13 Golf Games to Change Things Up on the Course

By Todd Mrowice

Woman putting near other golfers

Whether you’re looking for a little friendly competition or a serious money game, there’s no shortage of golf games that you can play within your group. Oftentimes, the hardest part can be choosing which type of game to play. Certain formats can benefit certain types of players, but ultimately the idea is to have a game that is fun and fair. With so many different ways to play, here are 13 of the best games to spice up your otherwise pedestrian round of golf.

Match Play

The easiest change up from stroke play, match play takes into account a little more strategy and can be a lot of fun. Match Play is a head-to-head format that can be played one-on-one or as teams of two.

Instead of marking strokes, you mark holes won. If an individual or team wins the first hole by getting a lower score, they are 1 up. If the opposite individual or team were to win the second hole the match would be back to all square or tied. This scoring carries on throughout the round. Tied holes have no value awarded to either side.

The match is finished when the winning individual or team leads by more holes than remain to be played. Example: Greg is up 3 holes on Sam, but only 2 holes are left. Greg is the winner by a score of 3-and-2. Three for the amount of the lead, two for the holes remaining when the match was won.

Skins

Skins is a fun competition that technically can be played as a twosome or threesome, but playing with four brings out some of the best results. One of the best aspects of a skins game is that even if you’re not having the best day on the golf course, one good hole can change your luck.

Before the round begins players assign point values for each hole, and a dollar value for each point. Each hole could be worth one point, or holes could be worth more points based on difficulty or when they fall in the round, with the closing holes worth the most.

The winner of a hole gets that hole’s “skin.” Example: Greg won the first hole, it was a 3 point hole, Greg wins $3.

The best part about skins is that ties carry over to the next hole. You can find yourself in a position where multiple holes have carried over and the hole you’re currently playing is now worth a lot of points. It’s on these holes that serious momentum shifts in the match take place.

At the end of the round, skins are totaled and the player with the most wins.

Wolf

Wolf is a great golf game to play with four players. It brings out the confidence in each player and is one of the only games in which teams vary from hole to hole.

Wolf begins by determining the order in which the group tees off on the first hole. It’s important to note the order on the scorecard as it’s easy to lose track of the order later in the round.

On the first tee, the first player to tee off is the Wolf for that hole. After hitting their tee shot, the Wolf can elect to go as a Lone Wolf for that hole if they are happy with their tee shot position, and are confident in winning the hole over the other three players. If Lone Wolf is elected, that individual is playing alone against the other three players and the hole is then worth triple the amount of points.

Lone Wolf must be declared before seeing the second player tee off. After seeing the second player tee off, the Wolf determines if they will partner with that player before the third player tees off, and the same applies to the fourth player.

If the Wolf does not make a partner selection after the third player tees off, they are automatically paired with the fourth player. Two teams of two then compete for the point on that hole. Once all tee shots are hit and teams are determined, the lowest score on the hole wins that point for the team or Lone Wolf. Ties do not carry over.

On the next hole, the second player in the order is now the Wolf and the above rules continue. Remember that the Wolf alternates every hole and the Wolf always tees off first. At the end of the round, the player with the most points is the winner.

Vegas

Vegas, much like the city itself, is high stakes and a golf gambler’s dream. The game consists of teams of two and instead of adding scores together, you pair them.

Vegas golf game scoring explained

For example, Bob makes a 3, and his playing partner, John, makes a 4, their team score for the hole becomes 34. Their opponents make a 4 and 5, their score is 45. Subtract the smaller score from the larger score and award that number of points to the team that won the hole. For that hole, Bob and John get 11 points, the difference between 45 and 34.

And what happens when a birdie drops? You flip the bird, of course. When one team makes a birdie, they can flip their opponent's score so the higher number is first. If you make a 4 and a 5 on a Par-5 and your opponents make a 5 and 6, they’ll have to take a 65 instead of 56.

Stableford

Stableford is the ultimate risk versus reward scoring system in golf. It revolves around players understanding the value of par and the immense benefits that can pay off for executing an aggressive style of play.

Stableford is a point system and unlike most golf games, the high score wins. Instead of tracking strokes, Stableford scoring assigns a point value to each score and the better you play, the more points you earn. Point values are based on a fixed target score, which is normally par. Points are earned on each hole and at the end of the round the highest score wins.

The Stableford scoring system uses a point-by-stroke approach, where each stroke represents one point up until a player can no longer earn a point. Using par as the fixed score, a double-bogey is worth 0 points, bogey is one point, par is two points, birdie is three points, eagle is four points and albatross is five points.

There is, however, a Modified Stableford scoring system that takes chance to the next level because points for lower scores are inflated and smaller penalties are handed out for high scores. In Modified Stableford scoring, par is worth 0 points, birdie is worth two points, eagle is worth five, and albatross is worth eight. Meanwhile, a bogey will cost you one point and a double-bogey or worse will cost three.

