Ladder Golf, the Latest in One-Handed Sports


It’s called ladder golf, and it is to white trash what polo is to the filthy rich. And I am hooked.

I was hanging out with some friends at an undisclosed location in the woods last weekend, and while we were throwing donut bags into the bonfire one of them set up a pair of PVC pipe contraptions that looked like sweater dryers for little people. Ladder golf time.

For those who do not shop at Walmart, the game works like this: you have two golf balls tethered by a foot-long cord, and you throw them, bolo-style, at the sweater dryer. The object is to have them loop around one of the crossbars. The higher the crossbar (there are three), the higher the score. The top bar is worth three. I will not go into the complex scoring system for the lower two bars.

This game has so much going for it, I almost don’t know where to begin (inner voice: that’s never stopped you before). First and foremost, everyone is walking around with a pair of balls hanging off a string. Blue balls. Red balls. The jokes pretty much write themselves. For example, in one game my opponent complained that I threw my balls when he wasn’t paying attention, and he thought he was about to get hit. “I look up and these balls are coming right at my face,” he said.

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Sometimes it’s all about the follow through. Photo by ©Scott Adler.

“Shut up, Elton, it’s your turn,” I said. See what I mean? I suppose it’s really a guy thing, but when the most vulnerable parts of your body are dangling on the outside, there’s nothing to do but have a laugh about it. And hope they never get hit by a softball again.

Another great thing is that it’s a one-handed sport. All the classic, luck-based, backyard-friendly, semi-goofy sports are designed to be played while clutching a beer. Horseshoes. Lawn darts. Texas washers. Bocci. Pretty much any sport where you throw a thing at another thing, and if there’s a small chance of a freak injury, so much the better.

Ladder golf is popular largely because it’s so portable and cheap to construct. But it’s also challenging and frustrating. Texas washers, by comparison, can be mastered with lots of repetition punctuated by grilled steaks and frosty cans of obnoxicant. A washer is a washer. Muscle memory takes over. But I’ll tell you what, two golf balls on a string is one unpredictable projectile. (Sorry about your windshield, Scott. That’s what you get for parking within 40 yards of the game area.)

This particular group of friends had obviously played the game before, and most of them wrapped a pipe or two on every turn. When my first turn came, I figured I would be as naturally gifted at this as I am with most sports, and casually slung an underhand shot toward the ladder. I hit a dog.

After some scolding and a short-lived beer embargo, I was allowed to resume the game. The physics of the thing turn your arm into a muscle and bone trebuchet, and the angles and physics are hard to predict. That’s what I kept saying after I bounced my balls off the side of Tim’s RV. (Sorry, man. Those dents should buff right out.)

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The important thing in Ladder Golf is the angle of the dangle. Photo by ©Scott Adler.

Like many games of its ilk, you play to 21, usually with doubles teams. These guys and gals were good. They were ringers. I mean, the score would be in the high teens before I even drank the foam off my fresh cup of skill. Sometimes the bolo, as I call it (my other term, “grandpa’s scrotum” didn’t really catch on) would wrap tightly around a rung, eliciting cheers and celebration. But before the last gunshot was finished echoing, the balls would bounce off themselves and unwrap, dropping to the ground. Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

The first time I picked up a pair of balls, I pinched the string in center and lightly clicked the balls together a few times. That prodded something in my memory, and then it hit me. Clacker balls! Some of you are exactly the right age to remember this. For a couple of months in the early 1970s, this was my generation’s hula hoop or Tamagochi. The design was wickedly simple: two balls of hard, transparent plastic, joined to a cord with a metal ring in the middle. You’d grip the ring between your thumb and forefinger, and start clacking the balls together at the top and bottom of their arc. It’s the exact same principle used for the Kamikaze ride at the carnival. Then you’d start making it go faster and faster, thrilling onlookers with the machine-gun clacking, until the balls would go off-axis and slam into the radius bone of your forearm, just behind the wrist.

Not that I remember it all that well.

So due to the distraction and injuries, the junior high schools banned them within a month of their appearance. A week later they were banned from the school buses as well. Eventually, as the population of pubescents began to skew alarmingly left-handed, they were outlawed by the FDA. Or maybe we just discovered Hot Wheels, I can’t remember.

I still have a large bruise on my right forearm from demonstrating the clacker ball action to the people who were beating the crap out of me at ladder golf.

After losing a couple of games, I had to admit that here was a game that is addictive, challenging, and just not that easy to master. I decided to bow out and watch the masters at work.

Besides, those donut bags weren’t going to throw themselves into the fire.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


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