How to Play Ladderball: Setup, Rules, Scoring & How to Throw

Ladderball is a fun backyard game that appeals to all ages. All you need are two or more players, two ‘ladders’, 3 bolas per team, and an open area to play. The equipment is simple and portable which also makes it a favorite activity when camping. In some parts of the country you may hear it called ladder golf, ladder toss, or more colorful names like redneck horseshoes or hillbilly golf.

Place the ladders 15 ft apart. Each player tosses from the same end, the first player tosses all 3 bolas followed by the second player. Points are scored after each round: top rung is 3 points, middle rung is 2 points, bottom rung is 1 point. Winner of the round tosses first for the next round. First player to score exactly 21 points wins.

Modified from original by Stacey Huggins

Ladderball Setup

For official ladderball events all equipment and setup will follow regulation requirements. The ladders will be spaced 15 ft apart when measured at the uprights. The bottom rung is 13 inches from the ground and there are 13 inches between each rung. Each rung measures 24 inches wide and is made from PVC pipe or a solid wood dowel. Bolas are two golf balls connected by nylon rope and spaced 13 inches apart. They come in sets of 3 bolas of the same color for each team.

Photo by Robert Taylor

For backyard games you don’t need to measure so precisely. Space the ladders 5 paces apart between the uprights, but the ladders can be as close or as far away as you want depending on the skill of the players and difficulty desired. There are several commercial options to purchase your ladderball equipment but many people will build their own ladders and so dimensions can vary greatly.

Make your own ladderball game: our instructions include detailed plans with measurements and step by step illustrated instructions. Save money and have a high quality game that lasts!

When younger children are playing you can make several adjustments to reduce the difficulty for them. The easiest is to lower the toss distance, let the youngest player mark off 5 paces to setup the ladders before play starts or the kids can use their own toss line. Another fun modification is to add 1 point to the value for each rung for the kids. For family games the the choice between PVC and wood makes a big difference. PVC is slippery and more bolas will slip off than with wood rungs. Young children may get frustrated when playing on PVC ladders.

Throwing golf balls can also be a safety concern for young players that don’t have good control, adolescents that don’t have good self control, and even adults that can’t control their drinking. You can make bolas safer and build them using squash balls or any rubber ball approximately 1.5-2 inches in diameter.

Ladderball Rules

The rules of ladderball are few and simple:

  • Your feet must remain behind the toss line when tossing your bolas; you may lean forward over the line so long as you do not step over the line in your throwing motion.
  • All bolas must be tossed individually and underhand – no sidearm or overhand throws.
  • Nobody may approach the scoring ladder until all bolas have been tossed.
  • Visual distractions, verbal heckling and other methods of interrupting your opponents focus are strongly encouraged, but you may not touch another player or physically interfere with their toss.

Do Bounces Count in Ladderball? Yes, players can be creative with their tosses, so long as the toss is underhand and they do not step over the toss line. If the bola from a bounce-toss remains on the ladder at the end of the round it is included in the scoring. Likewise if a bounce-toss knocks off an opponent’s bola the toss is valid.

Ladderball Scoring

After all bolas are tossed players count their points and add to their score. Only bolas that are left hanging on the ladder at the end of the round count. The top rung is 3 points, middle rung is 2 points, bottom rung is 1 point. All games are played to exactly 21 points.

In order to score, the bola must remain on the rung until the end of the round and all bolas have been thrown.  Bolas that are knocked off the ladder do not score. Because only the bolas still hanging on the ladder at the end of the round, players also have the opportunity to play defensively. A player can use their toss to try and knock opponent bolas off the ladder.

