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Betting in Golf

Understanding the Rules of Golf are critical to avoiding penalties, ensuring you display appropriate sportsmanship and can also influence your course management and shot strategy.

“Gambling is illegal at Bushwood sir, and I never slice!”

If you understand the different formats of golf, you can add in different games to make it more fun with something to play for.  Golf is the greatest sport in the world because you play against anyone (that usually carries a legit handicap).  You can start off with a level playing field so any golfer can have a chance to win. Granted, some golfers are just outright better than others straight up but golf has the handicap system to make everyone enjoy the game and be competitive with each other.

There are many different formats including multiple games to play that many golfers don’t know about.  It’s always fun to change it up while teaming up with partners and playing against opponents. I play it to keep focus, have fun with my group and to put some pressure on my golf game to prepare for tournaments.

It’s always fun to play when something is on the line either for pride, a few bucks, a round of drinks or bragging rights.  I do recommend carrying a legit handicap if you are to play these games on a regular basis or if you are going on a golf trip that involves heavy money. Here are fun and common games to play among your group you may not know about. These games are usually played among your group and usually with a foursome but can be altered if needed.  There are many versions of these games so please feel free to modify to make the game better for you.

Nassau

The most popular game among golf enthusiasts that involves 2 or 4 golfers either a one on one match or a two on two match.  This game is broken down into three original bets. The front 9, the back 9 and the total 18.  Golfers can play any format but score hole by hole such as match play or fourball.  Two bets are started with the front 9 and total 18.  After the front 9 bet is decided, the back 9 bet starts while the total 18 bet continues on.

If you were to play a $2 Nassau, the three bets are worth $6 total so you can win/lose that at most unless…a Press is made which means another bet concurrently running with the original bet. Let’s say…

Grant is 1 up after hole 8 on the front 9 bet

Bob, who is down, is allowed to press Grant and does on the front 9.

Original bet continues on but now there’s another $5 bet for the front 9 only. In this case, only Hole 9 is left…

  • If they tie Hole 9, Grant wins original Front 9 bet, 1up and ties the press bet (Grant wins $5)
  • If Grant wins Hole 9, Grant wins original Front 9 bet, 2up and wins press bet (Grant wins $10)
  • If Bob wins Hole 9, the original bet ties and Bob wins press bet (Bob wins $5)

A golfer who is down on any bet may press/create another bet the golfer that is up in the match. If allowed by your own rules, a re-press can be made which doubles the amount on that extra press bet.

Note: Nassau the name came from Nassau Country Club in New York which invented the game, not because it is played in the Bahamas.

Skins

This format is very common for side bets. This can be played among your foursome, a few groups or an entire field in a tournament.  The goal for a golfer is to have the lowest score on a hole among the other competitors.  If more than one lowest score is made, the hole is “cut” and no skins are won for that hole.

There are a few ways to fund this format. One way is for all golfers to throw in the same amount of money into the skins pot.  The pot is divided equally to the amount of skins won for the round. Multiple skins can be made per round.

Another way is to put an amount on a skin made, so if a skin is worth $2 and a golfer wins a skin among 8 golfers, the others owe him $2 each on that hole so that golfer won $14.

Wolf

A fun game choosing and changing partners on the fly!  An order is assigned to players before playing as the wolf for each hole. Ex: #1 golfer will be the wolf on hole 1, 5, 9, 13, 17. The wolf tees off first on their assigned hole. The wolf then decides to pick a partner after each other golfers tee off but will lose that opportunity when the following golfer tees off. 

If the wolf does not like any drives or does not choose a partner before leaving the tee, the wolf will go Lone wolf and play one vs three. Going Lone wolf doubles the bet for that hole. If the wolf feels even more confident, he/she can claim going Lone Wolf before his/her own drive which quadruples the bet.

Golfers play their own balls and take the lowest score for your team.  If you or your team has the lowest score on the hole, you get the point(s). A dollar amount is designated per point before playing. At the end of the round, you compare points among the group.

