Planning a fun golf game to play with your buddies is not always as easy as it sounds.
Players often drop out at the last minute or sometimes you can never be sure how many of your regular group are actually going to turn up on the day.
As a result you can easily end up having to plan a game for an odd number of golfers which is fun but also importantly fair to all.
So to help the next time you need to organise golf games for odd numbers of players here are 11 fun ideas for you to consider whatever the range of handicaps of those involved.
1. ‘Lone’ Wolf
This is a great game to play with three players in a group.
Before the round gets underway the group determines an order of who is going to be the ‘wolf’ on each hole.
In other words, you agree player 1 will be the wolf on the 1st, player 2 on the 2nd, player 3 on the 3rd, player 1 again on the 4th and so on.
On each hole the wolf – for example player A – tees of last. After player B has hit their tee shot (and before player C hits their drive) the ‘wolf’ then decides whether they want to partner with player B on the hole or not.
If they don’t they can then watch player C hit and decide after that shot whether they want to partner with player C for the hole against player B.
They can’t however decide to partner with player B as soon as player C has hit.
Player A’s final option then is to play the hole on their own as ‘the lone wolf’ and if they decide to do that it means they play against player B and player C who team up to play against the ‘lone’ wolf.
The match on each hole is played as a better ball, with or without handicap, between the decided teams.
And based on the result of the hole points (or of course money if you want to!) are awarded as follows:
- If the wolf chooses to play with a partner and they win the hole both players get 2 points. But if the other single golfer beats the two of them then that player gets 3 points.
- Decide to play as the lone wolf however and win the hole and that golfer gets 4 points with the opposition getting 2 points each if the lone wolf ends up losing the hole.
The golfer with the most points at the end of the round then wins the overall match.
You can add further little variations to this game for example by offering additional points to a lone wolf who wins a hole after choosing to go it alone even before anyone has played.
That obviously ups the potential reward for the lone wolf but it also clearly increases the downside for the lone wolf if they end up losing the hole.
There’s a bit to keep track of playing ‘Lone’ Wolf but once you get the hang of it its loads of fun and can lead to some very interesting strategic team decisions which can test some friendships!
2. Beat the Worst
A simpler variation on the game of ‘Wolf’ is one called ‘Beat the Worst’.
Again in an odd-numbered group of 3 players each player rotates being ‘on the spot’ so player A is on the spot on the first hole for example, player B on the 2nd, player C on the 3rd, back to player A on the 4th and so on.
Each golfer plays their own ball and all the player ‘on the spot’ needs to do is beat the worst score of the other 2 players – net or gross depending on whether you are playing with handicaps or off scratch – to earn a point.
One of the good things about this game is that with each player in a 3-ball group only being able to score a maximum of six points in total nobody tends to run away with the game and can therefore help keep games going well into the round.
3. Golden Ball
Another good option when you are stuck with an odd number of golfers is a game called ‘Golden Ball’.
Each team of 3 for example is given a ‘Golden Ball’ and that ball is rotated amongst the team throughout the round.
In other words on the first hole player 1 would play the golden ball, on the second player 2 would take over, player 3 then would play it on the third, before player 1 gets it back again on hole 4.
And so on and so on until each of the 3 golfers has played with it 6 times over the course of the round.
The rule then is the score of the person using the golden ball always counts on the hole no matter what and is added to the team’s lowest score from the other players.
This game can work well where potentially you have a few groups of 4 and one group of 3 completing the numbers as in that instance you can put the best player in the group on the team of 3.
The best players score will then count more often and potentially even up that team’s disadvantage of being one player down.
Alternatively to make things fairer for the team of 3 the players could rotate playing their play their own ball in addition to the ‘golden ball’ so one player plays 2 balls each hole.
If you want to also there’s no reason you can’t give a coloured ball (pink, yellow etc) to each team so it’s easy to track and then simply call the game ‘pink’ or ‘yellow’ ball.
And if you really want to crank up the pressure you can introduce the rule whereby if a team loses their coloured golf ball they are out of the competition altogether!
Skins is a classic golf game but one that is easy and simple to set up when you have odd numbers of players.
Each hole is given a point value, which could simply be 1, and the player who wins the hole wins the point.
If nobody in the group wins the hole outright however the point ‘carries over’ to the next hole when all the players then play for the combined points total.
And this ‘carry over’ approach continues until somebody wins a hole outright to claim the points at which stage the point or points available at the following hole reverts back to the base point value on offer on each hole.
For example if each hole was worth 1 point and holes 1, 2 and 3 were tied in the group a player who then wins the 4th hole would collect 4 points.
The point counter would then reset on the 5th hole when 1 point only would again be on offer.
