What is a Golf Skins Game? How to Play & Win

dollar bills and a golf ball

Playing different games on the golf course with your buddies can be a lot of fun. Not only can you win a few bucks, but you also get bragging rights.

A golf skins game is one of the most fun to play. It’s a great way to compete hole by hole.

The best thing is if you lose one hole, you always have the chance of winning the next one. So, a terrible score on a hole doesn’t take you out of the running as it can with stroke play.

What is a Golf Skins Game?

A golf skins game is a game in which players compete for a prize on every hole. The prize is called a skin.

The skin can be any prize you and your buddies want it to be. You could play for money, golf balls, or even beer.

A skins game is usually played in three and four balls.

What Are Golf Skins?

Technically, golf skins can be any prize agreed upon before the game starts. However, golf skins are usually money prizes, with a set amount of money attached to each hole.

For instance, you and your buddies might play for $5 a hole between holes 1-6, $10 a hole between 7-12, and $20 a hole between 13-18.

The PGA Tour used this skins money format for an unofficial money event held from 1988 to 2008. As you may have guessed, the pros played for much higher stakes than a few dollars.

In 2008, the total prize money was $1 million. The skins were valued as follows:

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

How to Play Golf Skins

In a golf skins game, you play it like a version of match play. The best score on the hole wins the skin outright. But if two or more players get the same score on a hole, the hole is halved. In that case, the skin gets carried over to the next hole.

Let’s imagine your fourball is playing a skins game for 10 bucks a hole. If two players halve the hole, the skin is carried over to the next hole, making it worth 20 bucks.

However, all four players can play for this carried-over skin, not just the two who halved the hole. Therefore, you still have a good chance of winning the skin even if your last hole was a disaster.

When a skin isn’t won on the 18th hole, it comes down to sudden death. The format for sudden death changes slightly.

You can still win the skin outright with the best score, and it can still be carried over to the next sudden-death hole if it’s halved.

However, this is where the game changes. Let’s take a fourball as an example.

Two players score a par while two players score a bogey. Therefore, the skin gets carried over to the next sudden-death hole. But only the two players who halved the hole with par can compete for the skin on the next hole. The players who scored a bogey are eliminated from the sudden-death game and can’t win the skin.

In sudden death, the players continue to play until someone wins the skin outright.

Golf Skin Formats

Other golf skin formats are the whole round skins game and the back it up skins game. We can look at both separately.

Whole Round Skins Game

You don’t tally up the skins as you play in this format. Instead, they’re counted at the end, so you don’t know who wins until the game ends.

For this format, you and your buddies can put money into a pot before you start. Then, you just play the round and mark down your scores.

Afterward, you compare your scorecards. Whenever a player scores the lowest on a hole, he earns a skin. Then, divide the money by the number of skins each player wins.

“Back it up” Skins Game

When a player wins a skin in this format, they can choose to “back it up” instead of keeping the skin. That means they decide to carry over the skin to the next hole.

Doing that during a game means the skin you carry over is worth double, and the skin for the new hole is worth double. However, they’re only worth double to you and not to the other players.

image of club ball 10 dollar bill

Let’s say you win a skin worth $10 and decide to back it up. That means the skin you’re carrying over is now worth $20, while the skin for the new hole is also worth $20 for you. So, you get $40 if you win the next hole.

However, if one of your playing partners wins the hole, they only get $20. They win the value of the original skin you carried over ($10) and the new skin ($10). In that case, you get nothing.

Deciding to back it up is an excellent way to double-up skins on two holes if you win. If you back it up and two players half the next hole, the skin gets carried over at its original value. So, the new hole would be worth $30 in our example because it’s three skins with an initial value of $10.

Tips for Winning Golf Skins

The best tip for winning golf skins is to play aggressively. It’s better to take an aggressive shot at the pin to get a low score on the hole.

You don’t get severely punished if you mess up on a hole. You’ll only lose one skin at the worst, or two players might half the hole and carry over the skin to the next. That gives you a new chance to win two skins even if you had a disastrous previous hole.

While there’s not much punishment for a high score, there’s plenty of reward for a low score. If you have a couple of bridies throughout the round, you have a great chance of winning skins on those holes.

That makes attacking play more rewarding. And that’s even truer if a few skins have built up over the round.

For instance, let’s say the five previous holes have been halved, and the next one is worth $100. You’re in a fourball, and the others are on the green but are over 25 feet from the hole. It’s unlikely any of them will make birdie.

Even if the flag is tucked away in a dangerous position on the green, it’s worth going straight at it. The reward outweighs the risk.

If you get it close, you’ve got a good chance for a birdie to likely win the skin. If you mess up and miss the green, there’s a good chance the other players will half the hole with a par. You live to fight for another skin.


A golf skins game can be much more exciting than formats like stroke. It allows you to play hole by hole instead of worrying about your overall score.

A few bad holes won’t ruin your day, while a few good ones can make you the skins champ. It pays to get aggressive and shoot straight at pins you’d typically avoid.

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Joe Morelli

Joe Morelli is the founder of TopRankGolf, a passionate golfer with 25 years of experience playing and coaching golfers around the world. He's dedicated to helping golfers learn and enjoy the game of golf.