Putting Games

Putting Games

Ways to spend time on the putting green having fun with your friends.

Originally published 2008

Introduction

Improving your short game is the quickest way and surest way to lower scores. For a good player, putting and shots around the green are 50% of the game. So once you’ve got a semi-decent game from tee to green, short game skills dominate the scoring equation.

These games gives you a way to spend time on the putting green having fun with friends, building skills you can use on the course — and because you’re having fun, it’s easier to spend more time on this much-needed aspect of your game.

Acknowledgements:
Many thanks to Ed Tischler of New Horizons Golf for introducing me to the concept of putting games in general, and to the mad “Seven/Eleven” and “Stymie” games, in particular. I got “Up and In Skins” from Keith Shepperson. “Bango Bongo” came from Jim Holmlund.

General Rules

Steals

  • If a player sinks a ball, and another player sinks on top of that, the second one “steals” the points, the same way they would if their ball was closer to the hole. So the second player gets the normal point value for the sink, and the first player gets nothing. (Except in horseshoes, where the points cancel each other out.)

Stymies

  • No one marks their ball on a green. Old-time rules of “stymie” apply: If a ball is in your way, too bad!
  • However, there is no penalty for hitting another ball. (At times, that can be a strategic thing to do!)

Greens

  • If a putt rolls off the green, it is no longer eligible for “closest to the hole” scoring, even if it is closer than other balls which are still on the green. (The ball continues to be played, however, as though it were still on the green.)

Honors, Rotation, and Playing Sequence

  • Honors determines who plays first. At the first hole, honors are determined by flipping a tee. For subsequent holes, the player who won the last hole goes to the head of the line. Once everyone has made their first play, strict honors means that the player furthest from the hole always go first. Strict rotation, on the other hand, means the players play in sequence, regardless of where their ball ends up. None of the games presented here uses strict rotation. But one (Bango Bongo) uses a resetting sequence: After everyone has played their first ball, distance from the hole determines the playing sequence. Everyone then gets exactly one try in that sequence — even if someone else pushed their ball far away. After that round is completed, the new distances from the hole determine the next sequence for the next round.

Putting Games

Skins?

One game that isn’t in the list is skins. With decent putters, it’s too hard for anyone to win a hole! It’s good for Up-and-In competitions, though.

Horse/Pig

  • Flip a tee to determine starting order.
  • Lead off putter chooses a hole, a starting point, and calls his putt.
  • Leader can call distance &/or direction:
    • Distance from hole
      • Sink
      • Within the leather (putter grip)
      • Within the steel (shaft minus grip)
      • Within the shaft (length of the putter).
    • Direction from hole:
      • Below the hole (relative to the slope)
      • “Hole high” (even with or beyond the hole, relative to the starting position)
        Note:
        Other directions could be chosen, but they don’t translate into skills
        you can use on the course.)
  • Leadoff putter’s putter is used for all measurements.
  • If the leader doesn’t make the shot he called, he goes to the end of the line.
  • If he does, everyone else has to make it.
  • You get one letter in the name for every shot you miss (unless you’re the leader).
  • Use “pig” for a shorter game, “horse” for a longer one.

Notes

  • I like to measure from the edge of the hole. (I’ve seen people measure from the center, but the distance I care about is the distance to the edge, not the distance to the center.)
  • For shaft and steel measurements, I put the putter head in the hole and lightly snug it up against the edge.

Strategy Notes

  • To win, pick the hardest shot you can make with a reasonable percentage of success.

Horseshoes

  • Pick two holes about 30 feet apart.
  • Flip a tee to determine starting order. Once play begins, the winner of each hole has the honor.
  • Each player gets two balls. The leadoff player putts both, then the opponent putts two.
  • For singles, both players play to the same hole.
  • After picking up their balls, they play back to the original hole.
  • For pairs, one partner is stationed at each hole.
  • One player from the lead-off team putts first, followed by the opponent putting to the same hole.
  • Closest to the hole counts as 1 point. Sinks count 3.
  • Play to 15.
  • If you and your opponent sink a ball, the scores offset and nothing is added to either score.
    (This is an exception to the rule of “steals”.)  You still count closest to the hole for the second ball.
  • If you can’t determine who’s closer, it’s a “push” and nothing is added to either score.

Match Play

This is a two-person game. The beauty of it is that one bad hole doesn’t put you out of the competition.

  • Flip a tee to determine starting order.
  • Play 9 or 18 holes against a competitor.
  • Playing a hole in fewer strokes wins the hole.
  • Playing it in the same number of strokes is a “push”.
  • A player loses when they are down more holes than there are left to play.
  • If the game ends in a tie, things can end that way.
  • If playing as part of a larger competition, a sudden death playoff decides the winner.
    (First player to lose a hole loses the match.)

Stroke Play

This is a good multi-player game, but it’s hard to recover from a bad hole.

  • Flip a tee to determine starting order.
  • Play 9 or 18 holes with one or more competitors.
  • Count your strokes. (Par is two)
  • Fewest strokes wins the competition.

Modified Stableford

This game allows multiple players to play in a way that is similar to match-play competition.

  • Flip a tee to determine starting order.
  • Play 9 or 18 holes with one or more competitors.
  • Par is 2.
  • Count +1 for a par, +3 for a sink, -1 for a bogey or worse.
  • Most points wins the competition.
  • If betting, pay up to players with a higher score.

