I enjoy playing ladder toss with friends and family and thought I'd try making my own set from common materials.
What Is Ladder Toss?
Ladder Toss is a relatively new and fun outdoor game that comes out of the campgrounds of America. It is also known by a wide variety of other names: blongo balls, ladder ball, ladder golf, bolo toss, bolo golf, redneck golf, bolo ball, and probably a hundred others.
With the wide variety of names, it is obvious that this is a popular outdoor game. It can be found in backyards, tailgate parties, and campgrounds everywhere. Tournaments are popular at large gatherings, and ladder toss can be played by all ages. Toddlers excited to play, Mom and Dad will enjoy it, and so will grandparents.
Rules are not consistent everywhere, but a particular set are nevertheless are included in this article. Make sure that you understand local rules before playing with others.
Build Your Own Ladder Toss
Ladder golf is constructed primarily of PVC pipe and fittings, available at any home improvement store such as Lowe's or Home Depot.
- 2 10-foot lengths of ¾" PVC plumbing pipe, cut into 2 foot lengths. A total of 10 2' pieces.
- 2 10-foot lengths of ¾" PVC plumbing pipe, cut into 1 foot lengths. A total of 20 1' pieces.
- 12 ¾" PVC elbows
- 12 ¾" PVC T's
- 12 golf balls. Make sure they do not have liquid centers.
- About 10 feet of ¼" nylon rope
- 2 cans of spray paint of your choice of colors
All but the golf balls are available at home improvement stores, and they may have "contractor packs" of the elbows and T's. Wal-Mart or other department stores often carry cheap golf balls.
- Hacksaw or another fine-toothed saw suitable for cutting PVC pipe
- Small torch such as bernzomatic or other small flame source. A cigarette lighter will work.
- Sharp knife and/or diagonal wire cutters
- Measuring tape
- 5/16" inch drill bit and drill. A brad point drill bit is preferred.
Building the Ladders
PVC pipe is very easily cut with any fine tooth saw; after cutting clean the burrs from the cut with either a knife of a piece of sandpaper. Note that the lengths of pipe exactly match the total length of pipe pieces needed - at least one piece from each length of pipe will be shorter than the rest due to the kerf (thickness of the blade) of the saw. The solution is to cut each piece 1/8" shorter than called for - by doing this you will save the cost of an extra length of pipe and it will not affect the game at all. Make sure the cuts are reasonably square to the pipe as a large angle cut will not fit firmly into the PVC fittings.
After all the cuts are made it is time to assemble the ladders. Fit the pieces together as shown in the picture, firmly pushing and twisting the pipe into the fittings. Do not glue the pieces together unless a permanent games is desired - one of the advantages to a ladder toss game is its portability. Pieces may be gently tapped together with a hammer, but care is needed not to drive them too far in as they will be very difficult to get out. Two of the ladders are necessary for a game and the materials list reflects that.
Building the Bolos
Six bolos are needed for the game, three of one color and three of another. Each golf ball needs a 5/16" hole drilled as close to the center as possible. A drill press with a vise is preferable, but an alternative method is shown in the picture. Use one of the ¾" PVC T's as a stand (the drill bit will pass through the golf ball and into the hole in the T) and a pair of pliers or vise grips to hold the ball securely. Do not try to hold the ball with your hands as it will certainly twist and injury is likely. A helper would be advisable if a vise is not available as the plastic and rubber in a golf ball are tough and want to "grab" the drill bit so it takes a good bit of force to hold the ball steady.
With the holes drilled it is time to paint the bolo balls. A good way to do this is to string the balls onto a stiff wire or small rod and paint several at one time. Each ball may be turned and sprayed completely all the way around in this manner. Most games use two different colors (6 balls of each color) but using 6 unpainted white balls will also work. Red and blue are popular but any colors of your choice are perfectly acceptable.
