8 Ways to Make Golf More Fun

To get out of your golf rut, spice up your on-course wagers, play more nine-hole rounds, and give something back to the game.

1. Bet on it!

For many, if not most, players, the element of monetary risk gets your blood flowing, and the potential reward sharpens your game. The problem all too often, though, is that a $1 skin or a $5 Nassau gets pretty dull if that’s your game every time you tee it up. Here are six variations that will add some spice to your bets on the game.

• Bingo, Bango, Bongo This is a game of points for “firsts” separate from your score. The first player in your group to get the ball on the green gets a point (bingo). Once all the balls are on the green, the player closest to the pin gets a point (bango). And finally, the first player to hole out gets a point (bongo).

• Strike Three Blow-up holes kill a lot of rounds, but this game takes them out of the equation when it comes time to settle the bet. At the end of a round, each player gets to strike out the score for his or her worst three holes, and then the best 15-hole score wins the pot.

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• Bag Raid Here’s a twist on standard match play. When a golfer or team wins a hole, they get to raid the opponent’s bag and “remove” a club from play for the rest of the round. A variation of the game lets the club be put back into play as a reward for a birdie or better. It’s a good idea to learn to putt with another club, since the putter is usually the first to go.

• Garbage (aka Junk) The bookkeeping can get complicated, but players win points for things like birdies, sandies (par out of a bunker), closest to the pin on par 3s, chippies (chip-ins), scruffies (par after hitting the cart path), or barkies (par after hitting a tree). Let your imagination rule! You can also deduct points for hitting into the water, three putts on a green, or two shots to escape a bunker.

• Gruesomes An ugly team game for two-person teams. Both team members tee off, then the other team gets to choose which drive their opponents have to play. Same procedure with the second team. The teams then play out the hole using an alternate shot format, with the player who hit the “gruesome” drive playing the second shot for his team.

• Longest Yard Get out your calculator! In this game, the player with the low score on each hole wins points equal to that hole’s length. No points are awarded on tied holes. It’s probably best to play for a set amount in a pot, since if you played for $1 a point and the course is 7,000 yards long….


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2. Get A Handicap

You can’t really play any of the standard wagering games without a handicap that enables players of different skill levels to compete with each other on a fair basis.

While the ins and outs of the official handicap system aren’t hard to understand, the first and most important step is to join a club to get one. Even if you’re a daily-fee golfer, every local public golf facility has at least one and probably several “clubs” that you can join for a nominal fee. If you don’t want to do that, you can also join an MGA eClub.

After that, it’s simply a matter of recording the score of your rounds (the REAL score, please!) as they are played. You’ll then be issued a handicap index based on your scores and the difficulty of the courses you played, and you’re ready to tee it up on a perfectly level playing field.


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3. How to Win at Match Play

The game is a lot more fun when you ditch medal play in favor of match play. In medal play (like you see on TV), the lowest total score for the round determines the winner. In match play, though, it’s whichever player wins the most holes, so there are essentially 18 separate contests during the round. You’re playing your opponent, as well as the golf course, so psychology can affect the outcome.

Rob Labritz (pictured, left), director of golf at GlenArbor GC and winner of last year’s Westchester PGA Championship, a match-play event, shares five ways he gets in his match-play opponent’s head.

 I always want to put the ball in the fairway on the first tee. That puts a little heat on them. 

 If I’m playing well, I try to stuff my approaches and put up some birdies early. That can freak them out.

 On the green, I get a little more tight-lipped as the match goes on. I might concede a few putts early in the round, but then I don’t, which puts a little more pressure on them.

• If my opponent starts with some gamesmanship, that means they’re worried about beating me with their own playing ability, so I just laugh at it.

• Above all, though, I’ve found the best way to intimidate my opponent is to play well.

Match play also lends itself to team play and variations like alternate-shot matches.


4. Nine is Fine

Want to play more golf but don’t have the time? Play nine holes! It’s the same game, but it doesn’t eat your life. You can easily play nine holes in 90 minutes, which means more rounds after work — or even before work, if you don’t dawdle. You might save a little money, too, since many courses offer special rates for nine-hole rounds.

• Doral Arrowwood, Rye Brook; www.doralarrowwood.com

The Doral tips out at 2,924 yards with a par of 35, but it will challenge every part of your game, including your driving. If you dare, let the big dog hunt for the 20-yard-wide landing area on the 450-yard par-5 3rd hole, but note that water is in play on both sides of the fairway. The three par 3s at Doral demand your full attention. The 221-yard 2nd hole is one of the most visually intimidating par 3s around, with a 180-yard carry to reach dry land and no bailout.

• Pleasantville Country Club, Pleasantville; www.pleasantvillecountryclub.com

Pleasantville Country Club’s nine-hole course is not long, but bombers and gougers won’t dominate the 2,173-yard course. The tree-lined fairways and target greens reward shot-makers and deft putters instead. Several elevated greens, water in play on four holes, out of bounds on three, and thick rough provide a challenging nine holes. Pleasantville CC is a private club, but a variety of memberships at reasonable rates are available with no residency requirement.

Pehquenakonck Country Club, North Salem; www.northsalemgolf.com

For a quick nine in northern Westchester, head for the “The Peke,” a fun, short course where par 34 isn’t as easy to achieve as you might think. The 2,012-yard track features some interesting elevation changes and greens with slopes you have to play to believe.