This process carries on over for the full 18 holes when each player then totals all the points they have won over the round to work the winner.
The great thing about skins is it can cater for a wide range of handicaps, keeps everyone involved even if they are playing badly and also can easily be spiced up to make things more interesting.
For example if your group or teams of 3 have golfers of varying standards you can make the best net, rather than gross score, win the hole.
Also if someone is playing badly in that same group of 3 they could watch the other 2 players in the group tie a number of holes before picking up all the rolled over points on the following hole when they finally manage to string a few good shots together.
And where skins can get really interesting and fun is when you substitute points for money as the currency on each hole.
Play for $10 or $20 a hole and after a few ties you can quickly find some holes worth over $100 which I can tell you from experience more than concentrates the mind!
5. Scrambles and Shambles
I must confess a hidden bias but games of ‘scrambles and shambles’ are the ones I enjoy most when playing in teams.
Part of the reason is that it’s a format which is fantastic when there is a wide range of standards of players in your groups because it allows the beginners and high handicappers to ignore most of their bad shots.
But the other reason is it is such a flexible format when you have odd numbers of players and can be easily adjusted to create a fair game across different teams involving 2, 3 or 4 golfers.
In brief ‘scramble’ games work this way:
- Each player on the team hits a tee shot.
- The team then decides what was the best shot.
- The team members whose shot was not selected then pick up their balls and move them to within one club length of the spot of the best shot.
- Each player then plays again from that spot and again select the best shot and this continues until the team holes out.
You can then easily make small tweaks to this also where you have different numbered teams such as some groups of 3 and others of 4.
To compensate the teams of 3 for not having the 4 attempts that the other groups have you can mandate that the teams of 4 must use at least one or more drives of all the team members during the round.
By comparison however the teams of 3 can be allowed to use the same player’s drive throughout the round if they want to.
A ‘shamble’ is slightly different in that only the best tee shot is used after which each individual team member plays their own ball from that point until it is holed out.
Therefore while you only have one score to count in a ‘scramble’ event in a ‘shamble’ you can decide to count the best one out of two or best two out of three or four scores.
Once again a shamble gives some options where there are odd numbers on different teams such as giving the team or teams of 3 a 4th ball which rotates each shot throughout the team to give them the same number of chances as the teams of 4.
6. Bingo Bango Bongo
If you’re playing in a group or teams of 3 the game bingo, bango, bongo can also be great fun particularly where there is a wide range of standards playing.
It also works well throughout the round even if everyone is playing badly which is great for keeping everyone involved.
Each hole is again worth a set number of points and in the case of this game it is 3 with one point being awarded for a ‘bingo’, a ‘bango’ and a ‘bongo’.
- A bingo and point is given to the first player who gets their ball onto the green.
- A bango point by comparison is awarded to the golfer whose ball is closest to the pin after every player has made it onto the green.
- A bongo finally goes to the first golfer to hole out.
You can make more amendments to this game by awarding double points to any group member who takes away all three at any particular hole or once again you can substitute points for money if you want crank up the pressure gauge.
Just remember though that the rules of golf apply so watch out for any sharp practices of buddies playing before it’s their turn in order to try and steal a point or three here and there!
If you are playing a team event such as a Ryder Cup style trip and one of the groups is an odd number making it potentially an uneven contest a great option is to introduce what is called a ‘ghost player’ into that odd numbered group.
A ghost player in golf is an ‘imaginary’ player. This player is used to create a match by teaming up with one golfer to compete against another two players. The ghost player’s handicap can be stated as scratch or an average of the other three players and typically scores par or ‘net’ par every hole.
Think of it this way if the ‘ghost’ player is allocated a scratch handicap for the match.
Simply imagine one of the players in the group is partnered with Sir Nick Faldo when he played the last round of the 1987 British Open where he scored 18 straight pars to win by one shot from Paul Azinger.
If you are playing matchplay his scratch handicap would be added to the other players to calculate the number of strokes being given between the two teams and each hole would then be won and lost as normal based on a four ball better ball scoring system.
This tends to work best when the ghost player is partnered with the highest handicapped member in the group and is a good option when you are keen to keep a team event going but are maybe stuck with odd numbers of players for one or two of the groups.
An alternative to giving the ‘ghost’ player a scratch handicap is to give that player an average of the three combined handicaps of the 3 golfers in the group.
For example if the 3 players have handicaps of 7, 19 and 25 the ‘ghost’ player would be given a handicap of 17 (i.e. 51/3).
Instead also of giving the ghost player a net par at every hole you can choose to give the imaginery player a combination of scores based on the other 3 members in the group.