When the paint is dried well the balls may be put onto the rope. Nylon rope has a strong tendency to fray badly at the ends and the solution is to heat it right at the end until the threads of nylon have melted into a solid lump. It will likely be necessary to trim off the excess with a knife as this lump must pass through the 5/16" holes drilled in the golf balls. A pair of wire cutters will also work very well for this as well as cutting the rope. Slide two golf balls of the same color onto the rope and tie a hard knot as close as possible to the burned end. With one golf ball against the knot, slide the other one away from it so that it is 13" from the center of one ball to the center of the other with the rope held taut. Cut the rope some 6" further out from the second ball and again tie a hard knot in it so that when the balls are slid as far apart as possible the 13" measurement is maintained. Cut off the excess and again melt the cut ends. When finished you should have 3 bolos with one color of ball and 3 with another color.
Assembling Your Ladder Toss Game
How to Play Ladder Toss
As noted above, rules are as variable as the name of the game. One of the more common set of rules is as follows:
Set up the ladders to face each other five paces (ten steps) apart. This will result in ladders that are approximately 30 feet apart for adults and are correspondingly closer for children of different ages. Ladder toss may be played on any reasonable smooth surface such as concrete, gravel, sand or grass.
Number of Players
Ladder toss is normally played with either two or four people. If two people are playing both people take one set of three bolos and meet at one ladder. If four people are playing it is done with two teams of two people each. One person from each team is at each ladder, with the two players at one ladder having the bolos. The person with the biggest nose, or the ugliest person or perhaps the person that calls a coin toss goes first. It doesn't make much difference.
Throwing the Bolos
One person tosses his bolos, one at a time, at the opposite ladder using an underhand tossing motion while staying behind the ladder closest to him. The other person follows the same method until all the bolos have been thrown. If using two players the players then walk to the other ladder and repeat the procedure; if teams are used the second player from each team tosses the bolos back. The last player to score a point throws first or, in the case of no points having been scored, the person or team that threw the first bolo. The objective is to wrap one of your bolos around one of the rungs of the ladder and stay on the ladder until the last bolo is thrown for that round. A common tactic is throw your own bolo in such a way that it knocks your opponents bolo off of the ladder so that it doesn't score.
Bolos that finish a round still on the ladder count 3 points if on the top rung, 2 points on the center rung and 1 point if on the bottom rung. Bolos that bounce off the ground and end up staying on the ladder count as appropriate points. Two bolos from opposing teams sharing a rung cancel each other out with no points being scored for either one.
Example 1: Player A throws his bolos in such a way that he has one bolo on each rung. At this time he has 3+2+1 = 6 points, though he can't count them yet. Player B bounces one bolo off the ground and onto the bottom rung with her other two wrapping around the center rung. Player A now has three points as his bolos on the bottom and center rungs have been canceled out. Player B has 2 points as her bolo on the bottom rung and one of the ones on the center rung cancel out the bolos from player A, leaving her with one bolo on the center rung.
Example 2: Player A again throws his bolos ending with one bolo on each rung. Player B throws two bolos that miss entirely, but the third one knocks off player A's bolo on the top rung and then falls to the second rung. Player A gets 1 point for the bolo on the bottom rung and player B gets no points as her one bolo on the ladder is used to cancel the bolo from player A that has remained on the second rung.
Points are scored until one player gets exactly 21 points. Note that both players must complete their throws each time before the score can be calculated - even if player A has 21 points player B may be able to nullify some of them with her throw.
If a player goes over 21 points their score is dropped back to 10 points and they must continue to play and try again to get exactly 21 points.
Example 1: Player A has 18 points and throws a bolo onto each of the top and middle rungs. Player B notes that he now has 23 points and, throwing all her bolos at once, somehow manages to only reach halfway to the ladder with them. She gets no points, but player A is now reduced from 18 points to 10 points.
Example 2: Player A has 19 points and throws a bolo onto the top rung with the other two missing the ladder. Player B throws one bolo that strikes player A's bolo and knocks it to the second rung - her other two bolos go astray. Player A gets two points and instead of going back to 10 points again has won the game.
Ladder toss is one of more interesting family games to be developed in the last few years. Have fun with yours and enjoy!
Questions & Answers
Question: Your plan calls for 20 one foot pieces. We only see where 12 are used on the vertical. Where are the other eight one foot pieces for use in this design?
Answer: The vertical section has 6 and the horizontal, or base, the section has 4. That's 10 on each ladder or 20 total.
© 2010 Dan Harmon
Dale Metcalfe from Chicago & Phoenix on September 24, 2012:
Interesting article - I enjoyed it