Golf Skins Game: Everything You Need to Know

By Nick Heidelberger

Four golfers teeing off

In a skins game, the person with the lowest score on a hole wins a skin. When two or more players tie for the lowest score, that skin carries over to the next hole.

Whether you’re looking for a high-stakes, high-intensity 18-hole bout, or just a little something to accompany your bragging rights, adding a skins game to your round of golf will do the trick. The skins game is one of the most popular games in golf because of its versatility. It can be played with two players just as easily as 100, skins can be worth anything from a nickel to a Benjamin, there are enough variations, add-ons and wrinkles to keep it interesting for a lifetime, and you can win big in skins even without playing your round-of-the-year. What more could you ask for from your weekly golf game?

Step 1: Before Your Round

Before you tee off, you’ve got some details to settle. First, choose how much each skin will be worth. As a reference, if each skin is worth five dollars and you’re playing in a foursome without any add-ons, each player would contribute $22.50 to the skins pool. To make things simpler, you can choose the amount each player contributes per hole. If you’re playing in a threesome and each person puts in a dollar a hole, you guessed it, each skin is worth three dollars.

Next, decide what you’re going to do with any skins that carryover after the final hole. If nobody wins the skin on the last hole, that skin, and any that carried over before that, will be unsettled. If you have access to the course after your round, you can simply start back on the first tee and playoff for the remaining skins. If you’re adding a skins game to your once-in-a-lifetime round at Pebble Beach, that won’t be an option. You can choose to head to the practice green and either hold a putt-off or a chip-off, or pick a tie-breaker that can be settled throughout the round: most birdies, longest made putt, longest drive, etc. Just make sure everybody understands the plan before you tee off, or things can get real tense on the last green.

The last thing to decide amongst your group before you start your round is whether you’ll play gross or net skins. If you’re playing with a group with a wide handicap range, you may want to give some strokes here and there, but that’s for you to determine.

Step 2: How a Skins Game Works

You’ve settled the details, now it’s time to play golf. A player wins a skin for recording the lowest score on any given hole.

EXAMPLE: Steve, Kristin, Ian and Nicole are playing a skins game and Steve makes par on the first hole while Kristin, Ian and Nicole make bogey. Steve wins the skin for the first hole.

Skins carry over for any hole in which multiple players tie for the lowest score on the hole.

EXAMPLE: Nicole and Ian make a par on the second hole, while Steve and Kristin make bogey. That skin carries over and the third hole is now worth two skins. Carryovers continue until somebody wins a hole.

Complete your round, tracking skins on the scorecard to make things easier after the round, and settle any final-hole carryovers.

Step 3: Paying Out Skins

Paying out your skins pool doesn’t require a degree in math. You’ve already determined how much each skin is worth, or how much each player is contributing per hole. Check the scorecard to determine how many skins each player won and distribute the dough.

Add-Ons

If you’re ready to bring your skins game to the next level, there are a multitude of ways you can do so. In addition to skins for the lowest score on each hole, you can reward a skin for the following accomplishments:

  • Sandies - Making par or better from the sand
  • Barkies - Making par or better when at least one of your shots hits a tree
  • Greenies - Closest to the pin on a par 3
  • Arnies - Making par or better without hitting a shot from the fairway
  • Watsons - Chipping-in from off the green

Variations

One of the beauties of the skins game is that between all the add-ons and variations, there are seemingly an infinite number of ways to play. One way golfers like to mix it up is to assign a higher value to skins later in the round. For example, skins on the first four holes might be worth one dollar, increasing to two dollars on holes 5-8, three dollars on holes 9-12, four dollars on holes 13-16 and five bucks a hole on the final two holes. If that doesn’t keep your attention for 18 holes, see your doctor.

There are a couple variations relating to carryovers that you might want to consider. The first one is proofs. If a player wins a skin that was carried over, he or she must “prove” it on the next hole by either making par or better, or carding (including ties) the lowest score of the group. You can also elect to manipulate your carryovers by making only those who tied for the low score on the previous hole eligible to win the skin.

Multiple Groups

If you want to run a skins game for multiple groups or an entire tournament, the process is simple. Set the entry amount for each player and collect before the round begins. Typically for larger groups, each skin is worth an equal amount (the amount in the skins pool divided by the number of skins paid out), but if you prefer to assign a value to each hole and calculate the carryovers, go right ahead.

Check the scorecards after the round to determine who won skins. If two or more players tied for the lowest score on a hole, nobody wins that skin. Once you’ve determined how many skins were won, divide the skins pool by that number, and pay each winner that amount. For example, if 20 players paid $10 to enter the skins game for a tournament, and four skins were won, each winner would get $50.

Image: Michael Svoboda/E+ via Getty Images

About the Author

Nick Heidelberger is the Editor of GolfLink. He has a degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and has been an avid golfer for more than 10 years. In the years prior to joining GolfLink, he worked for the New England Section of the PGA of America.