Announce that each team will work together to toss and catch a rubber ring, starting from behind a nominated line to complete a series of designated golf ‘holes.’
Direct your group’s attention to a sequence of designated golf holes, represented by a physical object such as a tree, pole, rubbish bin, etc.
By way of demonstration, announce that a ‘legal’ catch is when the incoming ring passes over the elevated hand (with thumb pressed in towards palm) and wrist of a catcher, ie it cannot be grasped between one’s fingers.
Distribute a rubber ring to each team.
Allow 5 minutes for each team to practice their tossing and throwing skills.
When ready, invite one person from each team to start behind a nominated line and toss their rubber ring to another team member who is standing well ahead (towards the next hole.)
If the ring is caught (legally,) the catcher will prepare to throw the ring forward to another team member who has run ahead in anticipation (towards the next hole.)
At any time a catch is missed, the ring must be returned to the person who just threw it to try again.
This tossing and catching routine continues until a team member is able to catch the ring and touch the designated ‘hole,’ pivoting no more than one foot towards it.
As in regular golf, every throw of the ring (regardless of whether it is caught or not) is recorded as a stroke.
Instruct each team to count the number of strokes they make as they travel around the course.
Once the first hole is complete, the team prepares to toss their ring towards the next designated hole, etc.
Once all holes are reached, the team that completes the course with the least number of strokes wins.
How To Play Narrative
Like Karl Rohnke, from whom I first learned this game, I have had a LOT of fun with this throw and catch game over many years. It sits somewhere in my top 60 activities, ever.
You need to get your hands on a bunch of rubber (deck tennis) rings. Many PE and sports retailers sell them as do pet stores because they are sometimes used as dog toys. Anything more solid than rubber should be avoided because there may be risks involved (which will become apparent soon.)
Gather your group within a very large and wide playing space such as the local parkland, sports oval, woods or open bushland. A windswept plain won’t cut it because you need a variety of physical objects – such as trees, poles, trash cans, seats, etc to involve in the game.
Announce that you are going to introduce the rules of a very odd game of golf. And as with all golf games, there are a series of holes.
At this point, indicate to your group a nominal starting line (the tee) and then direct your group’s attention to a series of objects which will represent a succession of holes. Look for a conspicuous tree or anything that can be spied at least 50 to 100 metres away.
Identify at least 3 or 4 ‘holes’ and nominate each of them by a number. For example, the first hole could be that huge eucalypt over there (pointing), the second hole is the red letterbox over here on the right, etc. Because you’ll want everyone to return back to the start, choose an object close to where you are standing as the last hole.
You are now ready to explain the rules of play. First, you need to demonstrate the use of the rubber rings.
Typically, I will ask for a volunteer and ask them to run ahead of me 10 or 20 metres and then face towards me with one of their hands raised in front of them with fingers pointing up and thumb pressed against their palm.
Then, when ready, I toss a rubber ring towards them and instruct them NOT to catch it as such, rather allow the ring to encircle their hand and pass over their wrist and come to a halt somewhere on their forearm, ie a bit like quoits. Announce that this is considered a legal catch.
Explain that if the ring is successfully (legally) caught, they are then permitted to throw it to another member of their team, and so on. This brings you to your next task – ask your group to form teams of 2, 3 or 4 people. If you’d like to use a random method to achieve this task, take a look at Getting into Teams.
Now that everyone knows what’s involved, you can bet they all are itching to have a go. Distribute one ring to each team, ask them to spread out and practice the highly refined toss and catch skills of Dolphin Golf.
After a few minutes of practice, regather everyone and announce the Dolphin Golf Championship is about to begin.
Reiterate the sequence and identity of each golf hole and instruct each team to count every stroke (toss) they make in their pursuit of each hole. Importantly, explain that at any time a catch is missed, the ring must be returned to the person who just threw it to try again (and that toss is counted as a stroke.)
Ask one person from each team to start from behind the nominated first tee (line on the ground) and prepare to toss their ring towards one of their team members who is closer to the hole.
Oh, and someone is bound to ask – to complete a hole, it must be possible for a team member who just caught the ring to be able to touch the object (representing the hole) – holding the ring in one of their hands – pivoting off one foot (at most) if necessary.
