Tuesday Tips: Alternative Disc Golf Formats for Fresh Challenges

Go beyond stroke play for more fun on the course.

From left: Gavin Rathbun, Nikko Locastro, Calvin Heimburg, and Chris Clemons at the 2021 DGPT Match Play Championships. Photo: Brittany Dickerson – DGPT.

While most of us spend most of our time in stroke play (adding up our total throws to get our score), there are lots of other games you can play on the disc golf course to add variety and fresh competition. This can be especially fun if you usually play on the same courses with the same set of players and have fallen into a rut of throwing the same shots on the same holes every round.

These games come from traditional golf and were developed to account for the fact that the game can be extremely challenging, with stroke play rounds turning dramatically on one or two bad holes. These games usually prevent blow ups from deciding the game, so players who play badly early in the round can stay invested and have fun.

For example, the Nassau is probably the most common golf betting game. It is essentially three different bets in a single round – one for the winner of the front nine, one for the winner of the back nine, and one for the combined winner. It does not change the basic stroke play structure of the round other than by offering a player who has a bad run of holes on the front side a fresh start at the turn.

This was, for example, the reasoning behind the establishment of Stableford scoring, which gives points for pars and birdies rather than tracking the strokes in relationship to par. In Stableford scoring, the point cost of getting a quintuple bogey is the same as a double, so big numbers can’t do as much damage. It was developed in Wales in the late nineteenth century to stop golfers from abandoning their rounds after a few bad holes. Playing a Scramble round also softens the impact of bad shots since less skilled players can contribute their occasional good shots without being penalized for all their misfires.

Changing the format can also allow fair competition between players of different skill levels. In regular golf, this is crucial to facilitate betting. The handicap system in traditional golf, for example, was partly designed to balance the differences between players and create the opportunity for fair wagers. However, even if money never changes hands in your regular foursome, these games can level the playing field and force better players to play their best to win. While many golfers enjoy “playing for something” even in casual rounds, betting isn’t required to make these games fun.

Beyond Stroke Play

Some games are Best Disc (“Best Ball” or “Fourball” in traditional golf); this means that golfers play in teams (usually of two players) but keep their own individual scores. At the end of a hole, the best individual score from either player is recorded as the team score. This is different from a Scramble, in which every player on a team throws each shot and then the team selects the best shot as their new position. This process continues until the disc is putted out. Scrambles allow players of very different skill levels to play together since bad throws are simply discarded. However, many players prefer Best Disc formats to Scrambles because they want to keep their own score and know what they shot for the round.

Bingo Bango Bongo

This is a point game, also known as a “dot game,” because the score is often tracked by making dots on the scorecard as points are scored. Generally, there are three possible points available on every hole – one for the closest to the pin, one for the longest putt made outside of Circle 1X (outside of ten feet), and one for the lowest score on the hole. This gives multiple players a chance to score on every hole since the CTP and longest putt are usually awarded to different players. Highest total points scored at the end of the round wins.

You can also award points for other things – saving par after going OB, for example. If everyone is on board, you can set the game up however you like. Since there are no partners and everyone plays their own disc, this is a great game for players who want to also keep their regular stroke play score.

Hollywood

Also called Sixes, this is a doubles game in which the partners change every six holes. It can either be played Best Disc or as a Scramble. Each player gets a point for each hole they win as part of a team. Highest individual score at the end wins. This is great way to have the fun of doubles without needing to balance the teams since the partnerships will rotate throughout the round.

Hollywood is a great game for golf trips because the team aspect reduces pressure and everyone gets a turn playing with every other player. Because it tracks individual scores, you can keep an overall score across multiple rounds and have an overall champion after a golf weekend.

Wolf

Wolf, like Hollywood, is a rotating team game. In Wolf, the order of play is set at the start of the round and rotates every hole: the Wolf is always the last to tee off. The driving order is set by this rotation, not how players score on a given hole (for example, for four players, the Player who is the Wolf on the first tee will be the Wolf again on the fifth tee.)

The Wolf gets to choose their partner by watching the drives of the other players. After each drive, the Wolf must decide whether they will take that player as their partner. If they pass on a player, they cannot come back and choose them. Once the Wolf selects a partner, they will play the hole together. If the Wolf passes on all the other players, they are deciding to play as the “Lone Wolf,” which offers a greater reward if they win the hole.

The scoring is as follows:

  • If the Wolf and their partner get the low score on the hole, they each get 2 points.
  • If the other two players beat the Wolf and their partner, they each get 3 points.
  • If the Lone Wolf beats the other three players, they get 4 points.
  • If any of the three players beat the Lone Wolf, then they each receive 1 point.

If the hole is tied, no points are scored for that hole. Each player gets a total individual score of the points they earned on each hole.

Wolf is usually played Best Disc but it can also be played as a scramble, though that will usually result in fewer holes being won (and, if someone is going Lone Wolf, they are up against the other three players playing as a triples team!)