For example the ghost player could be given the same score as player A on holes 1, 4, 7, 10, 13 and 16, as player B on the 2nd, 5th, 11th, 14th and 17th and finally as player C on holes 3, 6, 9, 12, 15 and 18.
8. Man in the Middle
Where you have the scenario of some groups of 4 playing alongside other groups of 3 on your golf outing another option is to play a game called ‘Man in the Middle’.
The groups of 4 play a standard 4 ball better ball between teams of 2 but when it come to the groups of 3 you could make one of the 3 players the ‘man in the middle’.
Here’s an example of how it could work.
Players A and B make up one pairing and players B and C make up the other pairing. The two teams then play against each other following the same four ball better ball format.
This tends to work best when the man in the middle is the lowest handicap in the group but you can also make it a draw to determine who is the man in the middle for a particular group.
9. Split Sixes
Again if you’re playing in groups of 3 the game of ‘split sixes’ is a fun option.
In this game 6 points are up for grabs at each hole throughout the round and how they are awarded varies depending on the scores posted by each of the 3 players.
- The player with the best score on a hole gets 4 points, the second best score is awarded 2 points and the worst score gets nothing
- If one players has the best score though and the other two players tie then the points score split is 4-1-1.
- Alternatively if 2 players tie with the best score on a hole and beat the 3rd player those two players are awarded 3 points each with the third player scoring zero.
- And finally if all 3 players tie everyone gets 2 points.
The winning score can again be the best ‘net’ rather than ‘gross’ score so this game is another good one if you a range of handicaps in your group.
Once again you can substitute points for money if you want to and can add a further twist to this game if needed.
This twist on the standard ‘split sixes’ game is sometimes called ‘Carousel’ and involves just one change. And this change is on the occasion where one player wins a hole outright.
In this instance you can award that player the full 6 points, rather than just 4, with the other players getting nothing.
This can be a great thing to try out as it can mean somebody who is playing badly can still have a chance of winning if they can grab a couple of 6 point holes to catch up later in the round.
Of course, this twist, can also mean somebody could run away with the game a bit more quickly if they are playing much better than other 2 players.
Another quality game where there are odd numbers in the group is called ‘Chairman’ or ‘In the Chair’ as it sometimes also referred to.
On the 1st hole everyone is the same but the first player to win a hole outright with the lowest net or gross score becomes the ‘Chairman’ or goes ‘In the Chair’ for the following hole.
Only the chairman can then score a point on that following hole by winning the hole again with the lowest score but if another player wins the hole they then replace the chairman or go into the chair for the next hole.
If the other two players tie though the chairman continues in the chair even if they have a terrible hole and the worst score.
The great thing about this game again is it again typically prevents one player from running away with things as you need typically need to win 2 holes in a row to score any points.
A variation on the game of chairman is called ‘Rabbit’ which essentially works much the same way except for one key difference.
Once again a player must win a hole outright to capture the ‘rabbit’ and must win a hole whilst ‘holding’ the rabbit in order to score a point.
But if a player not holding the rabbit wins a hole rather than them automatically capturing the rabbit, the rabbit is ‘set free’ and it can then only be captured again at the next hole.
This can make it even tougher to score points but once again creates a great game where typically all the players in the group are kept interested for the duration of the round.
If in doubt stick with the classics and there is no more tried and tested or classic a golf game as the stableford format.
In this game, which I am sure most of you are familiar with, points are awarded to players depending on their net or gross score on a hole as follows:
- 1 point for a bogey
- 2 points for a par
- 3 points for a birdie
- 4 points for an eagle
- 5 points for an albatross.
The individual or team with the highest number of points then wins.
That all seems simple enough but it clearly can feel a bit unfair if their are odd numbers in your groups and one team gets to throw away the worst score and count the best 3 out of 4 scores whilst other groups must count all 3 players every hole.
However you can again make some changes to try and even this out by adding some twists.
One I’ve found is great fun is changing things up so that the groups of 4 are penalised more than the groups of 3.
For example one option is to say to the groups of 4 that if a player in their group makes two bogeys in a row or a double bogey on one hole that player loses all their points up to that point and must start again at 0.
That can certainly spice things up and can often find players who thought they wanted to be on a team of 4 asking to play in a team of 3!
Golf is a great sport and has loads of fun game options irrespective of the number of players you have playing.
Some of you may also recognise some of the games above by other names but whatever you call the game you are going to play always bear in mind a couple of things:
- Make sure everyone is clear on the rules up front especially if you are going to be playing for some money!
- And always keep the worst players in mind before finally deciding on your format. Because there is nothing worse for beginner and high handicap golfers struggling with their game to feel like they’re not really able to make a contribution to the games going on.
So keep things as simple as you can and enjoy your odd-numbered game of golf!