Alternate Shot

Alternate Shot is a game that’s played among teams of two. It’s also a game that you need to be able to trust, rely, and carry your playing partner. Alternate Shot is one of the formats in the Ryder Cup.

Players alternate hitting each shot beginning with the opening tee shot of the round. The lowest team score on each hole wins. Ties to not carry over.

For example, Bob tees off on a par-3 and goes into a bunker. His playing partner, John, plays the sand shot onto the green, Bob then makes the putt for par. On the next hole, John hits the tee shot and the alternate order continues.

Playing Alternate Shot isn’t for everyone. You have to be able to deal with the pressure of not letting your partner down and coming through when important situations fall upon you.

Four-Ball

Four-Ball is a simple, but fun approach to playing as teams of two. You can apply match play or stroke play scoring if you wish.

Team A plays Team B with the lowest score from each team used as the score that’s marked for that hole. At the end of the round, the team that has the lowest score or the most points (depending on what was pre-determined) wins.

The advantage of four-ball is that it allows for aggressive strategy based on what your playing partner has done as well as the position your competitors find themselves in.

Bingo Bango Bongo

Bingo Bango Bongo can be a blast to play with two, three, or four players. It’s a point-based game with a total of 54 points up for grabs over 18 holes.

Bingo bango bongo scoring explained

The key to Bingo Bango Bongo is to be first in all situations. The points available on each hole are:

Bingo – The bingo point is awarded to the first golfer to land their ball on the green.

Bango – Once all golfers are on the green, the bango point goes to the golfer whose ball is closest to the pin. Note: fringe does not count.

Bongo – The first golfer to hole his ball earns the bongo point.

There are several ways you can adjust the points before starting your round. Most commonly, if a player gets all points on a hole they are awarded six total points instead of three.

Designate one player keep track of points and call them out after each hole. Having multiple people trying to keep track of points can cause confusion.

Scramble

If you’ve played in a golf outing, chances are you’ve used the Scramble format. It’s designed for the lowest scores possible, but also keeps golf outings moving at a good pace of play.

The Scramble format is scored by strokes, but instead of counting individual strokes, your team combines to make each hole’s score.

  1. Each player hits their tee shot.
  2. The group decides which tee shot is in the best position.
  3. All golfers play their second shots from that tee shot. This shot selection is continued for every shot until the ball is holed.

The best strategy for a Scramble is usually to have your best player or longest hitter go towards the end of the rotation. This allows the players in the front end of the rotation to concentrate solely on getting the group in a safe position before the better players can unleash big drives or take aggressive lines to the hole.

Nassau

Playing Nassau is a time-honored tradition for many golfers as it’s one of the most popular simple and golf games. This three-part game is fun because it allows players to recuperate after a tough front nine.

In a Nassau, there are separate wagers for the front nine, back nine, and the entire 18 holes. It can be played between individuals or teams and is made even more exciting by the press. Pressing is when the trailing individual or team elects to play a hole for double.

Nassau is a point-based game that has variations, but elements of Bingo Bango Bongo can be incorporated as well as just making each hole worth a specific amount of points.

Shamble

A fun alternative to a Scramble is the “Shamble” playing format.

  1. Each player tees off.
  2. Like a scramble, each player plays from the location of the best shot.
  3. From there, each player holes out their own ball.
  4. The best individual score becomes the group’s score for that hole.

Chapman

The Chapman format is part Scamble and part Alternate Shot consisting of two teams of two.

Once the teams are settled have been determined, here’s how to play:

  1. Everybody tees off.
  2. Each player then hits their partner's ball on the second shot.
  3. Scramble format is used for the third shot. Teams choose which third shot is best, and both play from there.
  4. From this shot until the ball is holed, only one ball is in play per team, and Alternate Shot is used until the hole is completed. If you selected Player A's third shot, Player B plays the next shot.

Stroke Play

Stroke play is the most basic format of golf in the United States, but if you've given each of the previous dozen games a try, it may feel like a refreshing change of pace.

In Stroke play, count the number of strokes over your round and the lowest score wins. If playing a match, however, it’s fair to assign strokes to individual players based on handicap.

For example, Greg has the lowest handicap in the group with a 9 handicap. Jacob is an 11, he receives 2 strokes off of his final score. Fred is a 13 handicap, he receives 4 strokes. Sam is a 20 handicap, he receives 11 strokes.

The great thing about handicapping stroke play is that you can play a match as a twosome, threesome, or foursome.

About the Author

Todd Mrowice is a Staff Writer for GolfLink. He has been writing about golf for over 10 years including a long tenure at GOLFChicago Magazine. Todd has covered all aspects of the game including travel, products, business, and professional tours.