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Golf Games Explained

How to play 'Snake': A basic guide to golf's most toxic putting game


Douglas P. DeFelice

Golf Games Explained is exactly what it sounds like. You want to mix it up and try something new for once? Well, someone has to do the thankless work of playing different golf formats and telling you if it's worth it. You can thank me later.

While there is no doubt that games like Wolf, Vegas and Skins get the competitive juices flowing, for true sickos, sometimes it feels like there's just not enough action happening. This is especially true if one player, or one team, is dominating play. There's nothing worse than the feeling of having nothing left to play for with a lot of holes remaining.

That's when you have to create little games within the games. Side action, if you will. One of the easiest side-action games to learn and implement into just about any golf round is a game called "Snake," which can be as fun as it is toxic depending on who is struggling with their putting the most. The best part? It's easy to keep track of even when you've got another, more serious game happening.

Number of players required: You could play the game with only two players, but it's most fun with at least three players. Four is ideal.

Best for: Great lag putters. Groups who don't take gimmes. Players who won't be sour grapes over missing a three-footer. Dads People who use the phrase "drive for show, putt for dough." Golfers who love side action. Folks who like to commit the sin of rooting for opponents to fail on the golf course.

How to play: Snake is simple. The idea is to not three-putt, or, more importantly, to not be the last player to three-putt in the round. Let's say you have four players in the group - first order of business is to decide on a monetary amount that goes into the pot for each three-putt in the group. For the sake of this post, we'll say $2. If Player A three-putts the first green and nobody else does, $2 goes into the pot and Player A now owns "the snake." An easy way to keep track of who owns the snake is to use a poker chip or some other sort of token that you keep until the next player three-putts. If Player B three-putts the second green, there is now $4 in the pot and Player B would now own the snake until someone else three-putts. That three-footer you normally scoop up? Yeah, you have to putt that one out, bud. Hit two balls O.B. and want to "be in the pocket" and say "I'll just take a six." No, no, no sir. You've got to find a way to finish the hole like the rest of us.

One key thing to note is that, just like in professional golf, putts from the fringe or just off the green do not count as official putts. So if your approach is just off the green, you should actually be thrilled if you're playing snake. Lag that one up to 10-15 feet and you can two-putt from there and still avoid the dreaded snake.

Now, let's fast forward to the 18th green, and let's say that Player C was the last to three-putt on the 16th green and it was the 10th three-putt for the group on the day. There is now $20 in the total pot (10x$2). If no one three-putts on the 18th green, Player C loses the game and has to spread out that $20 amongst the other three players. Or, let's say Player C, who was away on the 18th green, three-putts, adding $2 more to the pot. Player A and B putt out and do not three putt, but Player D three-putts afterward, too. Player D would be the loser even though Player C three-putted as well, because it's whoever did it last. To keep it fair, the player who is farthest from the hole (AKA "away") should always be the one putting. Don't try to cheat your way into the hole earlier. One more note: if you're playing at a public course, try not to hold up the groups behind you too much.

As you can see, Snake can certainly create a tense and sometimes downright toxic environment. Even the best putter of the group can not three-putt all day and then hit their approach to 60 feet on the massive 18th green and three-jack one to lose at the worst possible time while the lesser putters snicker in the corner. Totally not something that happened to me once.

Variations: The most common variation of Snake is that instead of just adding the same amount to the pot for each three-putt, the monetary value doubles for each three-putt. This can get expensive, but if you are playing with good players who don't three-putt often, there may only be $2-4 in the pot by day's end. By doubling the amount after each three-putt, five total three putts from the group changes the pot from $10 to $32. Big difference.