Angeles sportswriter once bet Slammin’ Sam Snead $1,000 that he
couldn’t play 18 holes in 18 or fewer putts. The bet seemed a lock for
the sportswriter - the average number of putts in a good round is 36.
Snead, known for his superb short game, took the bet and proceeded to
use just eight putts on the front nine. On one hole he chipped in from
the fringe. When the reporter offered $500 to call off the bet, Snead
If you’re a relative newcomer to the game of golf, you may not know that players are notorious for betting on anything and everything during a round of golf. Over the years, gambling has become a staple of the game, with wagering as exotic as any combination at Santa Anita Race Track.
Betting makes the game more interesting and provides yet another challenge. Doubtless you know players who couldn’t shoot par at a miniature golf course, but play dead-solid perfect golf with money on the line. Every player should have a game on which he can count - longest drives, least putts or best chips. In any event, betting, when done in moderation, can add a little life to the game, even when you’re not playing well.
Ready to try? Here’s a list of the more well known golf games:
The Skins Game: Unless you’re playing with Marvin Davis or Donald Trump, don’t worry about the stakes being too high. The game is simple: each hole is assigned a skin or point. The player who wins the most skins at the end of the round collects the money. You collect a skin by scoring the lowest on each hole. The minimum wager in a skins game is $1 per hole.
Before the round, you establish
that whoever gets the lowest score on the first nine holes wins $5. You
can also win $5 if your 18-hole count is best. The second nine-hole
score is worth double, or in this instance $10. This means that you can
lose the first nine holes and still come out as the winner by playing
well on the second nine. Why the double bet? As a bookie explained to
his golfing pal, "The same reason people bet on 10:00 a.m. and 1:00
p.m. football games. To win their money back.
Choose ‘Em: This is a good game when there’s an odd number of players in your group, say three players. It’s every man for himself during the tee shot, but then a designated player (it changes every hole) sides with one of the remaining players. The one alone must beat the others to win the hole.
Lakewood Golf: You
can do anything to distract your opponent but touch him or the ball.
Originating in Dallas, the game allows screaming, yelling, firing guns -
anything to throw the golfer off. One story has it that a legendary
hustler named Titanic Thompson could never master the game of golf. His
friends took Lakewood to the limit when they drove a golf cart right at
Thompson just before he hit his shot.
Thirty-Two: This is a bet the player can make when he thinks his opponent will three-putt a hole. If he three-putts, then you get two units. If he makes it in two putts, he gets three units. This is the perfect bet when you notice your opponent facing a tough putt or beginning to lose his concentration.
No Alibis: Instead of using handicaps in the normal fashion, No Alibis players get to shoot a specific number of shots again throughout the round. Essentially a do-over. Usually the number of replays is three-fourths of a player’s handicap. When taking the shot again the golfer must use the second shot regardless of where it ends up. He can’t decide to play the first shot and you can never replay the same shot twice.
This game has also been known as “Criers & Whiners” because it’s the ideal game to play with those who tend to say “if I could only have the shot over”. Now they can and this should shut them up.
Bingo Bango Bongo: Bingo, Bango, Bongo, also known as "Bingle Bangle Bungle," is a fine game that seems to have largely been forgotten. Its format puts separate values on a player's long game, short game and putting.
Each hole has three points available. Players may assign any monetary value they wish to each point. The first point goes to the player hitting the green in the fewest strokes. Fringes don't count and ties are half-point The second point goes to the player closest to the pin after everyone is on the green (regardless of how many strokes it took to get there). The last point goes to the player in the hole in the fewest strokes. Handicaps can be used, but they only apply to the last point.
Some players award the last point to the first ball in the hole, regardless of the number of strokes. I don't like this version, because it encourages a player who is otherwise out of a hole to lag one or more putts to the point where he's just beyond the range of the other players, thus giving himself the best shot at the final point.
On par 3 holes no point is awarded for the first ball
on the green. Instead, the first point goes to the person who is
second-closest to the pin after everyone is on the green.
Bingo, Bango, Bongo is a good game to play when a foursome has a wide range of handicaps, because the format acts as an equalizer. High handicappers can come out quite well if they have good games around the green and score well relative to their handicaps. Players not adept at hitting greens in regulation, for example, will have a better shot at winning the second point if they are good chippers or bunker players.
split into two teams. This is played by combining the two net scores by
each team to make one two-digit number. For example, if on Team 1,
Player A makes a net 5 and his teammate makes a net 6, the scores
would be combined (low number first) and their collective score would be
56. If Team 2’s score was 45 (a net 4 and a net 5) then the second
team would win the hole by 11 points. If a player makes a net 10 or
higher, then the high number goes first. The only other decision
will be how much each point will be worth. Keep in mind that if one
team was to make two net 4's and the other team makes two net 6's,
that would be a difference of 22 points. You might be conservative with
your wagering the first time you play this game.
