Harold Furry discovered the game on campgrounds in the early 1990s and believes it probably originated in such locations. Others speculate that the bola is a stand-in for a live snake, which cowboys in the western United States or caballeros in Mexico used to throw at fences or branches for points.
A "ball and ladder game" was patented in 2001 by Pennsylvanian Robert G. Reid, a postman who had played the game with his family for decades before deciding to file for patent in November, 1999. Reid sold his patent to Ladder Golf LLC, recorded in the patent office in March 2005, and the company began manufacturing the game commercially. The company sponsored a tournament in San Diego in April, 2005, featuring 32 teams.
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The items needed to play are two ladders and a set of three bolas per team.
Each ladder has three rungs, each rung scoring a different point value. One common method of scoring is to have the rungs be one, two and three points. In one variety the top is worth 1, middle is 2, and bottom is 3. Points are tallied at the end of each round, after all teams have thrown their bolas. The bolas suspended on the ladder score the points for that rung, often with the goal of getting at least 21 points to win.
Another variety of scoring would be 1pt for the bottom rung, 2pts for the middle, 3pts for the top, and a bola on each of the rungs scores an automatic 10pts. This makes the game move faster, but is just as hard. If the ball bounces off the ground and lands on a bar it does not count as a point.
There are a few optional ways to earn or lose points:
- A "tight dangle bonus" is when the balls can no longer be wrapped around the horizontal rods. This is worth an additional point to each tight dangle.
- A "springboard bonus" occurs when the balls launch back in the direction they were thrown. A springboard bonus is worth one additional point.
- Points are cancelled where the bolas of the opponent land on the same rung. For example, if Player A throws onto the middle rung he or she scores 2 points, but when the opponent lands on that same rung, the scores cancel, netting to 0. Points only cancel on the same rung. Player A could have two bolas wrapped on the top rung (1pt) and Player B one bola wrapped on the middle rung (2pts), assuming no other bolas stuck, the net score would be 2 - 2 for that round of play. This optional play makes the game more competitive and the game may last longer.
The balls on the bolas are often golf balls, but may be any uniform weight. They are sometimes plastic balls, tennis balls, rubber balls or a monkey's fist knot. Teams are distinguished by having their own color. For example, Team One may have three bolas with blue string, Team Two may have red string and Team Three may have purple string. Also, the teams may have different colors of balls. Ladder toss may be played with two people (one person per team) or up to six people (three teams of two people).
The rungs may be plastic pipe, wood or other materials. Construction of the game is relatively easy and can be put together with the following:
- 16’ - ¾” PVC pipe
- 2 - ¾” PVC Elbow joints
- 6 – ¾” PVC “T” joints
- 12’ – 3/8” Nylon rope
- 12 – balls (six each of two different colors.)
- 4 - ¾” PVC end caps (optional)
Irrigation (white) PVC pipe is commonly used but electrical (grey) PVC pipe may be preferable, at increased cost, as it contains UV inhibitors to prevent the PVC from getting brittle from sunlight exposure. Alternatively, painting (white) PVC pipe would also protect them from UV; be sure to use a paint intended for plastics and sanding with 220 grit will help with adhesion.
Being a relatively new and grassroots game, it goes by many names. Some of these names are "Läderbölen" (English: "Ladder Ball"), "Lasso Golf", "North Dakota Golf", "Norwegian Golf", "Dangle Ball", "Balls on Bars", "Hillbilly Golf", “Testicle Toss”, and many others. There is also a patented version of the game called Ladder Golf.
- Seminara, Katie "Preparing to party it up" Youngstown Vindicator
- Joy, Kevin (September 6, 2008). "Game-day play: Corn toss still reigns, but 'ladder ball' popping up at Ohio State tailgating parties". The Columbus Dispatch. Archived from the original on January 19, 2013. Retrieved 2009-05-29.
- Patent Assignment #6308956, United States Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved on 2009-05-30.
- Brondyke, Phil (September 5, 2006). "Call it what you will, it's still the same game". Hamline Oracle. Archived from the original on October 9, 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-30.
- Seabaugh, Julie (May 24, 2006). "Hillbilly Golf, Anyone?". Riverfront Times. Archived from the original on 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2009-05-29.
- "LSU Faithful Add Flavor To College World Series" Archived 2008-06-19 at the Wayback Machine, WOWT-TV, Omaha