If your course allows fivesomes, this is a good game to play.

Vegas Low-High

A good format to use everyone’s score every hole with my own twist.  Two teams of two will play best ball and both scores will be used for your team score.  The lower score will be the nominal number and the higher score will be the decimal number. 

So if you have scores of 4 and a 5 for a team, your team score for the hole is 4.5. The difference of scores per hole are added up for the round.  The points are assigned a monetary value (usually $1-2) as the higher/decimal number can be maxed out as a triple bogey or whatever you decide for pace of play or embarrassment reasons. If you don’t have a max, I would suggest any scores that go over 9 would add to the low score also.

Hole scenario:

  • John 4 Jimmy 6 (4.6) vs Erica 3 Erin 5 (3.5)…Erica/Erin wins 1.1 point for that hole
  • Danny 4 Charley 11 (5.1) vs Gregg 5 Mike 5 (5.5)…Danny/Charlet only wins .4 point

6-6-6

This format is more friendly because everyone in your group will be your partner. Any format can be used but four-ball is commonly played. You randomly pick partners for the first six holes, then do the same for the next six and final six holes as long as you don’t have the same partner twice. Playing the six holes is a match until you change partners. 

You can also discuss if you will allow Presses for the match (creating a new bet along old one).  So put an amount on each match/bet as there will be three unless there are presses.   You can also change the bets by just collecting points for each player on each hole.  At the end, add them up and compare them and pay out the points.

Left Right

A good way to team up the slicers and hookers!  You can play any format or game but teams are decided on every hole by who goes left and right.  After a foursome tees off, the two farthest drives to the right will be a team and the two left will be a team for that hole.  Points are usually won and added up at the end of the round.

Hammer

The name of this describes playing this game perfectly.  I was first introduced to this game recently in the Dallas-area playing at exclusive clubs with friends and members. You might call this a ‘Big Boys’ game as it can put some serious pressure on you depending on every shot you make and what amount you put on per hole.  It’s similar to playing cards, you don’t have to actually have the best score, just have to make the other team concede to you. You can lose the hole even after your tee shot!

You play for a certain amount of money per hole and usually play as a foursome or even a fivesome (we switched partners every six holes).  A team can “Hammer” at any time during the hole. This puts the other team in a situation to make a decision, to accept the “Hammer” which would double the bet for that hole or not accept it which means you concede the hole to the other team. 

The team that is being challenged or hammered must make this decision before another player hits a shot. If they accept it, the bet continues unless that team decides to “Hammer” back. This can go back and forth among the teams just for that one hole and bets are doubled every time. Fortunately, the original bet starts off each of the following holes. It’s basically a game of presses (new bets) by using the cool word, “Hammer” being meticulously shouted out with early decisions to concede.

Playing this game is good for two teams of two but you can also play it in a singles match.  And you better carry some back up cash in your bag or have a Venmo account.

Have only a threesome?  Play this!

9 point

Pretty easy game to play even though it’s an odd number of players.  9 points are distributed every hole depending on everyone’s scores.  To make this easier to understand, let’s just take a look at the score examples (  ) below from Players A, B, C

A(4) – 3 pts    B(4) – 3 pts     C(4) – 3 pts

B(3) – 5 pts    C(4) – 3 pts    A(5) – 1 pt

A(3) – 4pts    C(3) – 4pts    B(6) – 1 pt

C(2) – 5 pts    A(4) – 2pts    B(4) – 2pts

Every hole adds up to 9 points and are added up at the end of the round and compared.

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V Tongwarin

V Tongwarin

Visanu Tongwarin or “Coach V” is a Class A PGA Teaching Professional at Legacy Ridge Golf Course and Walnut Creek Golf Preserve in Westminster, Colorado. V's brings his passion for teaching the game of golf to all levels of golfers from running children clinics to training state champions and seasoned professionals.