& Greens: In
this game, players receive one point for each fairway hit in regulation
on par 4's and par 5's and one point for each green hit in
regulation. This usually equals out to about 24 points up for grabs
each round. Points can be awarded every time a player hits a fairway or
green or can be carried over if two players hit one at the same
time (or if all miss). That is, the entire foursome hits the
first fairway, but only one player hits the green, then that player
earns two points and the others earn none.
and Greens is great for less-experienced golfers, because unlike most
betting games, it encourages intelligent golf. Narrow
fairways? Leave the driver in the bag. Other games, such as Skins,
encourage risk-taking that isn't always good for the novice.
is a creative handicapping method. Players receive a negative quota of
points, called a “hurdle,” based on their handicaps. Scratch
Players get –39 points, one handicaps get –38, two handicaps
get –37 and so on to 36 handicaps, who get –3. Then based on their
performances, players receive positive points as follows:
Wolf: Also called “Wolfman”, Wolf is a three-player game. The golfer with the middle-distance drive, regardless of where it lands, is the “wolf.” His opponents are the “hunters.” The wolf must match twice his net score on the hole against the combined net scores of the hunters. If the amount wagered on each hole is a dollar, the wolf puts up two dollars against one each for the hunters. If the wolf wins, he collects two dollars, whereas the hunters get only one each.
On par-three holes, the wolf is the second-closest to the pin after the first shot. If there’s a tie, players decide whether the stakes carry to the next hole. Any amount carried over goes to the next winning “team”, whether it’s the wolf or the hunters. Carryovers make Wolf a more interesting game. Large pots make it advantageous to be the wolf, because the wolf doesn’t split the pot. Thus, strategy off the tee becomes important, and players will jockey to become the wolf. Honor off the tee is established by the net score on the previous hole. Play with full handicaps.
Nassau: Undoubtedly golf’s most popular wagering format, Nassau originated at the Nassau Country Club on Long Island around 1900 (not in the Bahamas, as many believe). Apparently, the club’s team routinely defeated its opponents so easily that a new system of play had to be created. Thus, they decided to award one point for winning the front nine, one point for the back nine, and one point for the match. Today, the “Two Dollar Nassau” now seems as old as golf itself, although we know better.
A modern Nassau is similar to the 1900 version, dividing the wagering into three parts: the front nine, the back nine, and the 18. Teams of two or singles agree on stakes for each segment. Generally, each nine is worth the same amount, and the match is worth either the same or double each nine. (Doubling the back nine but not the match is known as “Four Ways.” Another variation—doubling the back nine and tripling the match—is known as “Six Ways.”)
If someone on the first tee asks you, “Five, five, and five?” what he means is, “Would you like to play a Nassau for $5 on the front nine,$5 on the back nine, and another $5 on the 18?” Use the Match Play format.
As play progresses, if a team falls two holes behind on either the nine or the 18, they may elect to “press” either the remaining nine or 18. Pressing, also known as “rolling the drums,” is, in effect, doubling down. In the case of a $5 Nassau, you’ll be wagering an additional $5 on the remaining holes. (If still on the front nine, players generally press the nine rather than the 18.) The other team is obliged to accept the press. The trailing team isn’t obligated to press, but let’s just say that, where I come from, only complete wusses don’t press. (Note: Players can agree on the first tee to make presses automatic whenever a team is two down.)
Further, if a team is down two holes on a press, the press can be pressed as well, and so on.
When one or more presses come into play, scoring can get complicated. If there are two presses, players are competing for four different matches simultaneously. The scorecard can get messy, so pick someone reliable to keep track of everything. He should mark a “P” or a small dot on the card at each hole where a press was called.
Play with full handicaps off the lowest handicap.
Finally, a handful of tips before you head out for the hustle, from Action on the First Tee, by former tour professional Doug Sanders:
1. Never gamble to hurt a friend. Remember, for the majority of us, golf is a social event. Let’s keep it fun.
2. Never gamble outside your comfort zone. This means don’t bet more than you can afford to lose, and don’t bet with players you can’t beat.
3. Never needle, harass or poke fun at a playing partner who’s on the edge of despair. Again, playing poorly and losing a bundle are punishment enough without your reminding him or her of it.
4. Never fail to settle your debts immediately after the round. It’s just common courtesy. Plus, your betting partner will be much more willing to accept a wager the next time around.
5. If you win, be gracious.