Golf Course Games

For Twosomes, Threesomes and Foursomes


Pick Up Sticks

Pick Up Sticks requires some strategy other than just playing good golf. It's also quite entertaining.

For each hole a player loses (play is match play), he may take one club in his opponent's bag out of play. The opponent may reclaim his clubs one at a time, in any order he wants, as he loses holes back. Half-handicaps should be used. Players should decide before the match whether they can take away putters. Most choose to give the putter immunity, because it's too much of a handicap not to have one. Accomplished players can work around the absence of other clubs by choking up, hitting fades, and so forth, but it's almost comical not to have a putter. I don't agree, though. You can putt pretty well with a sand wedge or a one- or two-iron. Fuzzy Zoeller once broke his putter in a tantrum, and he was forced to finish his round using a wedge for a putter, since PGA rules prohibit club replacement. And Ben Crenshaw once finished a round by putting with his two-iron. In any event, assuming the putter gets immunity, what are the best clubs to take from your opponent? Though many golfers immediately pick the driver, it's probably the worst club to select. You'd be doing most players a favor by making them tee off with a three-wood or a two-iron. Obviously, a lot depends on your opponent's strengths and weaknesses, as well as the specific challenges of the holes immediately ahead. In general, the sand wedge is the best club to take away. Many good players use it for nearly every shot inside 100 yards. Also, it's tough to recover from greenside bunkers using any club but a sand wedge. On the other hand, if the player carries a lob wedge, taking his sand wedge won't matter much. A variation is not to use "stroke" handicaps at all but instead have a club handicap from the start. The suggested method is for the higher-handicapped player to remove one club from his opponent's bag for every two strokes in their handicap differential. So if player A has an eight-handicap, and player B has a 14, player B can remove three clubs from player A's bag. The game then progresses in the same manner described above, with clubs coming in and out of play with won and lost holes. Pick Up Sticks may seem a silly game, but I highly recommend it for beginners. Many of the golf greats learned to play with incomplete bags. The game forces you to create shots, such as "punch fading" a four-iron to hit it as far as a six, or hitting a "running hook" with a six to send it as far as a four. We all tend to get lazy, carrying specialty clubs for every possible lie (yes, I mean you with the "Divine Nine"), so Pick Up Sticks is a healthy and fun diversion.

No Alibis

Instead of using handicaps in the normal fashion, No Alibis players may replay a certain number of shots during the round. Usually, the number of replays is three-fourths of a player's handicap. When replaying, the golfer must use the second shot, regardless of where it goes. He can't decide to play his first ball, and he can't replay the same shot twice.

No Alibis is also known as "Criers & Whiners" because it's the ideal game to play with those prone to such behavior - the sort who always follows rounds with comments like, "if I could just have that one shot back when the wind came up..." This game will shut them up.


Also called "Wolfman", Wolf is a three-player game. The golfer with the middle-distance drive, regardless of where it lands, is the "wolf". His opponents are the "hunters". The wolf must match twice his net score on the hole against the combined net scores of the hunters. If the amount wagered on each hole is a dollar, the wolf puts up two dollars against one each for the hunters. If the wolf wins, he collects two dollars, whereas the hunters get only one each.

On par-three holes, the wolf is the second-closest to the pin after the first shot.

If there's a tie, players decide whether the stakes carry to the next hole. Any amount carried over goes to the next winning "team", whether it's the wolf or the hunters. Carryovers make Wolf a more interesting game. Large pots make it advantageous to be the wolf, because the wolf doesn't split the pot. Thus, strategy off the tee becomes important, and players will jockey to become the wolf.

Honor off the tee is established by the net score on the previous hole. Play with full handicaps.

Scotch Foursome -a.k.a. Alternative Shot, Scotch Foursomes are the most popular gambling format in Great Britain, where it's simply called a "Foursome." To play, pairs alternate shots from tee to green until the ball is in the hole, although one player should drive all the even holes and the other the odd. Use one-half of combined handicaps. You must put some thought into who drives which holes. Do the holes that require a good carry tend to be odd or even? Put your long hitter on those tees. Do the par-threes fall on the odds or evens? Put your target hitter on them. The Scotch Foursome is an excellent game. It really brings a team together, for better or worse. It's also a fast game, as players tend to walk ahead of their partners in a leapfrog fashion. The popularity of this format is one of the main reasons golf is played faster overseas, where a quick pace is de rigueur. Most players in the U.S. could use a dose of this mentality.


Not being much of a card player, I can only take it on faith that this game has something to do with bridge. On the other hand, I don't really care, because this is an excellent golf game for foursomes. At the tee, one pair makes a "bid" on how many strokes (play net or gross) it will take their team to complete the hole. For instance, if they bid 10, they are betting they can play the hole in 10 strokes or fewer combined. The bet is typically a dollar a player.

 The other team then has three options:

1. Bid lower than 10.

2. Take the bet

3. Take the bet and double it.

The first team may then double it back, if they wish.

Once the bidding finishes, play the hole. One option is to add a penalty point/dollar for each stroke the winning bidder incurs over bogey.

Selected Score

In this game, each golfer plays 36 holes. Each then arrives at a final score by combining the two rounds, selecting the best net score from each of the 18 holes. The winner is the player with the lowest total. This format is usually played with two-thirds or three-fourths handicap. Selected score is a fun, leisurely format to use over a weekend, although I've seen some fanatics pack it all into one day.

