My friends and I have invented many golf games over the years: Perfect Skins, Boss, Election Day Special, Fathers and Sons, Shoot Your Pants, many others. (I’ll explain them all eventually.) Last week, at the Links at Union Vale, Hacker (real name) and I came up a new one, which we named Stroke Bank. It’s easiest to keep track of with two golfers, but if you don’t mind slightly complex on-course accounting you can play it with more. And it works extremely well in combination with two-man best ball, in which two players play a match against the other two players in the same foursome.
In Stroke Bank, each player begins the round with a bank account containing his full course handicap—six strokes in my case, sixteen in Hacker’s. And each player is allowed to spend those strokes in any way he wishes, in any quantity, on any hole, until his account is empty. On our first hole, for example, I made a par and Hacker made a bogey. Ordinarily, that would have been a win for me, but Hacker used one of his strokes to turn his five into a four, and we went to the second tee all square. Hacker’s bank account was one stroke lighter than it had been when our round started, but he figured that staying even was worth the cost. And if he’d wanted to he could have spent two strokes and gone one-up.
To keep every hole from turning into a bidding war, the player with the lower gross score on the hole has to commit first and there are no second chances. On the first hole, I was the low man. I said I would keep my par, and after Hacker had spent a stroke to turn my win into a half I couldn’t change my mind and spend a stroke to convert my par a birdie. (If both players shoot the same gross score on a hole, the order is determined by honors, as on the tee.)
Why would I even have considered spending a stroke to improve my score on a hole I’d already “won”? I might have done it to prevent Hacker from doing what he did, or to make him think twice. In fact, late in the round, I used one of my two remaining strokes to turn a natural birdie into a net eagle, even though Hacker had made a bogey on the same hole. I did it because I figured that, although he might be willing to spend two of his remaining three strokes to secure a half, he was unlikely to spend all three.
This feature turns Stroke Bank into a bluffing game, like Texas Hold ‘em. When your opponent has to commit first, you want him to think that if he doesn’t act preemptively you might do something drastic. And you have to keep an eye on your account balance. You shouldn’t be a spendthrift, squandering all your strokes early in the match, but you also have to remember that you won’t be able to spend leftover strokes in the bar.