Thanks to the many people who have contributed information about various versions of this game.
- Four Card Golf
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Golf is a card game for two or more players, in which the object is to score as little as possible, as in the sport of Golf. In front of each player is a layout of cards arranged in a square or rectangle, and players improve their scores by drawing new cards to replace unwanted cards, which they discard. Each deal is seen as the equivalent of a hole of Golf, and in many versions a complete game consists of 9 or 18 deals, corresponding to the length of a Golf course.
Although the card game Golf is quite widespread in North America, Britain, and perhaps other English speaking countries, it is seldom found in card game books. Golf is also sometimes known as Polish Polka or Polish Poker; the 4-card game is known by some players as Turtle, the 6-card game as Hara Kiri, and the 9-card game as Crazy Nines. The game of Golf described on this page has no connection with the Solitaire (Patience) game of the same name.
Each player has a layout of cards, initially face down, which can be successively replaced by new cards drawn from the stock or discard pile. The aim is to make a layout scoring as little as possible. The scores at the end of the play are sometimes considered as representing the number of strokes taken to play a hole of golf. It is common to play a series of nine deals or 'holes', at the end of which the player with the lowest total score wins.
There are two main forms of the game, which I shall call 4-card Golf and 6-card Golf, according to the number of cards in each player's layout. There are also 8-card, 9-card and 10-card forms of Golf, but these seem to be less widespread.
A major difference between versions of Golf is in the method of ending the play.
- The first method, used most often in 4-card Golf, is that if you think you have the lowest score you can use your turn to knock instead of drawing to replace one of your cards. This causes the play to end after each of the other players has taken one more turn.
- The second method, most often used with the 6-card and larger layouts, is that whenever a layout card is replaced, the new card is placed face up. The play ends as soon as any player's entire layout is face up.
A standard 52-card pack is used, and the number of players could in theory be from two to around eight or more, though the game is said to be best for about four. With a large number of players, say eight or more, two packs may be shuffled together. The deal and play are clockwise.
The dealer deals four cards to each player, one at a time. Each player's cards are to be arranged face down in a square. The remaining undealt cards are placed face-down in the centre of the table to form a drawing stock. The top card of the stock is turned face up and placed beside the stock to start the discard pile. Before play begins, each player may look once at the two nearest cards of his or her square layout, without showing them to anyone else. After this, the layout cards may not be looked at again until they are discarded during play or scored at the end of the play.
The player to the dealer's left begins, and the turn to play passes clockwise. At your turn you must either draw the top card of the face-down stock, or draw the top discard, or knock to cause the play to end.
- If you draw a card, you may use it to replace one of the four cards of your layout, but you are not allowed to look at any of your layout cards before deciding which to replace. You place the drawn card face-down in your layout, being careful to remember what it is, and discard the card that previously occupied that position, putting it face-up on top of the discard pile. It is then the next player's turn.
- If you draw a card from the stock and decide that you do not want to use it in your layout, you may simply discard the drawn card face up on the discard pile, and it is then the next player's turn. However, if you choose to take the discard, you must use it to replace one of your layout cards - you cannot simply put it back on the discard pile, leaving the situation as it was.
- If you knock, you do nothing else in your turn. Each of the other players in order has one more normal turn (in which they draw a card from the stock or discard pile but cannot knock) and then the play ends.
Note that if you look at any face down card in your layout, that card must be discarded replaced with the card you drew. There is no way to check the value of a face down card and leave it in place.
At the end of the play, each player's square of four cards is turned face-up and scored as follows.
- Each numeral card scores face value (Ace=1, Two=2, etc.)
- Each Jack or Queen scores 10 points.
- Each King scores zero points.
The player who has the lowest cumulative score after nine deals wins.
Looking at cards
Some play that you may choose any two of your cards to look at before play begins - not necessarily the two cards nearest to you. Some play that you may only look at one of your four cards at the start.
Some play that you may look at any of your four cards during the play, at a cost of 1 point for each occasion when you look at a card, added to your score at the end of the hand.
Some play that you may look at the two cards you saw at the beginning, or their replacements in your layout, as often as you like during the game. Some play that you hold these two cards in your hand, so that you (but not the other players) can see them at any time. Some even play that you hold all four cards in your hand, so eliminating both the need to remember any cards, and removing the uncertainty about your two unseen cards.
Some play that the two cards that you did not look at to begin with can be replaced only once. The two cards that you see at the start can be replaced as often as you wish.
Turning cards face up; ending the play
This variation is characteristic of Golf with six or more cards, but is sometimes played in four-card Golf. Whenever a card is replaced, the new card is placed face up in the layout. When all the cards belonging to one player are face up, the play will end after each of the other players has had one more turn.
