Introduction –
“Skins” is a very popular golf game. The
game is simple in concept. A group of
players play a hole and if one player makes the lowest score, he wins a
skin. At the end of the round, a pool of
money is divided among the players who won skin(s). The popularity of the game derives in part
from the ability of a player to win a skin even if he isn’t playing well.
Skins, however, is not like a lottery where everyone has an equal chance to
win. A player’s success will depend upon
1) the Skins method (i.e., how skins are determined), 2) the distribution of
handicaps among the competitors, and 3) the cap on the maximum handicap
allowed. Each of these factors is
discussed in turn.
Skins Method – There
are seven commonly used methods for playing skins:
1. Gross Skins – A skin is awarded only if one player has the lowest
gross score on a hole. The value of a skin
is equal to the betting pool divided by the number of skins.
2. Net Skins – A skin is awarded only if one player has the lowest net
score on a hole.[1] The
value of a skin is equal to the betting pool divided by the number of skins.
3. Net Skins Played at ½ Handicap – This is the same as Method 2
except the player only receives onehalf of his handicap. If this results in a player having a “n +1/2”
handicap, the player deducts a onehalf of a stroke on the hole with a n+1
stroke allocation. For example, a player
with a handicap of 7 ½ , would get ½ stroke on the 8th handicap allocation
hole. The value of a skin is equal to the betting pool divided by the number of
skins.
4. Separate Gross and Net Skins – Gross and net skins are determined
at full handicap. The value of a gross
skin is equal to half the betting pool divided by the number of gross
skins. The value of a net skin is equal
to half the betting pool divided by the number of net skins.
5. Equal Gross and Net Skins – Gross and net Skins are determined at
full handicap. The value of any skin is equal to the betting pool divided by
the total number of skins.
6. No Double Win – This is the same as Method 5 with one exception. A player cannot win a gross and net skin on
the same hole.
7. Net Skins, but Gross Skin Takes Precedence – If a player has a
gross skin on a hole, he is awarded a “net skin” even if other players had net
scores equal to the player’s gross score.
In essence some net scores are better than others. On closer inspection, this method is identical
to Method 6 as long as a player cannot receive more than one handicap stroke on
a hole.[2] Therefore, this method is eliminated from the
analysis.
To examine the equity of each method a simulation model was
built. The probabilities of a 5, 10, and
15 handicap player were estimated (see Appendix). In the first analysis, it was assumed that 5
players of each handicap level were competing. The expected return (the amount
returned per dollar bet) for each group is shown in Table 1 below.
Table 1
Expected Return per Dollar Bet
Method

5Handicap

10Handicap

15Handicap

1. Gross Skins

$1.50

$.97

$.53

2. Net Skins

$.77

$1.04

$1.19

3. ½ Handicap

$1.18

$.89

$.93

4. Separate Gross and Net

$1.14

$1.00

$.86

5. Equal Gross and Net

$1.13

$1.00

$.87

6. No Double Win

$1.19

$.92

$.89

The lowerhandicap player has a distinct advantage in all
methods except Method 2 (Net Skins). Methods
3, 4, 5 and 6 are essentially equivalent in terms of equity.
Handicap
Distribution – The previous analysis had an equal number of players in each
handicap group. A player’s chances are
improved if the field does not include many players with handicaps similar to
his. To demonstrate this effect,
estimates of the expected return are made when there is 1 player at a handicap
level and 7 players in each of the other levels. Table 2 presents the expected return when
there is only one player at the designated handicap level.
Table 2
Expected Return with Only One Player at the
Designated Handicap Level
Method

5Handicap

10Handicap

15Handicap

1. Gross Skins

$1.97

$1.02

$.40

2. Net Skins

$.98

$1.34

$1.57

3. ½ Handicap

$1.47

$.1.06

$1.3

4. Separate Gross and Net

$1.48

$1.18

$.99

5 Equal Gross and Net

$1.49

$1.17

$1.03

6. No Double Win

$2.19

$1.11

$1.24

Under Method 6, for example, if there is only one
5handicap player (instead of five) the player’s expected return jumps from
$1.19 to $2.19. This is due to the
player’s birdies being more likely to win a skin when he doesn’t face
competition from other 5handicap players.
Cap on Maximum
Handicap – In some skins games, the maximum handicap allowed is 18 or one
handicap stroke per hole. To examine the
equity of this cap on handicaps, five additional players with 25handicaps were
added to the simulation model. The expected returns for each handicap level are
shown in Table 3.
Table 3
Expected Return per Dollar Bet
Method

5Handicap

10Handicap

15Handicap

25Handicap

1. Gross Skins

$2.02

$1.22

$.68

$.09

2. Net Skins

$.64

$.97

$1.29

$1.10

3. ½ Handicap

$1.34

$.99

$1.10

$.57

4. Separate Gross and Net

$1.33

$1.09

$.98

$.59

5 Equal Gross and Net

$1.36

$1.08

$.97

$.59

6. No Double Win

$1.41

$1.00

$.92

$.67

As can be seen, the expected returns for 5, 10, and
15handicap players have been increased with the addition of the five
25handicap players. The 25handicap
player does not do well under most scenarios.
It should be noted, however, that not all 25handicaps are alike. A 25handicap who has a large variance in his
hole scores (i.e. he has more pars and more triple bogeys than assumed in the
model) will do better than Table 3 suggests.
Under reasonable assumptions about the holescore variance of a
25handicap player, however, it is unlikely this player will do as well as the
5handicap player.
Method 5, No Double Win, is usually defended in terms of
equity. “A player should not get two
skins for one hole,” it is argued.
Double skins, however, are most likely to go to the medium handicap
player. The elimination of double skins
gives an even greater edge to the lowhandicap player. This is demonstrated in Table 4 which shows
the total number of skins by handicap for the two methods.
Table 4
Total Skins by Handicap (1,000 trials)
Method

5Handicap

10Handicap

15Handicap

25Handicap

5. Equal Gross and Net

4372

3500

3112

1855

6. No Double Win

3563

2502

2332

1698

Percent Reduction in Skins

18.5%

28.5%

25.1%

8.5%

The “No Double Win” provision eliminates a larger percentage
of skins for the 10 and 15handicap groups than it does for the 5 and
25handicap group. Method 6 basically
shifts money to handicap groups at the extreme ends from the handicap groups in
the middle. Whether this is more equitable depends upon the eye of the
beholder.
Conclusion – Skins
is golf’s miniversion of Powerball. The
odds are stacked against most players, but it is still fun to play. Played for nominal stakes, a player should
not be too concerned about his expected losses.
If a few lowhandicappers are turning the weekly skins game into an
annuity, however, a player should consider switching his contribution to a tax
deductible charity.
Appendix
Score to Par

5Handicap

10Handicap

15Handicap

25Handicap

2

.005

.003

.000

.000

1

.140

.090

.060

.010

0

.450

.350

.250

.150

+1

.310

.380

.430

.380

+2

.070

.140

.200

.300

+3

.020

.030

.040

.100

+4

.005

.007

.020

.060

[1] If
a player has a handicap less than or equal to 18, his gross score on a hole is reduced by one
stroke to obtain his net score if his handicap is less than or equal to the
stroke allocation for that hole. Otherwise, his net score is equal to his gross
score.
[2]
Under Method 7, if a player has a gross skin, he receives a “net skin” since a
gross skin takes precedence. All net skins are awarded a “net skin” unless the
player also had a gross skin on that hole.
In essence, Method 7 is Method 6—gross and net skins, but a player
cannot win both on a hole.