Scottish players codified the first rules of golf way back in 1744, which means people have had nearly 280 years to come up with side games to entertain themselves on the course. Sure, golf by itself is fun and challenging—or maybe challenging and fun—but sometimes you want a little extra. A way to make it interesting, so to speak, that doesn’t (necessarily) mean betting your friend a dollar that you can sink a putt. Here are a few of the most popular games.


Arguably the most popular of side games, Nassau is also the simplest (which may help explain its popularity). Players compete against each other in three areas: the first nine holes, the back nine, and total score. The lowest score in each wins. Sound too simple? Players can make side bets on “junk” challenges, such as chipping in the hole from off the green (chippies); making par even though your ball hit a tree (barkies), landed in the bunker (sandies), or went in the water (fishies); and numerous others.

Golf games


Also known by the more literal name “Alternate Shot,” this is a fun, quick way to play when you’re out with three other players. Divided into teams of two at the start of the game, each player decides to tee off at even- or odd-numbered holes. After teeing off, teammates alternate shots until sinking the ball in the hole. With only two balls shared by four players, it makes for a fast game when time (or daylight) is short.

RULE NO. 051

Play by your
own rules.

Bingo Bango Bongo

Sometimes you don’t have to win. You just need to be first. That’s the point of Bingo Bango Bongo, which awards a point to the first person to get a ball on the green (bingo), the player whose ball lies closest to the hole (bango), and the player who gets the ball in the hole first (bongo). It’s a popular game for new players, especially when competing against more experienced golfers, because it’s not only about skill. You just need to get there first.

Gold games


Golfers live in fear of high numbers, and Vegas gleefully feeds their anxiety. Two teams of two players take a team score for each hole—but instead of adding up their strokes for a sum, you literally put the numbers together. Say Person A scored a three and Person B scored a four. Their team score wouldn’t be seven, but 34. The one exception: If a person takes 10 or more strokes to reach the hole, that number goes first. So if their partner scored a five, the score would be 105, not 510. Whichever team has the lower of the preposterously high scores at the end of the round wins. (Suggested rule addition: Each player team is allowed to quote the Swingers line “Vegas, baby!” only once before being penalized.)

RULE NO. 093

Don't overthink it.

Pick Up Sticks

A fun one to play with a friend, Pick Up Sticks has a simple premise. Each time you lose a hole, you get to take one of your opponent’s clubs. When they lose a hole, they can get the club back or take one of yours. Putters can be off-limits or eligible for stealing, if players want to make things really interesting on the green. This is a fun game that also teaches players how to adapt in golf, a sport that’s all about adapting to challenges—and creating fun ways to deal with them.

Side games or no side games, golf is about having a good time. As we said in Rule 095: “Smile. It’s freaking golf.” Make sure you enjoy yourself out there.

Get your game on