Don’t care for mulligans? Spice up your golf matches with gilligans instead

golfer collecting golf ball from hole.

Nice putt. Too bad you have to make it again.

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“Golf is really just a game you play against yourself.”

So said the late, great Ken Venturi, sharing a sweet, philosophical insight that contains the minor flaw of not being true. Golf, in fact, is really just a game you play against your buddies.

Otherwise, why all the gambling options?

Not just skins and nassaus and nine-point and rabbit, but sandies, barkies, splashies, stuffies, greenies and polies, to cite just a few of the many spicy add-ons that we toss into the mixture of our friendly matches.

In case you haven’t tried it, here’s another: the gilligan, which some people know as the “reverse mulligan,” or the “mulligan recall.” That last term is the one that Louis Oosthuizen favors when he invokes the rule.

No matter what you call it, its purpose is the same: It is meant to be everything a mulligan isn’t. Where a mulligan is generous and forgiving (to the point where some purists simply think of it as cheating), a gilligan is petty and punishing.

And fun.

It works like this. Every player in your group gets one mulligan per nine (or per 18; you decide), which gives them a free do-over on any shot. But every player also gets a gilligan, or reverse mulligan, which gives them the right to make their opponent play any shot over. 

Did someone on the other team just stick an approach to within inches of the cup? Too bad for them. By invoking your gilligan, you can erase that fine shot from the historical record and make them hit again.

As with most golf gambling games, the strict definition of a gilligan can vary from one group to the next. Most golfers agree that a gilligan can’t be called on a shot that has been holed out. If, for instance, your opponent drains a 50-foot putt, there’s nothing you can do about it.

But some hardcore golfers place no limits on gilligans. You can make your opponent re-do that 50-footer. You can even make them re-load if they make a hole-in-one. 

At which point, golf might indeed become game you only play against yourself, because no one will want to play with you again. 

Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.