• Other Nine-Hole Options

While you can always play a regulation 18-hole course and quit after the first nine, County Parks Pass holders who tee off before 9 a.m. can save a few bucks and a lot of time when they play the back nine at Dunwoodie, Maple Moor, Mohansic, Saxon Woods and Sprain Lake. Check out the twilight rates at Hudson Hills, too. Pete Dye’s gem, Pound Ridge GC, offers a variety of nine-hole rates for peak and off-peak times.


5. Join a Leauge

Need some new golf buddies? Or another reason to play each week? Golf league play is for you.

Many if not most of the county’s private clubs offer leagues for men, women, and mixed groups, and the Doral Arrowwood offers a Twilight Golf League with a schedule of individual and team events that vary every week.

Last year, the MGA ran a beta test of public-course golf leagues at Hudson Hills and was so encouraged, it will expand the program here, as well as in New Jersey and Long Island, this year. “We had over 35 golfers participate on 6 different teams over an 8-week season,” according to MGA Executive Director Brian Mahoney. “By season’s end, the camaraderie was so strong, many left with a larger network of golfing buddies.”


Above, below: Met Section PGA members help veterans get into golf through PGA Hope.

6. Give Back to Golf

Giving is not just better than receiving, it’s fun, especially when it comes to golf.  Double your fun by playing in one of the hundreds of charity outings in Westchester and get some extra satisfaction from supporting some of the organizations that make a difference through golf.

• A good place to start is the Westchester Golf Association Caddy Scholarship Fund Pro Am, played at Century CC in June. The fund has enabled more than 2,600 young men and women to further their educations with grants totaling $20 million since 1956.

• Want to play Winged Foot GC? One of the best ways to get a tee time is through the Westchester Medical Center’s annual tournament at the club in August. You’ll not only enjoy one of America’s top golf courses, you’ll also contribute to the advancement of healthcare in Westchester.

• You can hobnob with the greats of golf at the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association annual dinner, to be held at the Westchester Marriott in June. This year, the 67th edition of the dinner, features Pádraig Harrington as winner of the organization’s Gold Tee award. Previous recipients include such legends as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player. Proceeds from the dinner are donated to local golf causes that include caddie-scholarship funds.

• A fine way to show your appreciation to our veterans is with a contribution to PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere), an adaptive golf program provided to veterans, free of charge, by Met PGA professionals. Visit metpgahope.com for more info.


7. Pick Up Speed

The most common complaint about golf is that it takes too long. Guess what? The complainers are right. And guess whose fault that is? Mostly yours! Here are seven ways you can do your part to speed up the game.

• You don’t have a PGA Tour card, so throwing one pinch of grass into the air to test the wind is sufficient, as is one look from both sides of that three-foot bogey putt you’re sweating over.

• Practice on the range, not when it’s your turn to hit. Take a swing to stay loose, sure, but six practice swings before you cold-top that three wood is overkill.

• Speaking of “turn to hit,” it’s always your turn to hit unless you’re in match play or your shot will endanger someone in front of you. Play ready golf (including on the green).

• Remember, you can’t play ready golf if you wait until it’s your time to hit to choose your club. Check the distance, wind, slope, and your mental state while the other players are hitting.

• Walk and talk at the same time. Tell your favorite joke while you’re walking down the fairway, not on the tee when everybody in your group should be playing golf, not listening to you.

• Carts often slow down the game. Whenever you can, drop the first player off at his or her ball with a couple of clubs, then drive to yours while they prepare and hit their shot. By the time you hit yours, they’re ready to ride.

• Pick up! When you’re out of the hole and/or over your Equitable Stroke Control maximum, you’re just prolonging the agony if you insist on putting out for that eleven.

Here’s a quick rule of thumb about pace of play: Keep up with the group ahead of you, not the one behind you, on the course.


8. Give Your Clubs a Rest

If you’re looking to expand your sports repertoire, Westchester’s country clubs have some great ideas.

What may be the hottest sport in America came to Hampshire CC in Mamaroneck recently. It’s pickleball, a fun game played on a badminton-sized court with a modified tennis net and a Wiffle-type ball that lives up to its goofy name. The club introduced pickleball in 2016 and participation has boomed, according to the club’s head tennis professional, Marcelo Graca.

“We have our tennis pros explain the game and demonstrate it through an exhibition match,” Graca says. “It’s a fun sport, which combines tennis, badminton, and ping-pong.” Hampshire recently built a new tennis pavilion with courtside patio to go with its seven Har-Tru tennis courts.

Although pickleball isn’t on the menu (yet) at Westchester CC, “tennis is booming right now, and paddle tennis is on a huge upswing,” according to DJ Geatz, tennis director at the Rye club. Although both sexes play both sports, he says, women tend to gravitate to tennis while men lean toward paddle tennis. “Golfers will play paddle tennis in the winter. It’s a fun challenge, and the leagues are organized, so you get to see your friends from other clubs.”

Westchester CC maintains five pristine grass tennis courts in addition to 15 Har-Tru clay courts. Play is available on indoor courts throughout the year. Paddle tennis is played on five newly renovated courts, while squash players use six singles courts and a doubles court at the club.

There are plenty of other fun activities at Westchester’s clubs. Knollwood CC offers well-maintained and popular bocce ball courts; Sleepy Hollow CC has stables and equestrian programs operated by Sage Hill Farm, as well as a shooting range; and Wykagyl CC has a four-lane bowling alley.

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