What is a Mulligan?

what is a mulligan

There are many examples of golfing jargon that you will pick up as you go along. Some are widely used in all forms of golf – both social games and professional tournaments – while others are more obscure, and tend to be utilised only in certain circumstances.

One example of such is the Mulligan. You may have heard it discussed by players on your round, or even referred to in a jovial manner, but what is a mulligan, when is it used, and where did it come from? It actually makes an interesting story, so sit back and read the following when you have a few minutes – you never know when you might need to use a mulligan!

Where It All Began

A mulligan is simply a shot that is retaken without the player having to concede a penalty. For example, you play a particularly poor shot on the fairway, one you know you should have played better. You can now use a mulligan to take the shot again. Now, here’s where you need to pay attention, because  this doesn’t mean you can take any shot twice!

As the mulligan is an ‘unofficial’ rule of the sport – one you will not find in use in professional tournaments or games – it is open to interpretation. Before we talk about how the rules of a mulligan are applied, let’s go all the way back to the beginning!

Golf has been a social game – as well as a professional sport – for many, many years, and back in 1930’s America, was played by well-to-do gentlemen and women at exclusive courses across the country. One such club was Winged Foot, in New York, which is still a prominent private club today.

One member of Winged Foot – among many other prestigious clubs – was a gentleman by the name of David Mulligan, who had established a regular golfing foursome that played at the club often. During one game, after hitting a very poor tee shot on the first tee, Mulligan complained that his hands were numb having driven over the rough roads and bridges leading to the course, so he promptly took a second shot!

Happy Mulligan Day

October 17th: Forever known as Mulligan Day!

He explained to his colleagues that he should be permitted to take the second shot, and amicable agreement followed. He and his partner won the game by a point, and the free shot – having been much discussed afterwards in the clubhouse – was named a Mulligan!

Fun story, we think, but as with all such obscure terms, it’s quite possible this was not the origin of the mulligan, as there is another contender!

…Or Did It?

Another story tells the tale of a locker room attendant at Essex Fells, New Jersey, by the name of John ‘Buddy’ Mulligan. On occasions when there were few players around, Buddy would get to play a round with the club assistant pro and another club member. On one occasion, he played an opening tee shot that was simply terrible.

Mulligan told his fellow players that, as they had been practising all day and he had not, he should be permitted a second attempt! They agreed, and once the round was over, the young man began telling the tale of his ‘free’ tee shot to all in the locker room, and the story took hold. Such was the legend, that the other players began awarding ‘mulligans’ in their games, as a nod to the locker room hero who created the term.

So, is this one the truth? The fact is nobody really knows. The similarity between both of these stories is striking, and we reckon that if you ask around the golf clubs of the USA – perhaps even the world – there will be further examples of the origin of the mulligan, involving variations on the theme. Before we close, when should you allow a mulligan to be part of a round?

Check out the video below for a little more information on taking a mulligan!

When to Allow a Mulligan

There is no room for a mulligan in professional golf. The game, when played at that level, has strict rules and codes of conduct, and the mulligan is not within those rules. In a social round of golf, however, it is entirely up to the players to agree whether or not to allow the mulligan, and the frequency at which it should be permitted.

It’s commonly incorporated that, in an game played by amateurs, one mulligan may be permitted for every 9 holes. Remember, this is not a set rule – you won’t find it written in any rule book of golf – so you can decide and agree between you as to the mulligan rule. If you are not sure before you start playing, talk to the other players to clarify their own mulligan rule, or to suggest your own!

One tournament you may find a mulligan permitted is when the game is for charity. In these cases, many organisers invite players to buy mulligans – the fee going to the charity – before the round begins, and it is a great way of adding fun and collecting more money for the cause.

In any instance, it is vital that you agree your mulligan rules before the round begins – you can make them whatever you want, for example only from one tee shot, not on the green, whatever you wish – before the round begins. That way, everyone knows what is ahead of them, and you can all enjoy your golf to the full!