower score be tied then no points are awarded. The winners would be the team with the most points.

Lagging

Once all players are on the green they get points for proximity to the hole. Three points go to the closest player, 2 to the next closest then 1 and 0 points for whoever is furthest away. The winner is the person with the most points over the 18 holes.

One Putt Poker

Before the round, you need to assign a monetary value for 3 putts.

Let’s say $1. Every time there’s a 3 putt all the players put that amount into a pot. If you manage to make a single put then you are given a playing card. At the end of the round, the player with the best poker hand gets to keep the pot. The best putter on the day should have the best odds of winning the money.

Pink ball
Don’t lose that pink ball!

Pink Ball

Each player plays their own ball. A different player uses the pink ball on each hole with everyone taking it in turns. The team score is the score for whoever was using the pink ball plus the best of the other team members. Should you lose the pink ball before the eighteen holes are complete then unfortunately your team would be out.

Round Robin

Every 6 holes you change partners. Each 6-hole mini round is a separate game. You could even play different games in each of the 6-hole segments.

Scramble/Texas Scramble

Popular format on golf days or occasionally golf clubs. Great for mix-ins or draw for partners where you can put together teams with a mixture of handicaps. Can be scored as a medal/strokeplay or Stableford. Usually, teams receive 1/10 of their combined handicaps.  

St Andrews Foursomes

Yet another variation on greensomes. Both players drive and the best shot is selected. One player plays second shots on even-numbered holes and the other player will play the second shots on the odd-numbered holes. They continue with alternate shots until the ball is holed.

Shambles

After both players in the pair have driven, they determine the best tee shot. Both players then continue to play the hole with their own ball from that position. You might decide to score this using the better score for each pair or you could add up the scores from both players to give the team score.

A wolf
Can you be a wolf?

Wolf

Before the start of the round a draw is made to determine the order in which players will hit.

On each hole, the first player to hit is known as the wolf. For every subsequent hole, the wolf will move to the back queue. So each player will get a minimum of four attempts at being the wolf.

After all the tee-shots have been hit, the wolf decides whether they want to play alone and be the lone wolf or to team up with one of the other players. If the wolf decides to team up then the pair with the lowest score will both get a point and the other pair will both lose a point. If the wolf decides to play on his own and he wins the hole against the other 3 players he earns 3 points. Should he lose then he needs to deduct 3 points. The winner is the player with the most points at the end of the round

Birdie Book

This is a format we played at one of my former clubs. It’s great if you have a society or group that plays a number of venues throughout the year. Keep a record of how many birdies each player gets at each event and then at the end of the season add on the player’s handicap to give their final score. The highest total wins.

coins this
Don’t risk too much!

Side Games

Make sure everyone is clear before you start which side game you are playing and what, if any,  the stakes are. The first rule of gambling is never to bet more than you can afford to lose.

Oozles & Foozles

When playing par-3s, whoever is closest to the flag after the tee shots has the chance of winning an oozle. To do this they must hole out in no more than 2 putts. Should they 3-putt or worse then it’s known as a foozle and they lose one unit stake.

Sandy or Gritty Par

If you manage to make a par or better after visiting a bunker at any point on the hole then you just won a sandy.

Ferret

If you managed to hole out from off the green without using your putter then that’s a ferret. Should you be skillful or lucky enough to hole out from a bunker then that’s a golden ferret and counts as a double unit.

Birdies and Eagles

A pretty simple one, just assign a unique value for every birdie or eagle made.

Dr. Doolittle

Different golfing errors are named after animals. During the round players will accumulate points based on the various mistakes they make. Depending upon the type of golf course you are playing and the standard of players it might be best to keep the unit stakes pretty low. The totals can quickly mount up.

Snake. As mentioned earlier, every time someone 3-putts they hold the snake. Every subsequent time you add one unit to the total. At the end of the round whoever is left holding the snake will owe everyone else however many times the originally agreed unit stake.

Camels. Not surprisingly this one concerns bunkers. Every time you visit a bunker the stake gets added to the total and at the end of the round you have to settle up.

Fish. Probably not one to play in Florida as this one revolves around the number of times you hit into a water hazard.

Bears. Every time you hit a tree, add one to your bear total. See how much you owe after eighteen holes.

Rabbits. Every time you pay a visit to bushes or gorse add one to your total.

Grouse. If you are lucky enough to be playing a course with heather then you could use this to keep a total of everyone’s visits to that pretty but deadly hazard.

Flaps on a small plane
Flaps!

Flaps

A player hitting a shot from off the green can shout ‘flap’ after he strikes the shot but before the ball bounces the first time. If he then manages to hole out with his next shot he wins one unit. If he does not then he loses a unit. If the player has called ‘flap’ then his opponents can shout ‘double’ before the ball bounces and this would double the win or loss.

