Golf and gambling go together like a steak and a baked potato. Most golfers that are not seriously working on their game like to play for something just to “make it interesting.” If you are relatively new to golf, here are some suggestions on popular games (this is not a complete list).
Since taking up golf as a child and starting by playing for a chocolate milk Nassau, I have played more variations than I can remember. Because of my wealth of experience, I thought I would pass on a few things that I have learned over the years.
I was fortunate enough to have a friend of the family teach me how. Much to my parent’s displeasure, I was able to make dating money as a teenager and it went on from there.
The first thing that he taught me was that being good at golf and being good at gambling had very little to do with each other. I have seen many people with superior golf games lose to individuals with superior gambling skills.
Make sure you understand exactly what the bet is before you tee off so that there are no surprises in the 19th hole and if you are playing a game with partners, make sure that your partner is comfortable also.
This brings me to my first rule – never play for more than you are comfortable with and make sure that you understand the game so that you don’t get in over your head. Here is a list of the most common games and some points you need to understand.
This is probably the most popular game that groups play, but it does require four players. You would play two person teams. Each player plays out his or her own ball on every hole. You only use the lowest score for each team.
This is also one of the most popular betting games in golf. A Nassau is generally three separate bets. The front nine, the back nine and the total for the round. You can either play as a team bet or play each other individually. You set a dollar amount for the Nassau such as $1 or more. If you lose all three matches you only lose $3. A press is another bet that runs concurrently with the original bet. Presses can add up quickly. The press or second bet, is usually for the same amount at the first bet. I am not going to try to explain all different types of presses such as repressing the press.
My advice is never play automatic presses. If you are having a bad day you can lose a lot. Also, remember that the person asking for a press is the one that is down in the match. The key term is the word “asking.” You do not have to accept the press. I personally never accept a press on the last few holes. I am not going to let someone I have been beating all day break even or win on the last couple of holes.
Of course, there’s also all kinds of “junk” you can include in any of the games listed above. Here are a few: Greenies (pay off for hitting the green in regulation); Chippies (pay off for chipping in from off the green); Barkies (pay out for hitting a tree and still making par); Double barkies (pay out for hitting two trees and still making par); Fishies (pay out for making par on a hole in which you found the water); Sandies (pay out for getting out of the sand and making par).
This is a game of points. The first player in the group to get the ball on the green gets a point (bingo). Whoever is closest to the hole once all balls are on the green gets a point (bango). The last point (bongo) is awarded to the first player to get the ball in the hole.
This game can frequently work in favor of a weaker play, especially if he can chip. The better players are usually going to hit more greens in regulation and have long birdie putts, but chipping it close, even if it is for a five or six wins a point. As a reminder, your actual score on the hole doesn’t matter.
This is one of my favorite games because it keeps thing interesting. You can get slaughtered for six holes but have the opportunity to make it on the next twelve.
Again you need four players because you are going to change partners every six holes. You can choose from a variety of formats for the six hole matches. Each six holes is a separate bet so theoretically you could change formats every six holes.
If you lose one of the matches and win the other two you come out ahead.
This format becomes popular around Ryder Cup time because it is one of the formats used and it gives you a deep appreciation for just a difficult a format this is. Alternate shot is just what it says. Prior to the round you and your partner decide who will tee off on the odd-numbered holes and who will tee off on the even-numbered holes. After that person tees off, you alternate shots until the ball is in the hole.
You can play alternate shot as stroke play or as match play. The upside to alternate shot is you can play quickly, as there are only ever two balls in play in your foursome. The down side comes if you are playing during a really busy time. It also might be a better game for those people who are members of a club.
Personally, I am not a big fan of spending $60+ on green fees and not getting to play my ball all the way around.
This game only works if you have four players. All players play their own ball. The goal is to be the player that accumulates the most points during the round.The order of play needs to be decided on the first tee.
(Very Important): The last player is always the wolf. Rotate the order on each tee with out worrying about who has the honor; this ensures that each player becomes the Wolf every four holes.
After all the players have hit their tee shot, the Wolf decides whether or not to take any of the players on his or her team for the hole. The Wolf has the option to play the hole as the ‘Lone Wolf. If this is the case the objective is to beat the three other players by having the lowest net score on the hole. Every hole is based on net best ball with only the best score of each team being used.
The scoring is as follows:
It’s a great game, but you need some dependable to keep score of points.
The drawback to this one is can get ugly in a hurry. It can even get ugly if you are careful. Foursomes are necessary for this one. You play in teams of two and for a team score on each hole. But here’s the twist, rather than adding the two players scores together, the scores are paired with the lowest score as the first number. For example, if you and your partner have a 4 and a 5 on a hole your team score is 45 (lowest score first).
The scoring is similar to Gin Rummy. Each score equals that many points. The 4 and the 5 equal 45 points. At the end of the round the points for each team is totaled.
Subtract the the team with the lowest points from the highest and pay off on the differential depending on what value was assigned to each point. For instance, the paired score for Team A on one hole is 45 and the paired score for Team B is a 55. If they were playing for $1 per point, Team B owes Team A $10 for that hole.
Just so things don’t get ridiculously out of hand, there is a safeguard in Vegas. If a player on a given team scores a 10 or higher, then the 10+ score comes before the lower score when they’re paired together for points. So, if a team has a 7 and a 10 rather than “710 points” for the hole, it’s “107.” This is the only instance in Vegas when the larger number is paired in front of the lower number.
The player that is first to have the lowest score on a hole captures the Rabbit. Ties don’t count. When someone other than the holder of the Rabbit wins a hole the Rabbit is set free. If the holder of the Rabbit wins the next hole he is said to have a leg on the Rabbit and someone has to win two holes to set it free. You cannot hold the Rabbit unless it was free. Generally you will have a Rabbit on the front nine and also on the back nine.
One of the things I like about this game is it can be played by any number of people. It can even be played in large groups where everyone compares scorecards when they all finish.
With Skins you assign a point or dollar value to each skin. As with Rabbit in order to win a skin you must have the lowest score of the group. You can decide whether or not you are going to play “carry-overs”. If two players tie then you can either carry that additional skin over to the next hole increasing the point value.
Assign a point-value or dollar amount to each hole. Each player in the group contributes a predetermined amount for the “kitty” on each of the holes. The lowest score on each hole wins the skin. Should more than one player tie a hole, the skin carries over. Whoever wins the next hole outright wins the skin for that hole as well as any skins that carried over.
The great thing about skins is you may screw up the first five holes which are all halved and then win the sixth hole. You win six skins and your playing companions are not happy.
If everyone is about the same ability level then handicaps don’t need to be a factor in any of these games, but at some point strokes usually become involved so you will need to establish a handicap.
To establish a Handicap Index, all you need to do is join a sanctioned SCGA club (or sign up for an SCGA Associate Membership and we’ll assign you a club in your area) and post at least 3 eligible scores from your previous rounds.
Never forget: The whole point of golf is to get out there and have fun. While “playing for something” makes it a little more interesting and competitive, do not ever “play for something” you don’t have.