Some play that all four cards begin face down and a card that is face up cannot be replaced. If you replace a face down card, the replacement card is placed face up. If you draw a card from the stock and discard it, you must turn one of the cards of your layout face up, and this card cannot subsequently be replaced. The result is that on every turn, one more card of your layout is exposed. The game ends when all players have exposed all of their cards.
Alternative methods of scoring the cards
Some play that if your layout contains a pair of equal cards (such as two nines), the score for that pair of cards is zero. If there are three equal cards, only two of them are cancelled in this way; if all four cards are equal the whole layout scores zero. Some play that pairs score zero only if the cards are together in a row or column; equal cards that are in diagonally opposite corners do not cancel.
In some variations, queens are given a higher score of 12, 13 or even 20 points instead of 10; in one variation the spade queen scores 40 points while the others score 10; in this same variation eights score zero.
Some play that one-eyed jacks are wild - they can be paired with any card, making the pair score zero.
Some play that jacks score zero, like kings. Others play that jacks score zero, queens 12 and kings 13.
Some play that jacks score 20 points, and that when a jack is discarded the next player misses a turn - the turn to play skips to the following player.
Some add two jokers to the deck; the score for a joker is minus 5, so the total score for a layout can be negative.
Special score for the knocker
Some play that a player who knocks but turns out not to have the lowest score is penalised. There are several alternative versions of this, played by different groups:
- The knocker adds a penalty of 10 points.
- The knocker's score for the hand is doubled and 5 points added.
- The knocker takes a score equal to the highest scoring player for that hand.
If the knocker's score is lowest, some players give the knocker the benefit of a reduced score.
- Some play that the knocker scores zero if lowest.
- According to others the knocker's score is reduced by the number of players if lowest and doubled otherwise - for example in a four-player game a player knocks with 3 points, and scores -1 point (3 - 4) if this is lowest, but 6 points (2 x 3) otherwise.
Some play with a pot to which all contribute equally at the start. The knocker collects this pot if his score is lowest and doubles it otherwise. To prevent such payments becoming too large, it may be wise to agree a maximum amount that can be won from or paid to the pot.
End of the game
If you want a longer game you can play 18 holes (deals) instead of 9.
Instead of playing a fixed number of holes, you can agree to play until one player's score reaches or exceeds 100 (or other target agreed in advance). The player with the lowest score then wins.
In this version, a pair of equal cards in a column scores zero. Therefore the main object of the game is to make pairs, while keeping unpaired cards as low as possible.
Two, three or four players use a standard 52-card pack. With more than four players, a second pack is added, and a third pack if there are more than eight. The deal and play are clockwise.
The dealer deals six cards to each player, one at a time, arranging them face down in a rectangle in front of each player like this:
The remaining undealt cards are placed face-down in the centre of the table to form a drawing stock. The top card of the stock is turned face up and placed beside the stock to start the discard pile. Before play begins, each player turns any two of the cards in his layout face up. The other layout cards may not be looked at until they are discarded or turned up in the course of the play, or scored at the end of the play.
The player to the dealer's left begins, and the turn to play passes clockwise. At your turn you must either draw the top card of the face-down stock, or draw the top discard. You may use the card you draw to replace any one of the six cards of your layout, but if you choose to replace a face-down card you are not allowed to look at it before deciding to replace it. You place the new card face-up in your layout, and the card that previously occupied that position is placed face-up on top of the discard pile. It is then the next player's turn.
If you draw a card from the face-down card from the stock, you may decide that you do not want it anywhere in your layout. In that case you simply discard the drawn card face-up on the discard pile, and it is the next player's turn. It is, however, illegal to draw the top card of the discard pile and discard the same card again, leaving the situation unchanged: if you choose to take the discard, you must use it to replace one of your layout cards.
The play ends as soon as the last of a player's six cards is face up. The hand is then scored.
At the end of the play, each player's layout of six cards is turned face-up and scored as follows.
- Each ace counts 1 point.
- Each two counts minus two points.
- Each numeral card from 3 to 10 scores face value.
- Each Jack or Queen scores 10 points.
- Each King scores zero points.
- A pair of equal cards in the same column scores zero points for the column (even if the equal cards are twos).
The player who has the lowest cumulative score after nine deals wins.
Some players use two decks with four, three or even only two players. This makes little difference to the game and reduces the chance of running out of cards.
Some players include jokers - two per deck. In this case twos are worth 2 points and jokers are -2.
Turning up cards at the start
Some play that the two cards turned up must be in the same column of the layout; others play the opposite, rule that the two cards turned up must not be in the same column. Some require one card to be turned up from the central column and one from one of the outer columns.
