Ladder Toss (Ladder Ball) – A Tailgate Game Staple

Last updated on June 17th, 2020

Time to Read: 5 minutes

Ladder toss is a relatively new game and was developed on campgrounds in the 1990s. It was discovered by Harold Furry and eventually patented by Robert G. Reid in Pennsylvania. Reid sold the patent to Ladder Golf LLC which began developing a commercial version of the game, although many people still play ladder toss with homemade items such as golf balls, rope, and a ladder set.

Ladder toss is known by many names, including ladder toss, ladder ball, ladder golf, monkey toss, hillbilly golf, and goofy balls. The concept is simple and involves throwing bolas onto a ladder-type structure. Points are scored based on where the bolas land.

Equipment Needed

To play ladder toss, you will need a makeshift ladder and some bolas. Many players fashion their own equipment out of items they may have lying around in their garage. Although this piece of equipment is referred to as a ladder, it isn’t the type of ladder used for climbing but is simply a structure with three rungs. To play the game, you will need two ladder structures with three rungs in different colors. They should be spaced fifteen feet apart. Any sturdy material will do for creating this ladder, and the most common are hard plastic, wood, or metal. They should be able to be folded up and stored easily.

Bolas – What’s a Bola?!

Bolas are two small balls connected by a short-sturdy rope. You can make these using golf balls or ping pong balls and rope painted in various colors. There should be six bolas for this game. Ideally, there should be three bolas of each color.

To make your own ladder toss game, you’ll need a supply list that looks something like this:

  • PVC pipes
  • PVC joints
  • PVC end caps
  • Nylon rope
  • 12 balls
  • Paint

Heart Hook Home has a good set of DIY ladder toss instructions here.

Of course, you can also purchase a ladder toss kit from Amazon if DIY isn’t your thing.


How to Play

To play a game of ladder toss, you need between two and four players. Set up the ladders 15 feet apart. Measure this distance from the bottom of the ladder. Ideally, you should get an exact measurement using a tape measure, but if you don’t have this, simply take five paces to mark the distance. 

TIP: Want a good measurement but don’t want to bring a tape measure to every tailgate? Cut a piece of string that’s 15 feet long and tie it to one of your ladders. Then you’ve got a convenient way to measure the proper distance without any extra packing.

To decide who goes first, toss a coin. The person who wins the coin toss throws a bola at their opponent’s rungs and tries to get the bola to wrap around the rungs and adhere to them. There are different points awarded based on which rung the bola clings to. 

The lowest rung is rated at one point, the second rung, two points, and the third rung, three points. 

ladder toss scoring

Each player must throw all three bolas, and then the next player has his turn. If you earned the most points in a given round, your partner will be the one to throw first in the following round. Underhanded throws are acceptable, and players are supposed to stand behind the ladder.

Scoring

The object of the game is to reach 21 points. This is challenging because the team must get exactly 21 points and not exceed 21. In addition, the winning team must lead by at least 2 points. 

The scoring for ladder toss is different than for many other games because the points earned by the winning team cancel the other team’s points out. For instance, if team A earns 7 points, and Team B earns 4 points in one round, Team A actually has earned 3 points, and Team B has zero. This means that only one team will score in any given round. If you and the opposing team tie, the score in that round is zero for each. You can also remove points from the other team by knocking their bola off a rung.

Special Scoring Situations

Birdie

If you throw your bolas so that each one lands on a different rung and your opponent doesn’t land on any of the rungs, this is called a Birdie, and you score an extra point. For instance, you will get six points for getting 1, 2, and 3, and a bonus because your opponent had a score of zero.

Hat Trick

If you land all three of your bolas on any single rung and your opponent doesn’t land on the same rung, this is called a Hat Trick, and you get an extra point. For instance, if you land on 2 three times, you are awarded six points. If your opponent does not land on 2 at all, you get an extra point (the total depends on how much your opponent scores).

Zelda

If you manage to beat the other team 21-0, it is called a Zelda. Not surprisingly, Zeldas are fairly rare, since most of the time, teams manage to score at least one point.

How to Improve your Ladder Toss Technique

Since throwing your bola is the key to success in the ladder toss game, having a solid throwing technique is essential. Start with a steady pendulum-like swing with your arm. The pendulum motion will get your bola to reach wider, so it will grab the rung you are aiming for. In addition, a good generous swing can get the ropes of the bola to reach out wider and cover more territory so it can latch onto the rung.

The way you stand can make a difference in the quality of your throw. Step with one foot forward and lean forward slightly to get the pendulum swing going. Make sure your back is supported, and your feet are a comfortable distance apart. Try to have a nice arc to the ball before you release it. Some people like to remain stationary, but others prefer to take a step forward while releasing the ball. Since you have to remain behind the ladder, take a step backward before beginning the process so you can comfortably step forward and release the ball.

Since winning requires hitting 21 exactly, you will have to practice capturing certain numbered rungs on demand. It is worthwhile to practice hitting certain rungs on demand.