Medal Play

Also known as Stroke Play. Medal Play is the most basic format for golf tournaments. Contestants simply play 18 holes and prizes go to players with the best gross scores and net scores. Use handicaps from 80-100% - preferably on the lower side to prevent sandbagging. Medal Play is the most serious and least forgiving tournament format (no gimmies!), so it's often used for club championships.


In a Scramble, each foursome is a team competing against all other foursomes. Each player in the group drives off the tee, then all four golfers play their second shorts from the best-driven ball. All then play their third shots from the best second ball, and so on. Each player in a foursome must have at least four of their drives used by the group. Don't wait until the end! Handicaps are not used during play, but they are used to create teams. All players should split into four handicap groups (lowest to highest). Use four hats, and pick a player from each hat to form a team. "A" and "B" players should tee off from the back markers. A Scramble usually calls for a shotgun start, preceded by lunch or followed by dinner. Seven-or-eight-under is usually the score to beat.

Flag Tournament

In a Flag Tournament, each player receives a certain number of strokes - usually the course par plus two-thirds of the player's full handicap. So, a 15-handicapper on a par-72 course gets 82 strokes. He then plays 82 shots and stops, planting a flag on the spot where his 82nd shot landed. The flags should be provided on the first tee by the tournament director. Each participant should have his name taped to his flag. This way, as players make their way through the back nine, they can see where others bit the dust. If a player finishes all 18 holes before using his total strokes, he should either keep playing until he's out of strokes or stop. Under the first option, the winner is the player who plants his flag farthest on the course. Under the second, the winner is whoever has the most strokes remaining after 18 holes. The reason two-thirds handicap is used, though, is so most people will finish somewhere inside of regulation. One additional rule: You can't plant a flag past a hole that you haven't completed. In other words, if you're five feet short of a green with one stroke left, you can't blast the ball with your 2-iron onto the next fairway. Also, if the farthest two players both finish on the same green, the winner is the golfer closer to the hole. A flag tournament is essentially Stroke Play with a handicap, but the twist makes it a little more interesting.

The USGA notes, appropriately, that American flags should never be used as markers.

Pink Ball

To play Pink Ball, use teams of four. Each foursome has a hideous, bright pink ball that rotates among players. (Of course, the ball can be any color, but the more obnoxious, the better.) Player 1 uses it on the first hole, player 2 on the second, and so on. Take the best two net scores on each hole and add them. Whoever has the pink ball on a given hole must contribute one of the two scores. One variation: The golfer with the pink ball is automatically disqualified if he loses it. This is perhaps too harsh, so I don't recommend it. Players should have a reason to stay interested, after all.

Another, less harsh, variation: Keep the overall net score for the pink ball separately, and give a prize to the team with the best pink ball score. If a team loses the pink ball, it's out. This makes for considerable camaraderie (and tension) if you're playing on a course with a lot of water.


Also known as "Disaster". Trouble is a point game in which your actual score isn't relevant, at least not directly. The goal is to collect the least number of "trouble points" possible during a round. Players shoot for a set amount per point, often a dollar. Thus, a player accumulating three trouble points owes each of his opponents three dollars.

Points are assigned as follows:

out of bounds - 1

water hazard - 1

bunker - 1

three-putt - 1

leaving ball in bunker - 2*

hitting from one bunker to another - 2

four-putt - 3

whiffed ball - 4

*Take an additional two points if you leave the ball in again and so on.

A player can erase all the points accumulated on a given hole by making par. At the end of the round, simply net all the points against each other and settle up. Trouble is an excellent game for the intermediate player. Often, such players are feeling pretty smug as their handicaps drop, and they need to be taken down a notch or two. Trouble encourages smart golf (again, not to be confused with fun golf) and might just produce some surprisingly low round for all those would-be daredevils out there.

Chicago Chicago

is essentially a creative handicapping method. Players receive a negative quota of points, called a "hurdle", based on their handicaps. Scratch players get -39 points, one handicaps get -38, two-handicaps get -37, and so on to 36-handicaps, who get -3.

Then, based on their performances, players receive positive points as follows:

Bogeys = l point

Pars = 2 points

Birdies = 4 points

Eagles = 8 points

The player who clears his "hurdle" by the most points wins. Wagering can involve a fixed sum to the winner or an amount based on point differentials. You can also add a bonus for anyone clearing his hurdle.

Murphy's & Garbage: Optional Side Rules and Bets

A player off the green (as wells as off the fringe) may declare a "Murphy", whereby he must get up-and-down to win units from each of the other players.


A player hitting an awful tee shot may call a "Scruffy," which lets him bet a unit against all the other players that he can make par (gross). The other players must agree to the bet. A player may call a Scruffy after a good tee shot as well. If it's a difficult hole, his opponents might still be wise to take the bet.


"Garbage" is the common term to describe a collection of side bets popular with golfers otherwise playing, for example, Skins, or a Nassau. Some examples:


- won by scoring par and never once touching the fairway. Also called "Seves".


- hitting a tree and still making par. Leaves don't count: everyone must hear good, solid wood. The rare "Double Barkie", worth two points, involves hitting two trees and still making par. Also called "Woodies" and "Seves".


- getting up-and-down from a bunker. Fairway bunkers are included.


- Making par after hitting into the water (whether the ball was lost or not).