We can all agree that the morning dew on the fairways or sinking a putt on 18 as the sun goes down strikes a chord within us. We love this game of golf and all the good times that come with it. However, monotony is enough to bring boredom to even the most passionate souls. Sometimes you need to divert from the routine path of standard stroke play golf. Initiating a different format with your Saturday foursome will get their minds working in a different fashion, help the pace of the round, and get the competitive juices flowing. Americans routinely average above 4 hours and 15 minutes on a normal 18- hole round. On the other hand, the Brits average three and a half hours on the golf course because they are often playing other formats: stableford, match play, alternate shot, etc. So this weekend, before the first morning tee shots are cracked, start a new tradition with the fellas and give one of these games a try.
Nassau – The classic golf gambling game. This country club staple gained its name from the Nassau Country Club of Glen Cove, Long Island. This course was one of many clubs played by the wealthy industrialists of the Nineteenth Century. Matches between these esteemed clubs were fiercely competitive amongst the members and were frequently reported in the local newspapers. The team in the losing column of the report became a source of embarrassment for the well to do men participating. On that note, the Nassau Captain JB Coles Tappan, created a format where the worst loss could only be a 3-0 defeat. From this idea comes the Nassau game. In this format two competitors face off head to head for the front nine, back nine, and 18-hole totals. The game prevents a tie from occurring, while giving the loser of the front nine a constant chance of redemption.
One Putt Poker – A good day with the flat stick is the trick to beating the dealer in this format. It is simple and does not factor in any shots prior to the greens. Prior to the round a value is assigned to a 3 putt. Everyone puts in an opening ante to the pot before the first hole. For every one-putt on a hole, you receive a card. For every 3 putt you must pay the pot another ante ($1 is common). At the end of the round the person with the best 5 card poker hand wins. Having the most cards doesn’t always matter here if you partner is holding multiple aces.
Quota – This format performs best in big groups or outings, with many players of varying skill levels. A pot is established before the round with everyone contributing a set amount. Each player takes their handicap and subtracts that number from 36. This number now becomes their point quota for the round. Points are assigned to each score made on a hole: 1 point for bogey, 2 points for a par, 4 points for a birdie, and 8 points for an eagle. Throughout the round, the player keeps track of their point total rather than strokes. At the end the points are added up and compared to the quota the player was given prior to the round. The player who totals the most points above their quota wins the pot. The best part of this game is it levels the playing field and is competitive whether you are a scratch golfer or 20 handicap.
Hammer: The Hammer game makes each hole a new battle. Whether its frustration from the previous hole loss or elation from a victory, this game will test you throughout the round. It is a team game, with players going head to head or two-person teams. Initially, a dollar amount is set for each hole. At any point of a hole, one player or team can “hammer” the other. The opposing team then has a choice to either fold (which means to forfeit the hole), or play the hammer and the pot for the hole doubles. If the team does accept the hammer to keep the hole going, they can even choose to hammer back if they see their odds to win the hole rise. In this instance, a double hammer will double the bet a second time. For example, say Team A hits the ball in the water off the tee and the Team B hits one in the fairway. Team B in the fairway would hammer as the chances to win the hole sit in their favor. If Team A accepts, the bet for the hole is now doubled. The “hammer” goes back and forth throughout the round. This format can create large payouts from hole to hole and can quickly get out of hand for a team not paying attention to the growing pot.
Banker: This is a great game for groups of three or four players. Banker can either be played as a scratch or a net game using handicaps. The “banker” for each hole is the player that had the lowest score on the previous hole, or the one who holed out first with the lowest score. The role of banker therefore changes hole by hole. The minimum amount a hole is worth is set at the beginning of a round, a common amount for this is $5. The max is set by the banker for the hole being played prior to the group hitting their tee balls. A max bet is rarely over $100 but depending on the group and this number will vary. After the max bet is set, each player will face off against the banker for that hole. It’s a betting game that relies on the players confidence in his ability to best the banker on that hole.
Sixes: This game is solely for foursomes. It’s simple and allows everyone in the group to partner up at some point throughout the round. Each golfer plays 6 holes paired up with the other 3 in the foursome, for a total of 3 “mini matches”. Usually the format for these mini matches is Best Ball but this can be varied depending on the preference of the group. At the end of the 18, the player who has been on 2 winning teams is the winner of the Sixes Match.
Let it Ride: The true gambler’s format. Risk-reward is written all over the round. The point system goes as such: Bogey is worth 5 points, Par is 15 points, Birdie is 30 points, and an Eagle is worth 60 points. At the end of each hole, the player has the option of “banking” the points he has won on that hole or “letting it ride”. If the decide to let it ride, any points accrued on the next hole will be doubled. The points double every time a player decides to “let it ride”, which can bring your totals up in a hurry if you’re feeling it that day. But if the player lets the points ride and does not score any points on the next hole played (i.e. makes a double bogey or worse), then the bank empties and they go back to zero. If the points are banked, they cannot be lost. However, banking your points also does not allow the opportunity for the double points on the next hole. The conservative approach will slowly earn you points, but you will be left in the dust by a good round.
Bingo Bango Bongo: A much more oddball game for a relaxed round with friends. In this format, each hole is played for 3 total points: the Bingo point is for the first player to get his ball on the putting surface, Bango is awarded to the player whose ball is closest to the pin once all the balls in the group are on the green, and Bongo goes to the player who is the first to hole out. If one player wins all three points on a hole, they win double the points.
Gruesomes: This game pits two-person teams against each other and can make for a long day on the links if the driver is not obeying. Both team members tee off, and from there the other team gets to choose which tee-ball you will be playing from there. Following the selection of the tee balls, you then play alternate shot for the remainder of the hole. Get your machetes and snake boots out, because this format can have you swinging in the weeds and woods for the afternoon depending on your tee balls.
No Alibis: We all have been standing in the fairway or on a tee box wishing we could have the shot back that we just sailed into the great unknown. In this format, your wish has come true. Instead of using your handicap in the standard fashion, this game gives you that exact number of mulligans to be used throughout the round. For instance, if you are a 10 handicap, then you have 10 mulligans that can be used at any point in the round. Missed that short three-footer for par? Rake it back and try it again. The only rule is no shot can be replayed twice.
The Golfer’s Journal publisher sits down with RGC to discuss the yin and yang of golf and surf in his life.
Ryan is a writer currently living in Atlanta, GA by way of Augusta. His writing evokes his passion of golfing throughout the south with friends, family, and total strangers. The people who have crossed his path inspire each piece, aimed at peering into the beauty of the game and its untold tales. He prefers his coffee black, on a first tee, in the Georgia pines. It is rare to find him without his Ray-Bans and a witty quip to lighten the mood. His approach to writing, life, and the game made him a perfect match for the Lang team.