There are different versions of how to handle the issue that there can be an uneven number of holes for Wolf. Some foursomes just continue the order and allow the players who were Wolf on the first and second holes to also be the Wolf on 17 and 18. Others allow the player with the fewest points to be the Wolf on 17 and 18 to allow them to try to make up ground (or blow up!) as the Lone Wolf.

Wolf is the kind of game that has lots of local variations. Some allow the Wolf to watch all three drives of their cardmates and then choose their partner, though this gives a huge advantage to the Wolf. Some allow a “Pig” in which a player chosen by the Wolf as a partner can refuse and play solo against the other players (playing as a Lone Wolf on the hole.) Wolf is a game that some players absolutely love and others avoid because of the multiple things that have to be tracked. However, it can be an absolute blast for the right group.

Foursomes

“Foursomes” is a format in which players in two-person teams throw alternating shots until the disc is holed out. Usually, players decide who will tee off on the odd and even holes and then play shots in turn on each hole. Another variation is that the shots are alternated all the way around the course starting on the first tee, meaning that the person who tees off on a given hole is the person who did not make the final putt for the team on the previous hole. This can be very fun but also can be an unforgiving format and is best when all the players are about the same skill level.

Skins

In Skins, each hole is worth a certain amount (either points or a bet). If one player’s net score beats all the other players on the hole, they win the “Skin.” If two or more players tie for low score, that point value or bet is “pushed” and rolled over to the next hole. So, if the first three holes are pushed, then the fourth hole is worth the total points or bets from the first four holes. This can be a great game to keep players involved, since you can play badly for a while and then jump up and win a pile of Skins. But it can be really swingy, as multiple holes can be pushed and one good throw can take all the Skins.

If there are still Skins “on the table” – not won by the final hole – then play continues, but players must match the low score to stay in the game. If, on the first playoff hole, only two players birdie the hole, then only those two players will continue to the second playoff hole.

Match Play

Match Play is a scoring system rather than a particular game. It can be played in singles or doubles and, if played in teams, either as a Scramble or Best Disc. It is, like Skins, a hole-by-hole game. Each hole is worth 1 point — the lowest score on the hole wins the point; if the hole is tied, each team gets half a point (tied holes are described as “halved”). On a regular 18-hole layout, the first person or team to get nine points wins (though matches are often played over 9 or 12 holes — like the DGPT Match Play Championship!).

Matches are scored by tracking points, but the score is usually given by the number of points/holes that a team is up; so, if two teams tie on the first three holes (each team getting 1.5 points from those ties) and then one team wins the next two holes, the point total is 3.5 to 1.5 and the leading team is usually described as “2 Up.” Final scores are recorded by the number of holes up and the number of holes that remain to be played. If a player is up 3 after 16 holes, then the win is recorded as being won “3 and 2;” a player who is up by 5 after 14 holes has won “5 and 4.” Depending on the format, matches tied (or still “All Square”) at the end of the set number of holes are considered tied or else go to sudden death playoff.

This kind of scoring produces an ebb and flow between competitors. You are playing the other player, not the course, so you may find yourself laying up from 27 feet when a par will win a hole or trying incredibly risky shots when you absolutely need a win to stay in the match. Strategy is key; if you are throwing first and go OB, your opponent can play safe if they think a par secures the point. If you are leading, you may choose to play safe off the tee on a hard hole, forcing your opponent to have to be hyperaggressive since they must win holes. On the other hand, players who take their foot off the gas and play to hold the lead by tying holes can find themselves overtaken.

Match play produces maximum drama because it encourages aggressive play. You only have one opponent, so there is no concern about protecting your final score. It’s always win or go home. It also plays quickly because matches can end in less than 18 holes and not all holes have to be played out. If one player is parked for birdie and the other is OB and looking at par as the best possible score, they can pick up their disc and move on to the next hole.

Use New Formats For Special Events

Your group may not be interested in trying different formats during your regular rounds. If not, consider organizing a special event that will be played under a different format. These can be individual challenges inside a club or team challenges between clubs. One of the most fun events the Bloomington Disc Golf Club does is the “46 Cup,” a team challenge with our friends in the Crossroads Disc Golf Club in Terre Haute, on the other end of Highway 46. It is a team tournament that combines individual matches and doubles and is a big event on our team calendar. Many areas have match play tournaments; Indiana has the Hoosier Club Challenge, which brings together teams from all over the state for some of the most intense and high-pressure golf we play all year.

These events are great for team building and bring fresh challenges to the game. With the arrival of events like the DGPT Match Play, there may be new focus on ways to play other than stroke play.

  1. Steve Andrews
    Steve Andrews

    Steve Andrews is a college professor and disc golfer in Bloomington, Indiana. He came to disc golf from traditional golf and, even though he is 50 and playing on bad knees, managed to reach 950 rated through course management and playing smart.

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