The Flag Game – a different kind of golf wager

The Flag Game is a fun golf game that’s perfect for a large group with disparate talent levels, so long as everyone keeps an honest handicap index. It’s the golf version of last man standing, kind of an inversion of the more traditional quota golf games.

The Flag Game is an interesting twist on standard stroke play for guys of disparate skill levels.

It’s a game that I first encountered in one of our local Men’s Association events, and has since become an easy favorite for my golf trip guys. It is a simple game to keep the score for, and relatively stress free until about the 14th or 15th hole. My golf trip group uses it to determine how we will divide up into teams for the rest of the trip, based on how people finish in the Flag Game within their flight.

The Flag Game works like this: each player receives a flag with their number written on it. The number is the sum of par for the course and that player’s course handicap. Each player’s number is how many strokes they get to use to get as far down the course as they can, and their flag is planted wherever their final allotted stroke comes to rest.

One of my favorite golf flags, from Lynch Country Club.

Whoever plants their flag the furthest from the starting point wins. It’s an fun game to gamble on because the wager can be as simple as everyone kicking a few dollars into a prize pool with predetermined payouts for the top finishers, or, for the more daring degenerates, players can bet on or against one another in the ultimate order of finish or relative to their allotted numbers.

I have played in flag events where no one reached the 18th green on a particularly difficult day, where multiple players’ days ended in the 17th hole cup, and I’ve even seen league events where the matter wasn’t settled until the 20th hole of competition.

In theory, if a player plays to their exact course handicap, they would run out of strokes as they holed their putt on the 18th green, though, as you may well be aware, most people rarely play to their exact handicap on any given day.

In my experience, it’s a great game for a group with disparate golf skills and indexes, assuming the indexes are legitimate, meaning the sandbaggers and vanity indexes have been eliminated from contention. Within our nine-person group, with handicap indexes spanning from 4 to 38, we’ve had single digits, low double-digits, and a 34 handicap finish in the top three each year.

At Pinehurst No. 1, I came within one shot of planting my flag in the 18th hole cup.

It’s always fun for the trail groups once they reach about the middle of the back nine, as the anticipation builds for when they will discover their first planted flag. In that way, there’s an Easter egg hunt quality to the game, especially for larger groups.

It’s not terribly sophisticated, but the Flag Game is a simple challenge to add a little fun to any group, especially if the group is on the clock to get to the pub or tee times for the day’s second round.

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