For fun, lick your pointer finger, stab it in the air and predict that the par on this course – just like a professional – is, ummm, 24 or 32 or whatever. Just make it look like you know what you’re talking about.
And let ’em go.
Many minutes later – often quicker than you expect – the teams will return from whence they left.
Survey the scorecards of each team as they come back and announce a winner if that’s important.
Practical Leadership Tips
As the activity will be spread far and wide, and you certainly cannot watch every team member every minute, there is clearly an honour system at work here. When they tell you that they caught every toss legally and/or they tallied X number of strokes, you have to believe them. But who cares? The point of this exercise is to enjoy a short burst of physical activity, work as a team and have fun.
For fun, encourage team players to regularly invoke golf vocabulary to befit the occasion such as “PLAYTHROUGH,” FOUUUURRRRR,” “BIRDIE,” “EAGLE,” “DOUBLE BOGEY,” “HOW MANY DO YOU LIE?” etc.
As Karl Rohnke tells me, the hidden agenda of Dolphin Golf is to offer a game that teaches by example “the rules, vocabulary and etiquette of actual golf combined with a format that is low key and enjoyable enough to invite 100% participation.” Well said.
For history buffs, this game was once known as Italian Golf. Can you see why? When you hold up your hands as if you are about to catch a rubber ring and wave it around as if you were gesticulating in conversation, you could be mistaken for a stereotypical Italian person. Of course, this depiction is not considered culturally sensitive these days, so it was changed to Dolphin Golf because, as we all know, dolphins catch rubber rings on their noses as part of various aquatic performances.
You could integrate Dolphin Golf as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions across different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of enjoying a short burst of physical activity.
In a small way, you could argue that the effort required to interact and work together to toss and catch the rings many times in succession may speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. You could also invite your group to reflect on issues of resilience and accountability insofar as their collective toss and catch skills are concerned. For example, how did they manage their frustration with consecutive missed catches, or how did they support one or more members of their group who struggled to toss or catch the ring effectively?
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Dolphin Golf could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Speedy Gonzalez: Measure the success of each team based on the time it takes them to complete a particular golf course comprising multiple holes. Normal rules apply in regards to rings that are not caught (must be returned to the person who threw it to try again) but the tally of how many strokes is not relevant.
Inside-Out: Plot a golf course that involves both inside and outside holes, ie design one or more holes in which strokes must be played inside a building or indoor area, just to make it interesting. Note, you may need to seek permission first 🙂
Do It Yourself: Invite each team to design their own course as they go. Allow them to identify as many holes as they choose as challenging as they want. Then, perhaps, invite them to challenge another team to play and compete on their unique course.
Foot Golf: Form a triangle or quad of people standing about 2 or 3 metres apart from each other. One person tosses the ring gently towards the lifted and outstretched foot of one of their team members, aiming to have it caught on the end of this person’s foot/shoe. This is much harder than you think, so a wonderful way to challenge an athletic group. Challenge them to toss and catch the ring on the feet of each person in their group in succession. This variation is also useful to occupy those teams that complete your designated golf course much quicker than others, ie fills in idle time.
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Useful Framing Ideas
I can count how many times I’ve played golf on one hand, but I do admire the challenge of whacking a very small ball, with a long thin stick all over a huge open space into tiny little holes. I’m not carrying a set of golf clubs with me today, but would you care to join me in a version of the game that dolphins play?…
Popular folklore tells me that long before the game of golf as we know it today was created, there was another much more enjoyable form of the game played in many parts of the world using rubber rings. Have you seen it? Let me show you…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this energetic toss and catch game:
How long did it take you to adjust your catching style?
What helped you to coordinate a successful toss and catch?
In what ways did your team work together that distinguished it from other teams?
What was the most difficult ‘hole’ to play? Why?
In what ways did you or the group bend the rules? Why?
Does it matter to bend the rules? In real life, when does it matter to bend the rules?
How might the way you worked together in your teams benefit the whole group?
The inspiration for Dolphin Golf, or Italian Golf as it was once known, was sourced from The Bottomless Bag Again book by Karl Rohnke (sadly, now out of print.)