Gotchas

Definitely, not good golf etiquette but could probably be quite funny!

Everyone in the group has one opportunity to shout ‘gotcha’ during one of the other player swings.

Metoo

Prior to the round, you agree on how many metoo’s everyone is allowed. At any point in the round, you can use metoo to move your ball up to the same position as someone else in the group. That could be a drive and iron shot or even a putt. You both then play your shots from there.

Dunce

The member of the group with the worst score on the hole has to wear a hat on the next hole. Preferably the hat should be as silly as possible

Buckshot

Whoever hits the widest tee shot on the hole has to wear silly headgear for the rest of the hole.

Rommel

If you fail to get out of a bunker on the first attempt then you lose one unit.

Seve

If you can manage to make a par or better without ever touching the fairway or getting on the green in regulation and having no more than one part then you win a ‘Seve’.

Greenies

Usually reserved for par-3s but could be used just as well on par 4s and par-5s. Closest to the pin after the tee shot gets a unit (2nd on par-4s, third shot on par-5s).

Threes

Add up the totals for all the par-3s and the player with the best score wins a unit

Alligator
Don’t go fishing for balls if he’s about

Alligators

You win one unit every time you manage to make a par or better after visiting a water hazard.

Barkies

You win one unit if you hit a tree and go on to make a par or better.

Ruffies

You win one unit if you failed to hit the fairway at any point but end up making par or better.

Long Drive

Whoever hits the longest drive on each par-4 or 5 receives the unit (assuming they’re on the fairway)

Golf Drinking Games

I’m not a fan of drinking on the course but in some countries, it is quite popular. If you like a beverage or two (or three) on the golf course then you might like to incorporate some of these drinking games into your next game of golf. 

Don’t forget that other people are using the golf course so don’t ruin their day or do damage to the course!

Handicap. Instead of using your handicaps (or as well as), you could deduct the number of beers you’ve drunk at the end of the round. To make it fair you’d need to be drinking the same strength of beer as everyone else!

Beer Bogey. For every shot over par on a hole, you need to take a shot or a beer. Might be better using nett par or you may find yourself in hospital at the end of the round. Probably not the best game to play if you all have high handicaps!

You could modify this and just have the highest scorer on each hole has to have a drink.

Par-3 Games. If you are nearest the pin on a par-3 then you win the hole and everyone else has to have a drink. Alternatively, you might have a drink if you miss the green in regulation (after any handicap strokes).

Birdies. When someone in the group makes a birdie all the other players have to take a drink.

Water Hazard. If a player puts a ball in the drink then they have to pay a penalty! They have to take a drink.

Boozy Bunkers. The first player in a bunker has to take a shot or a can of beer. The second player to find a bunker has to down two shots or two cans. The third player needs to take three shots or cans etc. If the course has lots of bunkers then this one could quickly get really messy!

Stuck in a Bunker. If you don’t get out of a bunker at the first attempt then I’m afraid you need to take a drink.

Chipping In. If someone manages to hole out from off the green then the other players in the group have to take a drink.

Odd and Even. In this game, everyone gets to drink no matter their standard of play on the day. Players are divided into either the odd or even group. On every odd hole, the players in the odd group have to drink a beer and on every even hole, all the players in the even group have to down a can.

If you don’t manage to finish your beer by the time the hole is complete then you have to drink two on the next hole!

Timed Drinking. Before starting the round have a set a schedule for drinking e.g. holes 1,5,9,13,17.

Beer in Hand. Apart from when you are actually hitting you should have a beer in your hand. The penalty for a breach is to take a drink!

Mulligan. One of the simplest to play. If you want to take a mulligan then you have to have a drink. You have to decide whether an extra drink will have a greater effect on their game: playing the ball as it lies or taking another beer! 

Tee Box. If you want to shorten the hole by moving up a tee box then have a drink. For every tee box that you want to move forward take an extra one.

You could play a variation of this where your first mulligan is free. Your second mulligan costs you one drink. Your third mulligan costs you two drinks and your fourth and subsequent mulligans cost you three drinks each. If you reach the point where you want four mulligans then it’s likely to have a pretty detrimental effect on your game.

Always check with the club before playing that drinking is allowed. Never drink to the point where you are disturbing other players on the course. Don’t become so inebriated that you damage the course!

Golf Games for Fun: Summary

Hopefully, that whetted your appetite for something more than a straightforward medal round. 

Foursome play can be particularly useful during the winter as you are most likely to want to keep moving. Unless you are fortunate enough to live in warmer climes.

Scramble formats are also great mixed ability groups since everyone has a chance of contributing to the score.

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