What is a sandbagger in golf

Sandbagging in Golf: Easy Ways to Spot One

Golf is a game of integrity and cheating is one of the worst things a golfer can do. It’s not as easy to spot with competitors in amateur golf but pros is a different story.

Nearly every shot on the PGA Tour is recorded and fans can see if a rule infraction occurs. But it’s not quite as transparent to know if a guy in your group is cheating or playing loose with the rules of golf.

A form of cheating or bending the rules is known as sandbagging in golf. It’s an act of poor sportsmanship and can lead to some serious problems with fellow players. Not to mention some bad karma with the Golf Gods in my opinion.

So, what does sandbagging mean in golf? Why do they call it sandbagging? How does a sandbagger change their handicap index?

We’ll answer these questions and more so you can avoid making this mistake and play the game with integrity. 

Sandbagging in Golf 

Here’s the definition of sandbagging from Wikipedia: 

“Sandbagging in golf and other games, deliberately playing below one’s actual ability in order to fool opponents into accepting higher stakes bets, or to lower one’s competitive rating in order to play in a future event with a higher handicap and consequently have a better chance to win.”

If you’ve played in any sort of golf tournament before, chances are you’ve heard this golf term. Ironically, this term did not originate on the golf course but actually in 19th century gangs. They filled socks with heavy sand and used them as a weapon on their victims. 

To “sandbag” someone is also used in games like Poker, wresting, and other sports. Let’s get into what makes this practice so bad and ruins the integrity a match in golf.

Key Takeaways

  • Sandbagging in golf is when a player says they’re not as good as they actually are in terms of scoring average/handicapping.
  • For example, if a player has a five handicap and says they’re a 10 handicap, they’d get more strokes in a tournament or match. 
  • We’ll help you identify a sandbagger so you don’t get fooled in a match below.

Keep reading to learn more about sandbagging so no ones tries to take advantage of you on the course.

Sandbagging in Golf

Sandbagging 101 – How It Affects Handicap Index

First off, what is sandbagging in the golf world?

A Golf Digest article described it hilariously.

“Like communism, golf’s handicap system is rooted in good intentions, but is an infrastructure that is easily falsified and exploited. What was supposed to create a level playing field for sticks and hacks often tips the scales in the latter’s direction, with better players penalized for, uh, being good.” 

It’s basically a good player saying they’re not as good as they are in order to get more strokes from playing partners in a match (or in a tournament). This shady tactic is common in a member guest tournament, four ball, Chapman, or other format where handicaps are involved (known as net scoring). This doesn’t typically happen with scrambles as handicaps aren’t involved. 

Here’s an easy example of sandbagging:

  • A golfer with a 10 handicap index says they’re a 15 handicap (five shot differential). 
  • On the first tee this person wants to play another golfer for money – let’s say they’re playing a scratch golfer.
  • The scratch golfer has to give 15 shots during the round – nearly one stroke a hole.  
  • The sandbagger then plays a better than average round and shoots 79… as a 15 handicap (which should be closer to an 87-90 score for 18 holes).
  • The scratch golfer even if he plays well is going to lose handily and lose money too. 

Sometimes it can lead to a different flight and more prizes if this happens in a formal tournament too.

How to Tell If Someone is Sandbagging for Handicap Purposes

There are a lot of ways to detect if someone is fudging their handicap. Here are some of the most common ways.

No Recent Scores

One of the most tell-tale signs of a sandbagger is not posting many scores recently. You should post every score to your handicap – no matter how good or bad you play. The USGA handicapping system is used to even the playing field and allow golfers of different skill levels to compete.

But if someone plays regularly and doesn’t post their scores, this is a red flag. If you play with someone you suspect of padding their scores you can always enter their score if you know their GHIN number. 

Tanking a Round

Golf is a hard sport and bad rounds happen to the best of us. As Ben Hogan said, “Reverse every natural instinct and do the opposite of what you are inclined to do, and you will probably come very close to having a perfect golf swing.” 

But if someone is having a bad day then seems to purposefully tank their round, this is a serious question mark. A bad hole or two is the norm for most everyday golfers but shooting way above their handicap might be a clue to sandbagging. 

how does the golf handicap system work

Posting Away Scores Only

Most golfers have a main course they play or even join a country club. But if someone has a golf course they regularly play or are a member at and only post away scores, this is a sketchy move. 

Not Adhering to Dress Code

If a player shows up looking like he’s ready for basketball and not a round of golf, this is another big red flag. You’ll never see a sandbagger roll up to the first tee dress like a PGA Tour player. 

This is more likely to happen when an average golfer wants to dress the part… look good, feel good, play good, right? 

If someone looks out of place on the golf course but has a solid swing, be careful. Learn more about dress code in golf here.

Iron Covers 

Another thing to look out for is odd equipment choices and iron covers – I can say this from personal experience. One time I got paired with a fellow player who didn’t look the part and had iron covers which isn’t typically a choice for most avid golfers

Sure enough he took them off on the first approach shot to unveil PXG golf clubs. He went on to shoot 66 and beat me handily. 

Not Warming Up

As you know, warming up is a big part of playing your best golf. It’s hard to go straight from the car to the first tee and expect to play well. 

If you notice someone who never hits golf balls or warms up on the putting green, this is another big red flag of sandbaggers. As it can take them several holes to get warmed up and likely add a few strokes to their total score.  

Missing Short Putts

If a golfer is seemingly going out of their way to miss short, tap in putts – especially at the end of the round – this a big red flag. While the yips can happen this tends to be more noticeable than a normal missed short putt. 

How to Cure the Yips in Golf

Too Much Alcohol 

There’s no doubt that alcohol is a part of golf and the only sport where drinking and driving is allowed. But if you notice someone getting intentionally drunk at the end of the round, watch out. This might lead to a blowup hole or two and pad the score. It’s a lot harder to spot than others on the list so be careful.

FAQs About Sandbaggers in Golf

Do you have more questions about sandbagging? If so, keep reading through the most common questions below. 

What is an example of sandbagging?

An example of being a sandbagger is not entering scores recently or only entering scores at away courses. There are a ton of signs of sandbaggers which we cover in depth above.

Why do they call it sandbagging?

This is an older term that didn’t start with golf but instead with gangs. They used socks filled with sand as their main weapon of choice among other guys. Don’t worry, this has never been a part of the history of golf.

Is sandbagging an offensive term?

In the world of golf no player wants the reputation of being a sandbagger or cheater. So yes, it’s no doubt a derogatory term in the golf world.

My Experience

I’ve seen someone get more handicap strokes by artificially inflating their handicap index first hand and can without a doubt say don’t do it.

The individual I knew entered higher scores leading into a tournament and went on to win the event. While he was excited, everyone else knew it was a lie and he’s been known as a sandbagger and cheater ever since.

Even the pro at the golf course knew it and has given him a higher handicap in tournaments. Talk about a bad mark to have at the country club!

The point is, if you value your reputation and the integrity of this iconic game, do not do it!

Final Thoughts on Sandbagging in Competition

When a golfer deliberately misleads others by not posting good scores, never posting at their home club, or other signs from above they’re likely sandbagging.

While you can’t take a sock filled with sand to them, you should call them out for handicap purposes. However, we encourage you to check with fellow golfers about their activity to avoid a tense conversation.

Golfers do not like being called a cheater or sandbagger so tread carefully and respectfully.