The Stymies Putting Game Explained

Want to have some fun — and put some money on the line — before or after your round of golf? The putting game called Stymies, played on the practice putting green, might fit the bill.

Before we explain how to play the game, let's remind everyone what "stymies" were in golf. Until the early 1950s, in match play only, when an opponent's golf ball came to rest between your ball and the hole, that impeding ball was not lifted unless it was within six inches of the cup. Sure, it was in your way — your putting line was completely blocked by that other ball — but you were just out of luck. Deal with it. That was a stymie. Your path to the hole was stymied by your opponent's ball. (In 1952, stymies were eliminated from the rules and impeding balls in match play, just as in stroke play, started being marked-and-lifted.)

So that was the stymie rule. This is the Stymies putting game:

  • Members of your group assemble on the practice putting green. If you are playing Stymies after completing the round, use your order of finish in the round to determine order of play for Stymies. Otherwise, determine order randomly.

  • The golfer who putts first decides what hole to play. He or she attempts the putt. Then each golfer in turns attempts their putts.

  • Here's the catch in Stymies: No balls are lifted, and if you hit another golf ball, you add a stroke penalty to your total.

  • Each golfer holes out and counts his or her strokes. From this point, use honors to determine order of play. The golfer who goes first on each successive hole chooses which hole to putt at.

  • At the end of the game (nine holes? eighteen? probably depends, in part, on how busy the practice green is), tally up strokes. You can bet it either by each adding the same amount into the pot, with the winner taking all; or by giving each stroke a monetary value, and paying out the differences at the end.
So, really, Stymies is just a regular putting content with low strokes winning, but with this catch: no balls are lifted, meaning your path to the hole will regularly be blocked by intervening balls, especially if you aren't the one putting first. And you get a stroke penalty if you hit another ball, meaning there will be times you won't even be putting directly at the hole — you'll have to go out to the side to miss an intervening ball (or try to hook or slice a putt around).

In the cases when you can't go directly at the hole, you might try to position your ball in the way of someone else's ball. If you can't putt at the hole, might as well try to prevent someone else from putting at the hole, too. Low strokes wins, after all, and you might be able to drive up others' strokes totals by laying stymies. (Sinking your own putt, if you can, is obviously always the best choice.)

Back in the days when stymies were part of the rules of match play, a stymied golfer sometimes popped or chipped his ball over the intervening ball. Can you try this in the Stymies putting game? If you are playing the game on someone's backyard putting green, or any green with a synthetic surface, sure. But not on a grass-surface putting green at a golf facility. Never risk damage to the putting surface just to play a betting game.

The Stymies putting game is more manageable with fewer golfers. The more golfers who play, the more chaotic (and, some would say, fun) it becomes. But always be courteous to other golfers on the practice green. A crowded practice green is not the place to try an 8-man, for example, version of Stymies.

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