Up Your Golf Side Game

Side games can keep things interesting on the golf course. Writer Mark Fadden hit the links to uncover a few common games to play, the latest twists, plus a new killer app to help keep track of it all.

As the “Commish” of games for the group that he frequently plays with at Timarron Country Club in Southlake, Texas, Bob Leahy knows many common side games, and rarely does a round go by when his group isn’t playing multiple games, many of which are made up or cleverly tweaked.

“One of the games we play is ‘Squeegee Putts.’ On every green, a player can call a ‘squeegee’ on a first putt if it’s outside the length of the flagstick. If the putt drops, the player wins a point from each of their playing partners. If they two-putt, nothing’s owed, and if they three-putt, the player owes all his playing partners a point,” explains Leahy.

Leahy and his group have also come up with side games that incorporate other events going on. “On Super Bowl Sunday, we took the jersey numbers for each starting quarterback and used them to identify holes to toss for a Strike 3 variation,” says Leahy, who believes that side games ramp up the competitive nature of his group’s golf outings.

Side games in golf are nothing new. The Nassau has been around for as long as many of us have been playing the game. Side games are not only a way to keep things interesting, they’re also an opportunity to test your mettle when it comes to playing under pressure. Whether you’ve been playing with the same group for years or you’ve just been paired with a complete stranger in the pro shop, there are a ton of side games available to up the intensity of your next round. Brian Weis, publisher of GolfTrips.com, suggests a few common side games:

The Nassau is three games in one: (1) low score on the front nine, (2) low score on the back nine and (3) low score on the overall 18.

It is a game played on a per-hole basis, where the sole lowest scorer/winner of a hole wins that hole. If there is a tie (for example, two players birdie a hole), no winner is declared and instead, it’s carried over to the next hole.

Wolf is a classic four-golfer game in which partners are established by a person (the Wolf) on each hole — or the Wolf can make a gutsy decision to go it alone. Players rotate being the Wolf in an established order. The player designated as the Wolf tees off, then gets to choose to play the hole by themselves (1 vs. 3) or watch the golfers hit and choose a partner (2 vs. 2) after the other golfers tee off. The side with the better ball (lower score) wins the hole. For example, if players A and B are partners, and A scores 4 while B scores 5, the side’s better ball score is 4.

Bingo Bango Bongo is a classic golf game that is independent of skill level. The game awards points based on the first player to do these events on each hole.

Bingo: First On = 1 point
Bango: Closest to the Pin (once all on) = 1 point
Bongo: First In = 1 point

It is important to follow the order of play correctly (who is out). At the end of the round, points are totaled and a winner is named.

In Flaggies, when a putt is made from longer than the length of the flag stick, the golfer is given one point from each player (best to measure prior to putting). A putt, chip in or hole out from the fringe or beyond the green is counted as a double flaggie, and more than one player can make a flaggie on a hole.

Similar to Flaggies, Savies puts the emphasis on par saves. If a player misses a green and gets up and down, it counts as a par save, or par “savie.” It is often played with gross score (not handicapped) and should be played with similar handicap players (assuming the gap is within  six to eight strokes). Surprisingly, the game does not always favor the stronger player, as better players hit more greens in regulation. If a player gets a savie, one point is given from each player. If a player is in the sand around the green and a sand save is made, it counts as a sandy savie, increasing to two points. It’s a great game to increase focus on par saves (better chips and more focus on par-saving putts). Many times, Savies and Flaggies are played together in a game called Recoveries.

Thirty-Two is a side game for golfers that focuses on putting. It’s essentially a challenge from one golfer to another to avoid a three-putt. Let’s say your buddy is facing a long, difficult putt. You invoke the thirty-two side game. If your buddy three-putts (or worse), you get two points. If he two-putts (or better), he instead gets three points.

“I would suggest using full handicaps to make it as fair as possible and setting the ground rules on playing conditions before the first tee shot so everyone is aligned.”

Bob Leahy after a hole-in-one, which probably made him a winner in his group's side game

If you’re going to incorporate side games into your round, Leahy, the “Commish,” offers a few rules that his group follows: “We use the honor system for players to track scores, and usually one player per group, the ‘Captain,’ hosts overall score keeping for convenience,” says Leahy. “It does help to rotate the Captain role to give others a shot at leading the group.”

He also has some advice for keeping the games competitive. “I would suggest using full handicaps to make it as fair as possible and setting the ground rules on playing conditions before the first tee shot so everyone is aligned. Also, keep games fairly simple at first and build in more complexity as folks become accustomed to the various competitions,” Leahy says. “We also try to identify one player from each foursome to monitor the clock for pace of play and one player for each group as ‘Rules Captain’ for any in-round decisions such as marching off closest to pin on greenies, gimmie putts, embedded balls, etc.”

There’s an App for That

While side games are fun, they need to be managed. Many games can be played on top of one another, so you really have to, ahem, keep your eye on the ball.

Antonio Casacuberta, founder of Beezer Golf, has come up with a solution to this problem. After working for Oracle for years, Casacuberta retired to Sonoma, California, where he started playing golf with a group that routinely played many side games during their rounds. The problem? There was so much going on that it was hard to keep track of it all. One day, they searched for an app that could help them manage their side games, but the ones they found didn’t have the features they needed. So, Casacuberta decided to make one himself. “I knew that I could create an app that could do what we needed it to do. I leveraged my background to come up with the Beezer Golf Scorecard,” says Casacuberta.

Currently, the Beezer Golf app comes preloaded with 20 side games and, for those players who like to play games on top of games, the app can track all those games at the same time.

The Beezer Golf app is available for both Android and IOS. It is $3.99/month or $39.99/year. For more information, visit www.beezergolf.com.

Enjoyed this? You might also enjoy these articles from the spring edition of ClubLife:


The Allure of the Azores

An easy jaunt from the East Coast, the Azores are a naturally socially distant paradise and a perfect first stop for stepping back into world travel.



Master Your Pre-Shot Routine

A few drills, both mental and physical, before you swing can make a big difference in your golf shot.