What Is a Skins Game In Golf?

We explain how a Skins game works in golf and why it can be such a fun format to play.

What Is A Skins Game
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

The established golfing formats of strokeplay and match play will always be the go-to for competitive golf events and most casual games we play will be completed using either stroke play, Stableford or Match Play.

But there are some other excellent formats out there to try and one of the most entertaining is the Skins game.

What is a Skins Game?

Normally played when you have either a three or fourball, each hole is worth one “skin.” That skin is often allocated a monetary value. If a player wins the first hole outright (full handicap is applied) they get the skin. If nobody wins outright, the skin is carried over and the next hole is worth two skins. This continues until someone wins a hole outright. When that happens, the next hole will be worth one skin again. The player with the most skins at the end of the round is the winner.

The pressure builds

Skins Game Format

Skins is a great format to play with your mates at the club

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Quite often, at least two players in the group will tie the hole and the skins will build up. The game favours the bold player who might be prepared to take on a shot or make an aggressive putt at a key moment to pick up a healthy number of skins in one fell swoop. If players tied the first nine holes and then one player manages a birdie at the 10th hole, they will pick up 10 skins and will be untouchable in the overall game – only eight skins will be left to be won.

Consistency doesn’t always win

Skins Game Format

Aggressive play is often the way in Skins

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

You can also find someone can pop out of the blue to pick up a bundle of skins and win the game unexpectedly. One could play poorly all the way and be out of every hole before bagging an unexpected birdie at the death and picking up enough skins to surpass the other competitors.

Other versions

There’s “Back It Up Skins,” where instead of pocketing the prize, you can "back it up".

If you do that, the next Skin is worth double if you win it, whilst the Skin you had won but laid on the next hole, is also worth double if you win it. If another player wins the hole, they just win the original value of the two holes.

In simple terms, if John wins the first hole with a cash value of £1 and decides to back it up, then they would be playing for Skins worth £2 each on hole two. If John wins again, he gets £4.

However, if Mark wins the second hole, they get two Skins worth £1 each and John gets nothing because he lost the Skin he won on the first hole. If there is no outright winner of hole two, each Skin gets moved forward to the third hole at its original value.

Skins in pro golf

Skins Game Format

Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, John Daly and Freddie Couples at the 1996 Skins Game at Rancho La Quinta Country Club in La Quinta, California.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Professionals will often play Skins away from the main circuit, a way to sharpen their games against one another. From 1983 to 2008, The Skins Game was an unofficial money event on the PGA Tour which took place in either November or December each year at the end of the official PGA Tour season.

An example of how the Skins were valued at the 2008 event looked like this - The total prize money was $1million, with $25,000 on each of holes 1-6; $50,000 for holes 7-12; $70,000 for hole 13-17 and $200,000 on the final hole.

Fred Couples was the main man in the Skins game, he won the event five times and pocketed over $4 million in 11 starts.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?

With contributions from