The concept of the Skins Game gained widespread popularity in 1983 when it was turned into a televised event featuring golf legends such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tom Watson.

This event showcased the fun and excitement of the Skins Game format. It brought it into the living rooms of golf enthusiasts worldwide, making it a beloved format for casual and competitive play.

By the way, the tournament lasted until 2008, and one of the best skins players on the PGA Tour has been Fred Couples, winning $ 4.4 million in just 11 appearances.

Fred Couples from bunker in 2008 Open Championship
Credit to Steven Newton – Fred Couples, Open 2006

What is Skins Golf Game?

The skins game is a type of match play that focuses on winning individual holes, each with its value or “skin.”

Unlike a conventional golf game, where the total score can determine the winner, skin games elevate the importance of each hole, making every shot count.

This format spices up competitive golf events and introduces a fun, tactical layer to playing rounds.

Prizes in skins game, each hole is set up with a set amount of money or points. A player with the lowest score on a hole wins the skin for that hole.

If the hole is tied, where two or more players have the same score, the skin carries over to the next hole, increasing the value of the next hole match.

three players playing skins game on green
Photo by Catharina Short Sundberg, Båstad Golfklubb, Båstad, Sverige

Setup

Decide on the Group

Ideally, Skins games are played with a group of three or four players, but they can be adapted to any number. Consider the skill levels of all players. Handicaps can be used to level the playing field.

Determine the Value of Each Skin

Decide if each skin will be worth a certain amount of money or points. Skins game can have a consistent value for each hole or increase in value as the round progresses.

Establish the Rules

Clearly define how a player wins a hole (e.g., lowest score on the hole). Decide if the skins game carries over in the case of a tie. This means if no player wins a hole outright, the value of that skin is added(usually) to the next match.

Have a plan for how ties will be resolved at the end of the round, whether through a playoff hole, splitting the skins, or another method.

Handicap Adjustments (Handicap Skins Game or Net Skins)

If players have different skill levels, use course handicap calculations to adjust scores on each hole. This makes the competition fairer and more engaging for everyone.

Identify which holes handicaps will apply to based on the course’s handicap rating for each hole.

I like to utilize hole handicaps and apply one additional stroke for players with higher handicaps. For instance, when I play skins with a golfer with 5 more handicaps, I apply 5 holes from the most difficult holes in the golf course and one additional stroke for each hole.

three golfers holding beer
Photo Credit to Sugar Golf Balls

Playing the Game

Tee Offs

Start the order of play. This can be random, based on handicap, or by drawing names. On each hole, the player with the lowest score wins the skin for that hole. Usually, the person who wins the hole starts to tee off on the next one.

During Game Play

If the hole is tied, the skin carries over, making the next hole worth more(usually double). If multiple people are playing, holes can be tied between two, three, or four players.

Designate someone to keep track of scores and skins won on each hole. Check for the handicapped holes; some higher handicapped golfers may win the hole with an additional stroke.

Approach each hole, knowing there’s a competition for each hole, “skin.” The strategy might change based on whether you’re leading or trailing or if a significant number of skins are carried over to a particular hole.

Strategies

Aggressive Play: Since only winning a hole outright earns a skin, players are often more aggressive, especially on holes where skins are carried over. You can play aggressively until that one hole where you think you have a higher chance of winning. It’s about winning the skin, not the game score.

Risk Management: Deciding when to play it safe or go for the shot can be crucial, especially on carryover holes where more is at stake. Especially when playing with multiple numbers of players, try to check how others are playing and risk manage if you think one person has a higher chance of winning the specific hole. You want to be the insurance for other members playing aggressively to tie the hole.

Winning the Skins game

At the end of the round, count how many skins each player has won. The player with the most skins wins the game.

If necessary, use your predetermined method for resolving ties. Things you can resolve ties on the 18th green are playing closest to the pin from fringe or rough, putting for win outside 10fts, or I have even done rock-paper-scissors.

Guy playing skins game in golf duing sunset
Photo credit to Christoph Keil

Variations

The steps described above are just a basic skins game. You can include many more variations to make the game more exciting.

Back It Up

In the “Back It Up” variation, the skin winner must “back up” their win by matching or beating the lowest score on the next hole to claim their skins game.

If the player fails to back it up, the skins are not awarded and carry over to the next one, adding an extra layer of strategy and pressure.

Whole Round Skins Game

The “Whole Round” variation requires players to play skins through the entire round to be declared the winner.

This approach emphasizes consistent performance across all holes, as the outcome is only determined at the end of the round, keeping the competition tight until the last putt.

Team Skins

“Team Skins” brings a cooperative element to the game, where players form teams. The best score from each team on each hole competes for the skin.

This variation encourages teamwork and strategy, as players decide who takes the risky shots and plays more conservatively.

No Carry Over

In the “No Carry Over” variation, if a hole is tied, the skin for that hole is not awarded, and its value does not carry over to the next hole.

This can lead to a faster-paced game and ensures that the total number of skins games is fixed, making each won skin more valuable.

Validation

Similar to “Back It Up,” the “Validation” variation requires a player to validate their win on a hole by performing to a certain standard (often par or better) on the next hole.

If the player fails to validate, the skins for the hole go back into the pot for future holes, adding an ongoing challenge to maintain performance.

Conclusions

Whether you stick to the normal skins game or explore its variation, the essence of the game remains the same: a fun, competitive format that adds an extra layer of strategy to traditional play.

These variations allow players to customize their game, ensuring that each round of play skins remains engaging, challenging, and enjoyable for all participants.

Frequently Asked Questions: Skins Game

How do handicaps affect a Skins Game?

By adjusting each player’s score on a hole according to their handicap, the game becomes more competitive, allowing all players a fair chance to win skins.

Can you play a Skins Game with more than four players?

Yes, you can play a Skins game with more than four players, though it is most common with groups of three or four. Consider splitting into teams or keeping close track of scores for larger groups to ensure the game remains organized. I recommend playing with variations like “Team Skims” or “No Carry Over.”

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