Here’s how to have your own Skins Game

Want to have your own version of the big match with Tiger, Phil, Peyton and Tom? You can!

image of golf wager

“Skins” is the most popular golf course wagering format among groups of guys. For most women, accustomed to playing by straight handicap and not “I’ll give you (fill in the blank) strokes,” it can seem complicated. But maybe now that you’ve seen it on TV during the pandemic, you want to give it a try in your weekend foursome.

Just follow these 10 steps for a fun and entertaining game of Skins—and be sure to engage in plenty of trash talking along the way!

    1. Negotiate everyone’s strokes and “pop” the scorecard. To do this, you generally use your GHIN app to find each player’s course handicap, and then wheel off the person with the lowest course handicap to determine pops. If the app says Celine is a 10, Beyonce is a 15, Madonna is a 16 and JLo is a 20, Celine gets no “pops”; Beyonce gets a pop on each of the 5 hardest holes (indicated by the handicap numbers on the scorecard); Madonna gets a pop on the 6 hardest holes; and JLo a pop on each of the 10 hardest holes. This means that on five holes, Beyonce, Madonna and JLo all get strokes, on one hole only Madonna and JLo get strokes, and on four holes only JLo gets a stroke. An alternative to using the GHIN app, particularly where a player does not have a GHIN and therefore must estimate her handicap, is to let the trash talk begin and negotiate/beg strokes shamelessly before heading to the first tee. (Editor’s note: Negotiations can accommodate even wide chasms of skill. I once made a pro give me a stroke a hole and two strokes on par 5s, and after I took an early lead, he came back to beat me.
    2. Decide on the value of one skin — quarter, dollar, “hundo.” Most common stakes among everyday golfers is “dollar a hole,” or one dollar per player per hole. This means you could potentially lose $18. I’d like to say no one ever loses all 18 holes, but I did once. Consider playing high stakes for a favorite charity, or lower stakes to accommodate comfort zones.
    3. Decide on whether to play partners (the TV format we’ve watched in the pandemic era) or singles. I find partner games generally are more fun for trash talking, and they lighten the burden on higher handicappers. Singles matches tend to have more “carryovers,” holes that are tied by any two players and therefore carry over to the next hole to make it worth more.
    4. To score, singles: The lowest score on a hole, taking strokes into account, wins that skin. For example, let’s say on the first hole, Celine makes 4, Beyonce makes 5, Madonna makes 5 and JLo makes 7. It’s the sixth-hardest hole on the golf course, so that means Celine has 4, Beyonce has 5, Madonna (who gets a stroke) has 4 and JLo (who gets a stroke) has 6. Celine and Madonna have tied for lowest score, a carryover, so now No. 2 is worth two skins.
    5. To score, partners: In the description above, if Celine and Madonna are playing Beyonce and JLo, partners Celine and Madonna win the team skin because their lowest score, 4, beats their opponents’ lowest score, 5. If Celine and Madonna were on different teams, the teams would tie with their 4s and the skin would carry over to No. 2.
    6. Partners variation: When teams tie, you could look at the second players’ scores to break the tie. So in the above scenario, with Celine and Madonna on opposing teams, Beyonce could make the difference because her 5 beat JLo’s 6. This puts more pressure on players who are struggling or just not good, but it keeps everyone involved from tee to green.
    7. Keep score with little dots/pops or notations somewhere on your scorecard that indicate who won the skins and how many. In the end, you’ll wheel off the person with the most skins and do some subtracting to see who owes whom what. Partner example: If Celine-Madonna win 12 skins and Beyonce-JLo win 6, Beyonce-JLo each owe 6 (quarters, dollars, hundos) to their opponents. Singles example: If Celine wins 8 skins, Madonna wins 5, Beyonce 4 and JLo 1, Madonna owes Celine 3 (quarters, dollars, hundos); Beyonce owes Madonna 1 and Celine 4; JLo owes Beyonce 3, Madonna 4 and Celine 7. Newbies note: This sounds complicated, but if you start with JLo, the other players tend to pass her money around the table. The bottom line for JLo is that she pays out 14 skins. Beyonce collects 3 and pays out 5. Madonna collects 5 and pays out 3. Celine collects 14.
    8. Any skins left undecided after 18 holes generally go unawarded. You’re free to negotiate some sort of putt-off to decide those, or hold them over for next weekend’s game.
    9. Consider adding common singles side bets. These may include a skin for longest drive on a hole, a skin for closest-to-the-pin on par 3s, a skin for a birdie, or whatever else your group can invent before teeing off.
    10. Here’s the tradition that negates all the agonizing you did over the stakes: The winner(s) pay(s) for a round of drinks at the 19th hole. So that time I lost $18 I at least managed to get a Manhattan in return. There actually are bars in Manhattan that charge $18 for a Manhattan, so I chalked that up as a wash.
Now you’re all set to play Skins with the girls this weekend! You can even play easily in mixed company, now that the USGA has changed its handicapping rules so that you don’t have to adjust for different tees. So feel free to invite Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in on the action.
Would you rather have Tiger, Phil, Peyton or Tom on your team for a skins game?
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