This is the time of year Nashvillians live for—the lengthening days when gray winter waves goodbye and a sweat-soaked summer approaches on the horizon. The grass doesn’t need mowing yet and the gardening can be put off a few more weeks. Yep, it’s time for some good backyard competition—do-it-yourself style.
Welcome, ladder golf and washers.
Called by many names—including snake toss, Montana golf, golf ball horseshoes, horseballs, redneck golf, ball dangle, Australian rules horseshoes and testicle toss—ladder golf is rumored to have begun its climb to fame among the recreational vehicle crowd, spreading from trailer parks to suburban backyards as people were drawn to the low-key, homespun sport.
“What first attracted me to the game was its status as a DIY game,” says Jon Bates, who assembled his ladder golf set after discovering the game at a cookout. “You couldn’t just run out to Wal-Mart and buy a set.” While there are actually ladder golf sets now commercially available, the prototypical homemade ladder is made of 1/2-inch PVC pipe for the 30-inch-tall frame with three 20-inch rungs, all held together with PVC elbow fittings and tees and a dab of PVC glue. The ladder stands on a 36-inch by 20-inch rectangular base made of 3/4-inch PVC pipe. Keep it easy to transport by not gluing the ladder to the base. (Detailed instructions can be found on the Internet by searching for “ladder golf plans.”)
To assemble the required six bolas, snakes or dangles—that’s three for each competitor—you need 12 golf balls. Get a buddy—one who trusts you with a drill—and a C-clamp to hold each golf ball in place as you drill a hole halfway into it with a quarter-inch bit. Once the holes are drilled, dump a little hot glue into the hole and shove the ends of 16-inch lengths of nylon rope into the balls. Finished bolas should look like dumbbells made of rope and must be equal in length. You might want to make three bolas of one color and three of another. Once the glue dries, your balls are good for tossing.
Now you’re ready. Players stand at a toss line 20 feet from the ladder. One player throws each of the bolas trying to get a good wrap on the rungs. The top rung is worth three points, the middle rung two and the bottom rung one. Wrap all three bolas around the same rung for a “triple crown” or “hat trick,” worth three times the points for that rung plus a bonus point—for example, a second-rung hat trick is worth seven points. Wrap a bola around each of the three rungs for a “trifecta” or “full rack” bonus point and a total of seven points.
To complete a round, the second player throws with the chance of knocking the first thrower’s bolas down a rung or off the ladder entirely. After both players have thrown, points are tallied and the round winner begins the next round. Play continues until someone reaches exactly 21 points. If a player scores more than 21 after both players have thrown, the player’s score for that round doesn’t count. You must hit 21 exactly.
The bolas, named after a primitive weapon, must be tossed individually, but beyond that, any method of propulsion is legal. You can go for the soft underhand toss that’s best for getting a good wrap around a rung, or throw the overhand baseball shot, better for knocking an opponent’s balls off. Bouncing the balls off the ground is also legal, but it’s worthy of a good taunting.
And taunting is encouraged. In fact, opponents are allowed to say or do anything short of touching an opponent while they throw. Since you’re tossing two balls on a rope, the puns fly just as often as the bolas do.
“Generally, it’s just an excuse to hang out with friends, drink some beers and make a few jokes about each others’ balls,” Bates says.
Washers: Like Gentlemen’s Horseshoes
If the cutthroat style of ladder golf doesn’t suit you, try washers, a game similar to horseshoes, only harder and more interesting.
“It’s really a touch game,” says Rob Harrington, a local washers enthusiast. “It’s like gentlemen’s horseshoes.”
Washers is much easier to set up than ladder golf. All you need is two 4-inch lengths of 4-inch diameter PVC pipe and eight washers with a 2-inch diameter and a 3/4-inch hole. It’s a good idea to paint half the washers a different color in order to distinguish between competitors’ equipment.
Bury the PVC tubes flush with the ground and 20 feet apart, measured from the centers. It should look like two golf holes. Clear all the grass away from each hole in an 18-inch radius, and you’re ready to pitch some washers.
To throw, a player must keep the back foot completely behind one cup while throwing at the other cup. As in ladder golf, the first player must throw all four washers before the next player throws. The scoring player throws first the next round (if no one scores, just alternate).
Scoring can get a little tricky. First off, a washer in the cup, a “ringer,” is worth five points. Each washer closer to the hole than an opponent’s closest washer is worth one point as long as it’s within the 18-inch diameter around the cup. A player can negate, or “cap,” an opponent’s ringer by also throwing a ringer. For each ringer thrown by the second thrower, one of the first thrower’s ringers is negated. Only one player can score per round, and play continues until someone reaches 21 or more points. (It doesn’t have to be exactly 21, and you don’t have to win by at least two points.)
Like ladder golf, washers comes with its own lingo. Two ringers landed in a row score you a “double;” three in gets you “trips;” four equals a “quad;” but if you throw three in a row and miss the fourth, well, that’s just a “quad dangit.” Bounce a washer into the hole from the front for a “skip to my Lou.” You’re “sneakin’ in through the kitchen door” if you bounce one in from the side of the cup—that’s the “service entrance.” And pull off the master’s shot by backing a washer into the hole from behind for a “Tiger Wooooooods.” But those shots don’t come easy.
“It’s like a pretty difficult 10-foot putt with a lot of break,” says Harrington. “You get one in, and it feels really good.”
Start pitching washers now and maybe you’ll be ready for the International Washer Pitchin’ Contest on the third Saturday in August. Held in Yorkville, Tenn., for the past dozen years or so, the contest draws more than 200 singles players and about half as many doubles teams.
So rip out the horseshoe stakes and don’t bother dusting off the lawn dart set. Head out to the hardware store, drop $20 to $30 on washers, PVC pipe and fittings, rope and glue, and get to it. Sure you can buy “official” sets of these games online for three to four times as much as they cost to build, but that will only lead to taunting from the more adventurous DIYers, especially the hard-core ladder golfers. Sissy.