The Happiness Issue: Happy GamesAugust 1, 2015

Goat Hills Rules

Take a page out of Dan Jenkins' book

We call them Goat Hills Rules, but what they really are is a ticket to freedom from the confining formats most of us play out of habit. We created these rules--stole them, actually--from our resident legend and literary genius, Dan Jenkins, who set them forth in his classic books, The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate and Dead Solid Perfect. Goat Hills was the nickname for the woolly muny Dan and his pals played as youths in Fort Worth. The games they played were silly, daring and outrageous, and we find them as much fun to play now as Dan claims they were then. They're not always an easy sell to straight-laced friends. But try a few of these Goat Hills Rules once, and we assure you'll come back for more.

Play gangsomes. We're talking a six-, seven- or eight-player swatfest, players enlisted from the grillroom or adjoining fairways, everyone hitting when ready with side bets, taunts and jeers flying. Best to play when the course is wide open and the club president's eyes are closed. It's the antithesis of every weekend game you've ever played.

Play with one club. Most players find a 6-iron the most effective choice. Anything less and you might spend a full afternoon trying to escape a steep-lipped bunker; anything more and you won't reach most of the par 3s and par 4s in regulation. Variations on the one-club theme: Require that every shot inside 100 yards be hit left-handed. Or cross-handed, or by standing on one foot. Or with eyes closed.

Play cross-country. In Dead Solid Perfect, the maniac characters played down city streets, one guy taking out the windshield of a Plymouth. Another quit because he got chased by a dog. Their objective: a loafer in a closet. We recommend the newly initiated to stay on the course. Play from the first tee to the fourth green, then to the ball washer by the eighth tee, then back to the flagpole by the practice green. Invent as you go along. Players will choose different routes, creating bizarre scenarios in which you're out of earshot from one another. You won't find out what your opponent lies until you close ranks near the target.

One throw, free, from anywhere. A handy and diabolical tool, one that Dan adopted when he resumed playing golf in 1989 after a long layoff. The throw is especially useful from the gunch, a bunker or edge of a hazard. Choose judiciously, and watch wallets fatten and hearts break. You can also try free kicks.

Wait for horrible weather, then pounce. Dan described playing through hailstorms, floods, lightning and even tornadoes. What do you expect from a member of the greatest generation? And if you don't like hitting off snow? Just decree that every shot can be teed.