Some play that after turning up two cards, you may rearrange the cards of your layout (without looking at any of the face-down cards) so as to place your face-up cards in any desired positions.
Some play that no cards are turned up; instead each of the players may look once at the row of three cards nearest to them, replacing them face down.
Turning up cards during the play
Some play that you may use your turn simply to turn one of your face-down cards face up.
Some play that if you draw a card from the stock and decide to discard it rather than placing it in your layout, you must also turn one of your face-down cards face up, unless you have only one face-down card remaining, in which case you may leave it face-down.
Ending the play
Some play that you may use your turn to bring the play to an end by turning all your remaining face-down cards face up.
Many play that after a player's last card is exposed, each of the other players plays one more turn before the hand is scored.
Some players award a negative score, for example -10 points, for four equal cards arranged in two columns (for example two columns each containing two sevens). Some award minus 20 points for four equal cards together in a square block.
When two or more decks are used, some award a higher negative score, for example -20 points, for a layout of six equal cards.
Some play that a pair of equal cards anywhere in the layout score zero - they do not have to be in the same column.
Some players include two jokers in the deck, which according to different players may be worth -5, -3, -2 or zero points. In this case the twos are worth +2 points, not -2. Some also play that one-eyed jacks are worth zero.
When two twos (or jokers if used) appear together in a column, some players allow them to keep their negative value (-4 for the column if each card is -2). Some award a higher negative value when four such cards are arranged in two columns - for example when playing with two decks, four jokers in two columns count -20.
End of the game
As in Four-card Golf, the game can continue for 18 holes instead of nine
This game is essentially the same as Six-Card Golf, except that each player is dealt eight cards in four columns of two, of which two are turned up to start the game. Because of the larger number of cards dealt, it is best to use at least two decks of cards; more if there are more than four players.
Some play that once both cards of a column of two are face up, those cards can no longer be exchanged.
There is a thorough description of Eight-Card Golf on Bill Whitnack's Card Games page (archive copy).
This game, also known as Crazy Nines or simply Nines, is played with two or more decks of cards. Each player is dealt nine cards in a three by three square, and turns three cards face up to begin the play. The playing mechanism and scoring are essentially the same as in Six-Card Golf, except that a pair of equal cards does not score zero. Instead, a column of three equal cards scores zero.
As with the other versions, there are many variations.
- Some play that only two cards are turned face up at the start.
- Some play that twos score +2 rather than -2 and include jokers that score -2.
- Some play that queens score 12 rather than 10.
- Some play that not only a vertical row of three equal cards scores zero, but also a horizontal row, or a diagonal line of three equal cards.
- Some also play that a block of four equal cards together in a square give a negative score, such as -25.
- Some play that the player with the lowest score for a hole scores zero, and that if the player who first exposed all their cards (known as the caller) does not have the lowest score, this player adds the score of the lowest scoring player to their own. I don't know how ties are resolved in this method.
Players need to agree what happens if you have two intersecting rows of equal cards or a row intersecting a square block, if you score a bonus for a block. Some solve this by immediately removing from the layout any line or block of equal cards. Play continues using only the remaining part of the layout, keeping the positions from which cards were removed empty.
If you prefer to leave all nine cards in place, you need to agree how to score layouts such as these:
block overlapping line
Stephen Moraco describes a version of 9-card golf in which every pair of equal cards that are horizontally or vertically adjacent scores zero. The same card can be used as part of more than one pair, so equal rows and columns will also score zero since they consist of two pairs.
On his Nines page (archive copy), Jesse Fuchs described a version with no cards turned up at the start. Queens count zero, kings ten and jokers -2. Rows and columns of three equal cards are removed when formed.
At least two decks are needed for this game. Each player is dealt ten cards, arranged into five columns of two, and turns any two cards face up. The play is the same as in Six-Card Golf.
A page of invented Golf Variations submitted by readers of this site.
A brief description of Four-Card Golf can be found on the Real Beer site.
Bill Whitnack's description of Eight Card Golf (archive copy).
Stephen Moraco's company Iron Sheep Productions has produced a 9 Card Golf game for iPhone / iPad.
Joseph McMurray has produced a 6-card Golf app for Android.
This page is based partly on information contributed by: Wanda Bartholmai, Danielle Carlson, Michael Davis, Jeri Day, Steve Dawson, Bill Gardner, Jerry Gray, Beth Grove, Vincent Guerin, Kim Hatch, Bob Heerdink, Ernie Heuer, Jim Kennedy, Lee Murrah, Jane Muscato, Nicholas Pfeiffenberger, Marc Riou, Mark Spinelli, Yash Srivastava, Sherman Staffer, Gary Sullivan, James Thomas, Stan Thompson, Dayton Williams, Tony Young, Virginia Ziegler.