Best Putting Games for Stress-Free Practice

By Mike Pile

golfer making a putt

The problem with practicing putting is that it’s nearly impossible to replicate the pressure of an important five-footer on the course during your practice session. But by replacing your putting drills with must-win putting games, you can strengthen not only your fundamentals, but your nerves too.

Try these five putting games to focus your mind and improve your competitive spirit.

The Clock Face

This game helps you build the confidence you need to hole the short must-makes. Take 12 balls and circle them around the hole about three feet out, placing them on the numbers of an imaginary clock face. You can vary the distance from the hole a bit to keep it interesting. Play until you knock in 12 in a row. Confidently holing the 3-footers will do wonders for the rest of your game.

Track your progress in this game by counting how many attempts it takes to make all 12, and try to beat that score the next time.

If holing all 12 putts turns out to be harder than you thought, use a variation of the drill by counting how many of the 12 putts you can make, and work on improving that number until you go 12-for-12.

description of closest to the hole

Closest to the Hole

Set 10 balls about 30 feet from the hole, the length of a long lag putt. Imagine the hole as a bull's eye and score yourself, alone or with a buddy, using the following low-score-wins scale:

  • 0 points for holing out
  • 1 point within 1 foot
  • 2 points within 2 feet
  • 3 points within 3 feet.
  • 5 points outside of 3 feet

If you’re playing alone, set a target score you must achieve to win the game. Or play with a friend and make it interesting with a friendly or competitive wager.

Set Back

Alone or with a buddy, drop five balls in a line about two feet from the hole. Putt out and sink them. For every putt you miss, move the ball a foot further from the hole. Do this for three "rounds" or 15 balls with the winner getting a buck.

Pars or Better

Drop a few balls 10 to 12 feet from the hole pretending you are on the green in regulation. Playing one ball at a time, stroke it as if it were for a birdie putt. If you miss, putt for par making sure to hole out in two. Play 10 times or until you make all birdies and pars.

If you struggle with leaving birdie putts short — one of the cardinal sins of golf — use a variation of this drill that requires your “birdie” putt to reach or roll beyond the hole. Any putt left short results in an automatic bogey.

Mix-Up

Set a tee in the green about six feet from the hole. Place a second tee on a different line about 20 feet out. Set a third tee about 12 feet away on a different line still. With six balls, putt one from each tee starting with the short putt, then the long putt, and finally the medium putt, then repeat that order with the second ball at each location.

Mixing up the distance and the line of your putts replicates the variety that will greet you on the course. Ding yourself one point for every putt that finishes outside of 12 inches from the hole and see how low you can go.

Croquet Golf

This game helps with visualizing your putts. Set up your ball for an 8-12 foot putt that is fairly straight. Halfway between your ball and the hole, place two ball markers just wide enough for a ball to roll through.

Practice your putts to roll the ball between the markers and into the hole. This will help you align longer putts and save strokes on the course. The game can be played with others on a point system, with 1 point for making it through the markers and 2 points for also sinking the putt.

Ladders

This is a fun game when you have plenty of balls. Set up parallel lines of markers heading back farther from the hole. Two golfers square off, with the objective being to sink their putts from the markers.

Starting at the closest marker, the golfer must hit putts until he sinks the shot, then moves to the next farthest marker as they try and be the first golfer to climb the “ladder”.

21

Pick two holes on the practice green to play your game. You will need at least two people to play this game. Everyone stands at one hole. aims for the other hole and attempts their putt.

Putts made on the first shot are worth three points, 2-putts that lip out are worth two points, a regular 2-putt is one point, and a 3-putt is zero points.

For added fun, you can make a 4-putt worth -1 point. After each golfer sinks their putt, turn around and putt for the opposite hole. The winner is the first person to make it to exactly 21 points.

Gold Digger

Gold digger is a fun game to play for money. First, scatter ball markers across the green. Then, tuck an agreed-upon amount of money under each marker, generally a dollar.

Each golfer starts at an agreed-upon distance from the scattered markers and takes a putt. If your ball hits one of the markers, the dollar is yours. Retrieve your prize and set up for another round until all the markers are hit.

For an added bonus, make one especially difficult marker with an increased prize for the golfers to win.

Around the World

Around the World is a fun game to play if you have a three or foursome. Around the World begins with each golfer starting at a different hole. The objective is to putt into the hole of the other players, with each player putting an agreed direction (for example, everyone putts toward the player to their left).

Each player will attempt their putt, with each made putt resulting in a point. If no one sinks their putt, repeat the game until they do. After someone makes it, the players rotate and try again.

The first person to five points wins. Alternatively, you can force a “playoff” whenever two or more players sink their putts on the same round. Those players now hit their putts with the golfer closest to the hole taking the point.

Tripwire

This game practices distance control. Take the flagstick out of the hole and place it a club length behind the hole perpendicular to your putting line.

Then drop 3-5 balls, starting close to the hole. The point is to either sink all your putts or for them to go past the hole but not hit the flagstick, acting as a tripwire. If you accomplish this, then start another round a few yards farther back. If you come up short of the hole or hit the tripwire, start the round over. This game will help eliminate three putts from your game.

About the Author

Mike Pile is a professional golf writer. Pile has been writing for 11 years with work appearing in Golfing Magazine, Solar Industry, North American Clean Energy, Electrical Construction and Maintenance, and GolfLink among others. He holds an MBA from the University of St.Thomas.