Golfer hitting shot

How is a Skins Game played in Golf?

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How did the Skins Game originate?

The USGA attempt to offer a line on the origin of the Skins Game, but we wanted to go a few steps further. According to Collins Dictionary, a “Skin Game” has its origins in the 1800s and is defined as “A swindling, cheating trick”. Digging a little deeper into the depths of the internet history, a few earlier references emerged, with the earliest being 1790, according to WordWizard:

  • 1790 - Back then, “skin” was a slang term used by criminals for someone’s wallet and the act of skinning was removing said person’s wallet.
  • 1812 - To strip a man of all his money at play, is termed skinning him.
  • 1812 - To clean out (a person) at play [gaming]. But where here a person is being ‘stripped’ of their money or fleeced.
  • 1819 - Often implying depriving someone of all their money by unfair methods; from the notion of removing the skin.

Is it a leap of faith to suggest that the game of Skins Golf originates from any of these terms? We don’t particularly think so. Here’s our simple logic:

  • Modern Game of golf started in the 15th century
  • In the late 1700s, criminals used the slang word “skin” to represent a person’s wallet.
  • In the early 1800s, the term “skinning” someone referred to winning all of a person’s money in a game.
  • So our educated guess is that a modified form of the Skins Game originated in the early-mid 1800s.

How is a Skins Game played?

Players will decide how much each “Skin” is worth before the round starts. This is usually a nominal amount of money, but we also like to play it for beers after the round as well. Each hole is worth 1 Skin. If a hole is tied, the Skin will carry on to the next hole and will be worth two Skins. Here, all players can play for those carried over Skins, regardless of their score on the previous hole.

If tied again, the next hole will be worth three Skins and so on. If the 18th hole is tied, players can either playoff for the final Skin, have a quick putting contest or finish that hole tied (no Skins to any player). If you had a standard fourball and each Skin was worth £2, the breakdown would be as follows:

  • Player A: 7 Skins (£42 won, £22 paid = £20 profit)
  • Player B: 5 Skins (£30, £26 paid = £4 profit)
  • Player C: 3 Skins (£18, £30 paid = £12 loss)
  • Player D: 3 Skins (£18, £30 paid = £12 loss)
Tiger woods playing skins game in golf

Who were the first professionals to play a Skins Game?

In 1983, the big four played the first professional Skins Game in Scottsdale, Arizona at the Desert Highlands course. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson were all involved. Golf Digest have a great article looking at 11 things you might have missed from that famous day here.

Arnie sank a putt to win $100,000 on the 12th hole. That figure was over twice the amount that he had won in any tournament before that. One hole with twice the prize money than a four round, 72-hole tournament.

It didn’t stop there, with Gary Player making $150,000 on the 17th hole. Gary Player made just $21,000 on the PGA Tour that year, Arnie $17,000. Hal Sutton was the money leader that year with $427,000 earned. So yes, it took Gary Player one hole to earn 35% of the money the leading player earned on tour in 1983. To put that in context, in modern day golf money, that’s $4.2m of the $12m earned by Jordan Spieth in 2015.

Golf glove with casino design

Are Skins Games still played today?

While the popularity in the professional game has waned due to burgeoning purses, we have still seen an informal return to the Skins Game in recent years, with the most recent example being the TaylorMade Driving Relief Skins Match here. That featured Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Matthew Wolff and Rickie Fowler and was set-up in an effort to raise funds for various charity organisations during COVID-19.

In 2019, the popularity of the game exploded in Japan, when “The Challenge” featured Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy (again), in addition to Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day. A welcome break from the standard tour event, it featured players wearing microphones which captured player-caddie conversations, in addition to some playful smack talk between the two groups.

Rory McIlroy raises arms in celebration playing skins game

How do Skins Games progress from here?

The Skins game is still just as popular in amateur circles. Just pop down to your local club on the weekend and you will usually hear the regulars going back out for a few money holes after their round. In the professional ranks, we don’t see the standard format making a return to the PGA Tour schedule any time soon.

One format we would love to see, perhaps after the regular season, would be a money game using a percentage of tournament earnings from that year. Think of the likes of Phil Mickelson, a renowned money player, playing for a portion of his winnings that year. Pride and ego would trump any money that was on the line. But pitting the best against each other with something at stake would be something we would be very keen to see.

Conclusion

We love to see competition of any kind. Whether it's competing for money or pride, it adds that extra element of spice to a round. We love to see our Skins Golf gloves involved in any Skins Game, as it adds that bit of fun with people showing off their character and their style. Try it out today!

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