How To Play Skins In Golf And Win: What is a Skins Game?

Skins in golf is a game where the players compete head-to-head on every hole for an agreed prize.

The prize is usually good old hard cash, and this stake is called the skin.

Playing for skins in golf is only viable with a minimum of three players. The more players, the more drama, so a great format for a four-ball – or more if your club allows.

Golf is the perfect betting game, and playing for a stake can add some fun and motivation to your round. Playing a golf skins game will certainly prove that!

In this article on skins in golf, we’ll cover:

  • Who Should Play Skins Golf?
  • The Format: How To Play Skins In Golf?
  • Strategy For Winning Skins in Golf
  • How To Determine The Value Of A Skin?
  • Alternative Golf Skins Games

Let’s get into the swing of it!

How To Play Skins In Golf What is a Skins Game 3

Who Should Play Skins Golf?

Testosterone junkies will love a golf skins game as the overriding strategy is attack, attack, attack!

Skins in golf is a great format to play amongst good friends. Why? Half of the fun of a skins game is the trash talk between players as each hole unravels.

The other half is walking away in profit. Many golfers will say that the on-course chat is far more enjoyable and important than the prize pot.

Research shows that golf skins games work best when playing heads up.

What’s ‘heads up’? Simple. It means handicaps do not come into play. This doesn’t mean all players in a group have to be the same handicap, although they should be roughly in the same handicap level.

Related Article: Learn How To Break 80 In Golf With These 4 Tricks

A range of 5 shots works for higher handicap golfers (10+ handicap), while a smaller parameter for a group of lower handicap golfers (sub 10 handicap).

How To Play Skins In Golf What is a Skins Game

THE FORMAT: how to play Skins in Golf?

If a player wins the hole outright with the lowest score, then they win the Skin. In traditional skins, if no one wins the hole outright, the value of the Skin gets added to the next hole.

The beauty of this format is that you start again on every hole. All players are able to compete for these held-over skins, irrespective of their score on the previous hole.

You may have had a complete blow-out on a hole but that doesn’t matter because two players tied with the lowest score to carry the Skin onto the next hole.

Let’s look at an example scorecard to explain the format:

HolePlayer 1
Player 2
Player 3
Player 4
Skins Situation
145443 players tie with 4’s.
Skin c/f, now playing for 2 skins on Hole 2
253372 players tie with 3’s. Player 4 scoring 7 just doesn’t matter! Skin c/f, now playing for 3 skins on Hole 3. The heat is on!
36554Player 4 wins the hole and wins 3 skins. His 7 on the last forgotten. Player 1 with the lowest scores on holes 1 & 2 – well that means nothing right now!
445452 players tie with 4’s. skin c/f, now playing for 2 Skins on Hole 5
52433Player 1 wins the hole and 2 skins
667552 players tie with 5’s. Skin c/f, now playing for 2 skins on Hole 7
74544No dramas here, all players have the same score, now playing for 3 skins on Hole 8
84545Two 4’s, no winners. Now it’s cranking up, playing for a whopping 4 skins on Hole 9
94364….and player 2 enters the party to scoop the big one winning 4 skins
Score39423841This means diddly-squat in this format!
Sample of 9 holes of Skins Golf explained
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There we have it. As the table shows, after nine holes the Skins have been won as follows:

  • Player 1 Won 2 Skins
  • Player 2 Won 4 Skins
  • Player 3 No Skins won
  • Player 4 Won 3 Skins

And when you examine the card, the beauty of this format unravels. Player 2 has the worst 9 hole score, never featured in a hole until the last, and then scooped the most Skins. Player 3 has the best score and hasn’t won a bean.

Overall scores do not matter – it is a hole-by-hole shoot-out.

When to Attack, When to Defend in a Skins Game

Generally speaking, you are playing attacking golf to try and win a Skin.

Sometimes, however, a more conservative approach may be necessary to halve the hole if you are only one of two players left.

How To Play Skins In Golf What is a Skins Game 11

Occasionally one player will get a free roll of the dice.

Two players already have the lowest score and you are left with a free putt to win the Skin. Now be positive, do not leave this putt short as the return has no consequence.

How To Determine The Value Of Skins In Golf?

Before you tee off, you and your playing partners need to decide the value of each skin.

Budget is the number one factor here. How much money is any player prepared to lose on the day? There is a chance that you may not win a skin at all in the whole round.

Saying this, in most games, the Skins will be distributed out and the financial loss is never too painful.

The easiest and most common approach is to apply the same value to every hole.

For example, if you decide that each skin is worth $5 and you are playing 18-holes, then the total you could lose if you win nothing all day is $90. Is everybody up for this? If not, then lower the stakes.


Some groups may decide on an increasing scale for the skins in golf, a policy adopted by the professional tours when the PGA Tour Skins Shootout was a regular feature in the diary out of season close to Christmas.

Fred Couples was the king in this format and was given the nickname ‘Mr. Skins’ because he won $3,515,000 and 77 skins in 11 appearances. Not a bad Christmas bonus!

An example of this puts more emphasis on finishing strongly and also means that anyone who is slow out of the blocks on any day can catch up at the end. If your total skin pot is agreed at $72 ($4/hole), on an increasing pay scale, you could go for the following:

  • Holes 1 – 6 $2 per Skin
  • Holes 7 -12 $4 per Skin
  • Holes 13 -18 $6 per Skin

If the skins in golf are not won on the 18th green, then there is no payout.

If you are a regular four-ball, you may decide to carry this forward to your next golf skins game to make the start hole a little more exciting the next time you play.

How To Play Skins In Golf What is a Skins Game 7

Alternative Skins

This alternative is far from the head-to-head golf skins game described above – it doesn’t have the same drama and only comes into play when you have a larger group size.

It seems a very popular addition with larger groups when playing holiday golf.

The structure is as follows:

  • Players have the opportunity to win a skin on every hole on your trip. Let’s say the agreed fee is $5 per golfer so with a group size of 16 golfers, a whopping $80 can be won.
  • To win the skin, you must have the lowest nett score on a hole unmatched by any other player within the group.
  • It is pretty darn hard to win a skin. Of course, you only find out after the round if you have won once all the scorecards have been checked and this process provides some good banter in the bar.

You may walk off the course thinking, maybe expecting that your nett eagle on the 14th hole is a winner to be dashed when you find out a player in another group had the same great score.

Conversely, you may be surprised that you win a hole with a par that nobody else matched – this, of course, tends to be on a beast of a hole!

If the group has a broad spectrum of handicaps, then this format works and is a nice addition to any other game you may be playing.

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Is Skins in golf the right betting Game For You?

Now armed with a full understanding of the Skins scoring format, how likely are you to play it the next time you tee off?

If you’re looking for a different betting game, why not check our article below?

Photo of author
I have been in love with the game of golf for over 30 years and this passion propelled me to find work in the golf sector way back in 1997. In recent years I have worked as a full-time golf caddy in Scotland and Florida until Covid struck - hopefully my wonderful lifestyle will soon return. When not working, I like to keep fit, play golf and enjoy a nice glass of single malt!

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