Skip to content

Word Wisdom: Sandbag

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser.
Word Wisdom

I gaze out the window wishfully thinking about the coming golf season. But Winter has not finished with us yet, it seems. It may be a while before our group gets back on the course and we throw around the term sandbagger as we negotiate what will be needed to get some free coffee. In golfing parlance, to sandbag is to claim your normal score is higher than you shoot regularly, to gain an advantage when playing against someone else.

In 1590 sandbag entered the English language as a noun meaning a bag filled with sand, often used in fortifications, as ballast to better control a ship, as a weapon to strike someone, or to heave in a catapult. By 1860 sandbag was used as a verb referencing its usage as a noun. To sandbag was to stop a leaky dike or to temporarily bank a rising waterway. One could sandbag a boat to provide better operation or a carriage to add weight for better handling. In the 19th century to sandbag was an offensive tactic of hoodlums to use a sock filled with sand to bash a victim and steal his money.

Sandbag then developed a sense of unfair or harsh treatment. The government sandbagged the region when it moved its offices to a central location. To sandbag could also mean to coerce by crude means. A business could sandbag the government for subsidy by threatening to relocate to another country.

From these usages eventually sandbag came to mean to conceal or misrepresent one’s true position, potential, or intent to gain an advantage. To sandbag was to hide the truth about oneself to gain benefit over another. It became a term used in sports, especially tennis and golf, to describe nefarious means of getting gain by subtle cheating. Sandbag was used by poker players to describe the act of pretending to have a strong hand that was weak, to draw other players into raising the bet. Sandbagging could also mean a player with strong cards who holds back his bets to draw in weaker hands until raising the stakes in the last round.

There are ways to spot a potential sandbagger on the golf course. The golfer claims a high handicap by purposely missing short putts that are regularly made when playing for money or drinks. If a casual round is going bad, the sandbagger will make sure to take it from bad to worse, so a rough day doesn’t go to waste on their handicap. 

Golfers playing against an opponent rely on giving strokes to even the playing field. Sandbaggers understate their ability to gain advantage. Here are some tips on dealing with someone who sandbags (from

The sandbagger is willing to sacrifice integrity and friendship for the sake of a soulless win. Looked on in this light, he or she deserves your sympathy, not your scorn.

Even those who are self-centred enough to sandbag are not entirely oblivious to social clues. Among groups of golfers, is it not uncommon to gradually freeze the sandbagger out of matches. This tactic takes time. But at some point, the offender gets the hint.

Light-hearted jabs are another way to get your point across. Just beware that you’re walking a fine line. What seems to you like playful ribbing may be taken as fighting words. There is truth in humour, after all. And kidding aside, you are essentially calling the sandbagger a cheat.

You could post an anonymous note on the clubhouse bulletin board and on the windshield of the sandbagger’s car, making plain your displeasure with dishonesty. What this method lacks in courage it makes up for in clarity. And it’s (slightly) more mature than slashing tires.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to . Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication. 

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks