How to Play the Zookeeper Golf Game

Are you an animal lover? The golf game called Zookeeper (also known as Zoo, Animals or "the animal game") might make you question just how much you love those cuddly and not-so-cuddly critters. Because in this game "winning" an animal is a bad thing.

In Zookeeper, an animal is "awarded" to a player who hits a bad stroke, with specific animals "awarded" for specific outcomes. For example, a golfer who hits into the water adds a frog to his zoo. A golfer who three-putts puts a snake in her zoo. (A list of animals/shots will follow.)

And at the end of the round, you are going to owe each other golfer in your group the agreed-upon value of each animal in your zoo. If your group values each animal at $1 and you finish the round with three animals in your zoo, you owe each other golfer in your group $3.

But adding an animal to your zoo doesn't mean it stays there. Only one golfer can own each animal at a time. If you "earn" the frog by hitting into water on the first hole, and then another golfer in the group hits into water on the second hole, the frog passes from your zoo to his. It's how many (and sometimes which) animals are in your zoo at the end that determines wagering outcomes.

Errant Shots and Animals in Zookeeper

Groups who regularly play Zookeeper probably have their own, custom set of poor shots and the animals representing those shots. Your group can add or subtract as you wish. But these animals, and what they represent, are commonly used:
  • Frog: Hitting a ball into water
  • Alligator: Hitting consecutive shots into the same water
  • Camel: Hitting into a bunker
  • Bactrian camel (two humps): Failing to get out of a bunker, or hitting from one bunker into another
  • Snake: 3-putting
  • Anaconda: 4-putting
  • Jackass: Missing a birdie putt that is shorter than the length of the flagstick
  • Woodpecker or squirrel: Hitting a tree (including leaves)
  • Skunk: Hitting a ball out of bounds
  • Chimpanzee: Losing a ball
  • Elephant: Needing to take a drop
  • Worm: Topping a shot or otherwise hitting a ball that barely gets off the ground
  • Rat: Hitting a ball into a waste area
  • Bat: Playing a wrong ball
  • Beaver: Failing to get drive past the forward tees
  • Ostrich: Whiffing (missing the golf ball)
  • Centipede or gopher: Putting a ball off the green
  • Owl: Ball is stuck in a tree or cactus
  • Turtle: Hitting a golf cart (yours or another) with a shot
  • Termite: Hitting a house
  • Dolphin: Ball gets across water but only because it skipped across
  • Possum or armadillo: Hitting a ball onto a road or street
  • Kangaroo: A double-hit (hitting the ball twice in the same swing)

Variations for Zookeeper

Again, your group can add (or subtract) any shots/animals you wish.

One rule that is generally included is that a golfer can "earn" only one animal per stroke. Imagine a shot that is badly topped (worm) and rolls into the water (frog). That golfer gets either the worm or frog for her zoo, not both. Which one? If one of them is not already in someone else's zoo, that's the one you get. Otherwise, it is usually up to the golfer who played the stroke to decide which one to take.

Another typically included rule: If you hole a shot from off the green, you get to relieve yourself of one of your animals. This is called "going to the vet." (But if you hole-out from off the green and don't have any animals yet, you just lose the option. You can't save it for later.)

Finally, your group doesn't have to make all animals worth the same amount. Bads shots/outcomes that aren't uncommon (e.g., 3-putting, hitting into water, hitting a tree) can be worth a base amount, while much rarer mistakes (e.g., double hitting, hitting a house) could be give greater values. Most commonly, though, all animals carry the same dollar or point value.

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