Sinks

  • Flip a tee to determine starting order.
  • Players putt to sink their shot.
  • Sinking the putt scores +1 point.
  • Coming up short of the hole scores -1 point.
  • After coming up short, the player must also take the “walk of shame” to remove the ball for the next player.
  • If betting, everyone pays up to the player with more sinks.

Strategy Notes:

  • Choose makeable putts. (Four to ten feet.)
  • Choose a variety of putts: Long straight putts, short breaking putts that go left and right, and downhill putts.)

Seven/Eleven

This is a two-part game, where the first to eleven wins. There is one set of rules for getting to seven, another for getting to eleven.

  • Flip a tee to determine starting order.
  • Leadoff player picks a hole and a starting position.
  • From zero to seven, you can score on sinks and closest to the hole::
    • Score +1 for closest to the hole
    • Score +2 for a sink
    • Score -1 for a three putt
    • You have to get to seven points exactly. If you go over, you start over (from zero).
    • Player who was closest to the hole (or was the last one to sink) has the honors for the next hole.
  • From seven to eleven, you only score on sinks:
    • Score -1 for a three putt.
    • Score +1 for a sink — even if you have less than seven as a result of three-putting.
    • If you are closest to the hole:
      • You get no points.
      • Neither does anyone else
      • You have the honors for the next hole.

Strategy Notes:

  • When your opponent is at 6, putt from close in. To get to 7, they have to putt closer without sinking.
  • When your opponent is playing sinks, putt from farther away, because three putts are costlier.

Bango Bongo

Based on the standard game, Bingo Bango Bongo, where the first person on the green gets one point, the person closest to the pin gets one, and the first person in the hole gets one.

  • Flip a tee to determine starting order.
  • Count one point for closest to hole.
  • Count one point for first to sink.
  • Play occurs in strict rotation.

Note:
In the fairway version, you play by strict honors, so the person farthest from the hole plays first — even if they’re still the farthest away after they make a stroke. (The only exception is that everyone must be on the green before anyone putts.) But when you’re playing, every stroke counts — towards your handicap, if nothing else. Here, extra strokes cost nothing, so play rotates from player to player — so a player has exactly one chance to sink when they’re away. Then it’s the next player’s turn. That way, a person can’t take multiple putts to “sneak up on the hole” when everyone else is close. (This is an exception to the rule of “strict honors”.)

Stymie

The more players there are, the better this game is.

  • Flip a tee to determine starting order.
  • Leadoff putter picks a hole and a starting location.
  • Count your strokes.
  • Add a penalty stroke if your ball strikes someone else’s.
  • Add a penalty stroke if your ball goes into the wrong hole.
  • For betting, pay up to the players who finish the hole with fewer strokes.

Strategy Notes:

  • There are is real penalties for taking 10 strokes, as long as your opponents take eleven!
  • So your imagination is the limit with respect to your starting position — off the bench, across the parking lot, whatever. (The wilder the shot, the greater the laughter.)

Up and In Games

If the venue allows it, these are terrific skill-builders that lower scores:

Skins

  • Chip or pitch from off green.
  • For a quicker game, play closest to the hole for a skin.
  • For one that takes longer (mostly because of the time it takes to change clubs), play total strokes into the hole.

Horse/Pig

  • Chip or pitch from off green. Call your distance from the hole.

Horseshoes

  • Singles play to same hole.
  • Pairs alternate to the hole.

Match Play/Stroke Play

  • Play to the green, then putt.
  • Par is 2

Preventing Back Strain

When I started doing a lot of putting, I noticed that my back hurt. That’s a pretty common complaint. Ed Tischler gave me the solution for that. (It’s something I should have known, too, given that I teach people how to protect their backs!)

The trick is to push your butt out, so it isn’t bent. That simple moves makes you bend at the hips, instead of the waist, which bends your back.
The difference is pretty amazing. There is no strain at all when the back is flat.

Note:
Don’t push it so far back that it’s arched! That works when you’re putting, but it interferes with the full swing.

I learned how to deadlift from a book on kinesiology by Dr. Michael Yessis. That book taught me how to lift properly. (You keep your lower back flat, but the feeling is that your upper back is arched.) I like to say that, when you do that, you safely try to lift a piano — It may not move, but you won’t kill yourself trying. (However, do NOT try to do that just because you read about it here. Get someone who knows to check your technique. Reading about it is one thing. Doing it correctly is another.)

More importantly, that positioning tells you when to use your legs. When you can’t bend over any further without bending your back, that’s when you have to bend your legs. (Interestingly, the common advice to “bend your legs” isn’t very helpful, because it’s entirely possible to bend your legs /and/ bend your back, which is not good at all.)

So do your best imitation of an ape, and you have the perfect back position for lifting. And you’ll find that it’s helpful for the full swing, as well.

IMPORTANT:
Let me say it again… Pushing your butt out to the point your back is arched does help to prevent back strain during putting and chipping practice, but it is not helpful when you are making a full swing. In fact, it has the opposite effect. The way to prevent back strain during the swing is to keep your back flat, so it is midway between a forward bend and an arch. That position allows for a freer turn, and prevents stress on your lower back caused by the swing — something I learned from Pete Dooley, at GolfTEC.

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