What Is A Sandbagger In Golf?

A sandbagger is a close relation to the bandit or pothunter so likely to be extremely unpopular with other golfers, as we explain...

Sandbagger - a very high Stableford scorecard
Very good scores in golf are sometimes, though certainly not always, down to 'sandbagging'
(Image credit: Future)

What Is A Sandbagger In Golf?

Let’s cut straight to the chase – a sandbagger is effectively a golfing cheat, but someone who does it via the slightly less obvious means of protecting and manipulating their golf handicap to keep it artificially high, rather than via golf’s more overt forms of cheating, such as kicking your ball into a better lie or making 6 and writing down 5.

‘Sandbagger’ was originally a term used to describe the 19th-century street gang members whose weapon of choice was a small bag or sock filled with heavy sand with which they would set about their victims. Just as you'd know all about if you fell victim to a 19th-century sandbagger, so too will you know all about if you fall victim to a modern-day golfing sandbagger, who might also go by the closely related names of ‘bandit’ or ‘pothunter’ in golfing circles.

Sandbagger - golf trophies

The sandbagger has his or her eyes very much on the biggest prizes

(Image credit: Getty Images)

So, how does a sandbagger go about his or her nefarious business and why? The sandbagger’s goal is to walk off with the biggest trophies or prizes, or to win the golf days that are most important to them, by playing off a handicap that is way too high for their actual or current golfing ability. In many ways, it’s even easier to be a sandbagger now under the World Handicap System, where we are encouraged to put in cards whenever we play rather than just in competitions.

In less important events, or now even just social rounds with their mates, they will not play to the best of their ability and sometimes even deliberately throw shots away to ensure their handicap either remains high or edges even higher than it should be. Then, when it really matters to them, they pounce. Suddenly on the biggest days of the year they turn in scores that defy belief to the other competitors, but of course come as no great surprise to the sandbagger him- or herself as they have engineered things such that the handicap they play off that day is way too high for their current ability. They score 46 points off 16 because, really, they’re more like an 8-handicapper!

How many sandbaggers are there out there and how often does it happen? It’s hard to say, but what we can say for sure is that we once played with a gentleman in a competition who played exceptionally well for nine holes and was well below his handicap. On the 10th tee, he suddenly announced, “Right, I’m going to have to start dropping a few shots coming home as it’s the Senior Club Championship next week and I don’t want a big handicap cut before that.” The classic and, in this instance, brazen sandbagger!





Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response