Until this point we provided rules and scoring methods that are universally applied, but as with all games there are countless variations for rules and scoring so we made the table below with official rules for competitive play and our recommended rules for a game between friends:

Ladderball Game TopicCompetitive GameFriendly Game
Who goes first at the start of the gamePlay a shootout round: Player A makes 3 tosses, counts their score, and removes their bolas. Repeat for Player B. High score goes first.Flip a coin, or youngest player goes first
Toss order within a roundEach player tosses all three of their bolas before the next player has their turn in the round. AAABBBPlayers alternate tosses. ABABAB
Who tosses first for the next roundThe player who scored the most points in the previous round tosses first. No order change for ties.Players alternate who goes first.
Round1: ABABAB
Round2: BABABA
Scoring pointsPoint cancellation method is used.All bolas still hanging at the end of the round are counted and increase the player score
What happens when a player goes over 21 pointsThat player resets to 13 points for the next roundPoints from the round do not count for that player
Both players reach 21 on the same roundPlay overtime rounds until a player wins by 2 pointsPlay overtime rounds until a player wins by 2 points
Bonus pointsNormally only the Hat-Trick bonus point is usedAny and all bonus point rules may be used

Point Cancellation Scoring Method

Most backyard games for fun will simply add up the points for each bola still hanging at the end of the round. If player A hangs a bola on the top rung and the middle rung while player B hangs a bola on the middle and bottom rung then player A adds 5 points and player B adds 3 points to their score.

For competitive matches, point cancellation scoring is used. Players only score points for a bola if their competitor does not have a bola on the same rung. In the example above using point cancellation scoring, Player A adds 3 points and Player B adds 1 point for the round (the bolas on the middle rung cancel each other out). Another example: if Player A has 2 bolas on the top rung and PlayerB has 1 bola on the top rung then PlayerA scores 3 points (the other bolas cancel each other out).

Point cancellation scoring results in longer matches but also has more strategic choices. Should I try to increase my score or should I try to cancel the points my competitor has on the ladder? Do I want to go first or second in the next round?

What Happens If You Go Over 21 in Ladderball?

For backyard games, when a player goes over 21 their points from that round do not count. For example, if they start a round with 16 points but hang 2 bolas on the top rung those points do not count and they start the next round with 16.

In competition play going over 21 resets the player’s score to a lower number, usually 13, for the next round. Alternate levels of 11 or 15 are also used, but resetting to 13 points is the most common.

Use whatever rules and scoring methods will be the most fun for your game, just make sure all players understand before the game starts. It is fun to play the game, but nobody enjoys being played. If you are consistently calling out score another point for me for a bonus point scenario the other team doesn’t know about then expect retaliation.

Photo by zaskoda

Bonus Points

Hat-Trick Bonus: Score a bonus point if a player hangs all three bolas on the same rung, or if one bola is on each rung. If a player hangs all three bolas on the top rung they earn the maximum score possible in a single round with 10 points (3+3+3+1).

Bounce-Back or Spring-Board Bola Bonus: Score a bonus point if during a toss the bola bounces off the ladder and comes back towards the player. This is the only common variation that awards points before the round is complete and all bolas are tossed.

Tight-wrap or No Dangle Bonus: Score a bonus point if the bola wraps so tightly around the rung that another wrap is not possible.

How to Play Ladderball with Teams

Most ladderball sets are sold with two ladders and six bolas (three of each color) so simply split into two teams and rotate through each player so everyone tosses. Four people are ideal because then you just toss the bolas back and forth between the two ladders, just make sure to back away so nobody gets hit by a wild bola. Toss order and scoring rules don’t change.

You can easily purchase additional bolas and even play with three or more teams at the same time. We recommend each team alternate tosses if you play with more than two teams for fairness and just to make it easy to keep track of who goes next (ABCABCABC for 3 teams).

Modified from original photo by kathryn

How to Throw the Bolas to Win

Everyone has their own winning strategy but they all need to be executed consistently to be effective. Here is the technique we use:

  • Grip one golf ball and let the bola swing free, if you hold the nylon rope the golf balls will be closer together on you want the bola as wide as possible to have the best chance of catching a rung.
  • Create a pendulum with your arm and swing it a couple times to get a feel for the speed you want and then release without adding additional spin. You want the bola to spin, but too much and it will unwrap itself from the rung and fly off.
  • Try for a lobbing toss so the bola is coming toward the ladder at about a 45 degree angle. Toss too strongly and the bola will sail right past the ladder if your aim is not perfect.

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