What is a Mulligan in Golf?

Golf, often regarded as one of the most prestigious and challenging sports in the world, is known for its complex rules and traditions. Among these rules, the term “mulligan” stands out as a unique and widely practiced phenomenon. In this blog post, we will delve into the concept of a mulligan in golf, its origins, when it is used, and the etiquette surrounding it.

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What is a Mulligan in Golf?

A mulligan, in the context of golf, is a term used to describe a do-over or a second chance to hit a shot without incurring a penalty. Unlike most sports where mistakes are a part of the game, golfers often employ the mulligan to erase a particularly poor shot and take another attempt at it. However, it’s essential to note that mulligans are not officially recognized by the rules of golf, making them a somewhat controversial practice.

The Origins of the Mulligan

The exact origin of the term “mulligan” in golf is somewhat hazy, with multiple theories and stories circulating. One of the most popular theories attributes the term to a Canadian golfer named David Bernard Mulligan. Legend has it that Mulligan, in the 1920s, asked for a second chance to hit a shot during a round of golf in Montreal. His friends granted his request, and the term “mulligan” was born.

When is a Mulligan Used?

Mulligans are typically used in casual rounds of golf and are rarely, if ever, allowed in formal competitions. Golfers may take a mulligan for various reasons, including:

  • Tee Shots: Many golfers use a mulligan for their first tee shot of the day, often referring to it as a “breakfast ball.” It’s seen as a way to shake off early jitters and start the round on a better note.
  • Poor Shots: Golfers may invoke the mulligan rule when they hit a particularly bad shot that they believe doesn’t reflect their usual skill level.
  • Fun and Social Play: Mulligans are often employed during friendly rounds of golf with friends or colleagues to keep the game enjoyable and less frustrating.

Etiquette Surrounding Mulligans

While mulligans can add an element of fun and forgiveness to a casual round of golf, there are some essential etiquette guidelines to follow:

  • Announce the Mulligan: If you plan to take a mulligan, it’s customary to announce it to your playing partners before retaking the shot.
  • Limit Mulligans: Don’t abuse the mulligan privilege. Taking multiple mulligans on a single hole can slow down the pace of play and disrupt the flow of the game.
  • Honor Local Rules: Some golf courses may have specific rules regarding mulligans. Always respect and adhere to the rules of the course you are playing on.

Controversy and Debate

The use of mulligans in golf has sparked significant debate within the golfing community. Critics argue that mulligans undermine the integrity of the game by allowing players to erase their mistakes. On the other hand, proponents believe that they can make the game more accessible to beginners and less frustrating for recreational golfers.

Mulligans and Skill Development

One of the arguments against mulligans in golf is that they can hinder skill development. Golf is a game that requires precision, and learning to deal with mistakes is an integral part of improving one’s game. When players know they have a mulligan in their back pocket, they may not fully commit to learning from their errors and improving their skills.

The Psychological Impact

Mulligans can also have a psychological impact on golfers. Knowing that a mulligan is available can lead to complacency. Golfers might take unnecessary risks on their shots, knowing they have a safety net. This can undermine the mental discipline and decision-making skills that are crucial in golf.

The Evolution of Mulligans

In recent years, there has been an evolution in the way mulligans are used. Some golf courses have embraced mulligans as a way to encourage new players to take up the sport. They offer packages that include mulligans for beginners, aiming to make the game less intimidating and more enjoyable for newcomers. While this approach can introduce more people to golf, it also raises questions about the traditional nature of the game.

Mulligans in Charity and Fun Tournaments

Mulligans are often a feature of charity golf tournaments and fun outings. These events use mulligans as a way to raise funds, allowing participants to purchase mulligans, with the proceeds going to a charitable cause. This blending of competition and charity has become a popular way to enjoy golf while giving back to the community.

The Mulligan Dilemma: Tradition vs. Innovation

The debate surrounding mulligans in golf ultimately boils down to the tension between tradition and innovation. Golf is a sport steeped in tradition, and many purists argue that mulligans disrupt the purity of the game. On the other hand, golf is also trying to evolve and attract new players, and mulligans can be seen as a way to make the sport more inclusive and enjoyable for a broader audience.

Definition of a Mulligan

MulliganA Mulligan is a golf term referring to a do-over shot, often taken after an initial poor shot.
OriginThe term “Mulligan” is believed to have originated in the early 20th century.
UsageGolfers use Mulligans to nullify a bad shot, but they’re typically not allowed in official tournaments.
VariationsIn informal games, Mulligans might have different rules and names (e.g., a “second chance”).
FairnessSome debate exists about the fairness of Mulligans in recreational play.

Mulligans and Golf Etiquette

AspectEtiquette Guidelines
Use in TournamentsMulligans are generally not allowed in official tournaments.
Friendly GamesIn casual rounds, Mulligans should be agreed upon by all players.
HonestyGolfers are encouraged to be honest about using Mulligans.
Respect for Pace of PlayExcessive Mulligans can slow down the pace of play.
Fun and RelaxationMulligans can add an element of fun and relaxation to golf.

Mulligan Rules and Scenarios

ScenarioMulligan Rules
Tee ShotOften taken on the first tee if the initial shot is poor.
Lost BallA Mulligan can be used if a ball is lost or out of bounds.
Unplayable LieAllowed if a golfer encounters an unplayable lie.
Water HazardsSome allow Mulligans for shots in water hazards.
Sand BunkersRules regarding Mulligans in bunkers can vary.

Famous Golfers and Mulligans

GolferNotable Mulligan Stories
Bobby JonesBobby Jones once took a Mulligan on his first tee shot in a major tournament.
Arnold PalmerPalmer was known for his “Arnie’s Army” and lighthearted approach to Mulligans.
Phil MickelsonMickelson famously took a Mulligan on the 18th hole during a practice round.
Tiger WoodsEven golf legend Tiger Woods has been known to take Mulligans in friendly games.
Jack NicklausNicklaus was known for his competitive spirit but also enjoyed a casual Mulligan.

Pros and Cons of Using Mulligans

Improved GameMulligans can lead to better shots and scores.Some argue that it takes away from the challenge of golf.
Friendly GamesAdds an element of fun and camaraderie.Can potentially lead to disputes or disagreements.
Stress ReliefReduces frustration and stress on the course.May slow down the pace of play if overused.
Learning ToolAllows golfers to learn from mistakes.Not allowed in official tournaments.
TraditionHas become a tradition in casual play.Some golfers prefer strict adherence to the rules.


The concept of a mulligan in golf is a fascinating and somewhat controversial aspect of the game. While it is not recognized in official competitions, it remains a prevalent and cherished tradition in casual rounds. Golfers continue to grapple with the question of whether mulligans enhance or diminish the game’s essence.

Ultimately, the choice to use a mulligan or not comes down to individual preferences and the spirit in which the game is played. Whether you embrace mulligans as a way to make golf more forgiving and fun or view them as a deviation from the traditional rigors of the sport, one thing is clear – the mulligan will continue to be a talking point among golfers, adding depth to the rich tapestry of this timeless game.

What is a Mulligan in Golf?


  • Ryan Spino

    Ryan Spino, our Executive Editor since January 2022, has been instrumental in shaping The Golf Mine. His vision, backed by a Golf Management MBA and extensive editorial expertise, has expanded our coverage, ensuring that every article upholds our commitment to quality and accuracy in the golfing realm.

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