What is Skins in Golf? | Golf Formats Explained

What is Skins in Golf? | Golf Formats Explained

You're probably familiar with golf's most basic formats, like stroke play and match play, but there are many other ways to compete in golf in casual rounds or organized events.

One of the most exciting golf formats is "skins games." In this guide, we'll break down how skins games work in golf so you can add it to your repertoire of weekend games or know what you're getting yourself into if you're invited to play a match with this format.

What is a "Skins Game" in Golf?

In golf, a "skins game" is a format where golfers compete for a prize called a "skin" on each hole. The group of golfers (or the event organizer of a formal event) agree to a prize amount for each hole before the round starts.

The lowest score on each hole wins the skin for that hole (that hole's prize money). If any players tie a hole for the best score, the skin gets added to the next hole, with all players able to compete for the first hole's carried-over skin and the second hole's skin.

(If you're confused, see the example in the next section.)

Skins games are most commonly played in groups of three or four golfers, but the format can also be adapted for larger fields.

Example of a Basic Skins Game

For a better understanding of how to play skins, check out the following example of a skins game between three players with a $10 skin for each hole (each player risking $5 on each hole):

  • Hole 1 - Player A takes 4 strokes to complete the first hole, while Player B and Player C shoot a 5 on the hole. Player A wins the hole and the skin, receiving $5 from Player B and Player C and keeping their $5.
  • Hole 2 - Player A and C tie the second hole for the best score. No skin is awarded, and the second hole skin carries over to the third hole.
  • Hole 3 - Again, Player A and C tie for the best score on the third hole. The skin for the second and third holes both carry over to the fourth hole.
  • Hole 4 - Player A shoots a 5, Player B shoots a 3, and Player C shoots a 4. Player B wins the fourth hole with the lowest score, receiving the skin for that hole and the two carried over skins for the previous two holes that were tied. Players A and C both pay Player B $15 ($5 for holes 2, 3, and 4), and Player B keeps the money he added to the pot for those holes.

Whole Round Skins Games

A "whole round skins game" is an adaption of skins where you don't know who wins until all players complete the round. This format is usually used for skins games spanning multiple groups of golfers.

All players put money into a pot for a skin on every hole. After all players have completed their rounds, the skins are divided up and paid to the winners.

Progressive Prize Scale

While the most basic form of a skins game has the same prize for every hole, it's also common to increase the skins for later holes.

For example, The Skins Game, which was an unofficial PGA Tour event from 1983 to 2008, had progressively larger skins as the round progressed:

  • Holes 1-6: $25,000
  • Holes 7-12: $50,000
  • Holes 13-17: $70,000
  • Hole 18: $200,000

Fred Couples PGA Golfer
Fred Couples was nicknamed "Mr. Skins", winning $4,405,000 and 77 skins in his 11 times playing The Skins Game.

Skins With Handicaps

Skins games can also be played using golf handicaps.

A basic example would be:

  • Player A is a 5 handicap, Player B is a 9 handicap, and Player C is a 15 handicap.
  • Working off Player A's handicap, Player B would receive 4 strokes, and player C would receive 10 strokes.
    • Player B gets a stroke on the 4 most challenging holes of the course, and Player C gets an extra stroke on the 10 most challenging holes.

Scorecard With Hole Difficulty Ratings
Scorecard With Hole Difficulty Ratings

More Golf Formats

Now that you've learned how to play a skins game, check out our complete list of golf formats for more fun ways to enjoy the game.