Stroke Bank: A Refinement

Last night, we tried to reserve a tee time for today at the Links at Union Vale, but the course was fully booked into the afternoon—a February Wednesday in New England as busy as a summer Saturday. So we went back to Tunxis Plantation, which was still first-come-first-served. We teed off a little after 9:00, and again played Stroke Bank/Second Ball Decides—see earlier post—and thought of a further improvement: Stroke Deposits.

Let’s say you make a 4 and your partner makes a 5 on a par-four, while your opponents both slice their drives out of bounds and end up with 7s. You and your partner have the low gross score on the hole, so you have to commit first. If you keep your 4 and 5, your opponents, if they wish to halve the hole, will need to use a lot of strokes. In fact, one of them will have to use three strokes (to turn his 7 into a 4, tying your par) and the other will have to use two strokes (to turn his 7 into a 5, tying your partner’s bogey). Alternatively, your opponents could choose to win the hole outright—if either of them is able and willing to spend four strokes (to turn his 7 into a 3, thereby beating your 4, which is your team’s better ball).

If you don’t think they’re likely to do those things, or if you don’t care whether they do—maybe because you’re ahead in the match, or because they’re running out of strokes with hard holes still to play—you or your partner can choose to bank some or all of your surplus. For example, you yourself could deposit as many as three strokes, turning your 4 into a 7. Now your opponents can halve the hole if one of them spends just two strokes, turning his 7 into a 5 (thereby tying the other ball as well). But you’d have increased your stroke-bank balance by three, a trade-off that might be advantageous for you on the holes ahead.

This game, in practice, is nowhere near as complicated as it probably sounds. But there’s lots of psychological intrigue, and the four of us had many long, whispered strategy discussions as we walked from green to tee. Hacker (real name) and I lost three ways to Rick and our superintendent, but the match, as somehow always happens, came down to the final putt. And when we walked off the eighteenth green the sun was shining, and the Weather Underground app on my phone said the temperature was 56 degrees. We stopped at a barbecue place for lunch on the way home, and we’re all going to play again on Sunday.

These guys were warming up on the range at Tunxis when we finished.

February Golf, Continued

Tunxis Plantation yesterday. We had some rain and snow a little later, but nothing golf-threatening.

Last week, Hacker (real name) and I had to travel an hour west to find an open golf course; yesterday, we had to travel an hour east, to Tunxis Plantation, in Farmington, Connecticut. We were joined by Mike A., whose company makes boxes, and by our home-course superintendent, who was taking a day off from cutting down trees.

We played Stroke Bank again (see yesterday’s post)—this time with two two-man teams. We combined it with our favorite version of two-man best ball, which is called Second Ball Decides. (If my partner makes a 3 and I make a 5 on a hole, and our opponents make a 3 and a 4, our opponents win the hole because, even though the better balls tied—3 and 3—their worse ball [4] was better than our worse ball [my 5]. The first ball was a tie, so we let the second ball decide.)

On one hole late in the match, my partner (our superintendent) used one of his strokes to force Hacker and Mike A. to spend three of theirs. Nevertheless, we lost both the back and the overall on the seventeenth—although we did win a consolation press on the final hole.

New Game: Stroke Bank

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.