Great Golf Betting Games for All Skill Types & Appetites
A Complete Guide to Golf Gambling and How to Score Your Card
Whether you like to play for a little or play for a lot, golf betting games are a popular way to add excitement to a round of golf. From stroke play to match play and everything in between, we’re going to cover some of the best golf gambling games for players of all skill types and bank accounts because these days, when you get out of the house for some fun you have every excuse to make it all the more interesting.
As with all things, variety is the spice of life, so in order to keep you engaged on the links, and distracted from the current state of affairs, we’ve taken a dive into the best golf betting games that will improve your round, scare your wallet and most importantly, get bragging rights over your friends.
The Basics of Golf Betting Games
Before we get into the different types of wagers, let’s cover a few basics. Golf gambling games can take two primary formats: stroke play and match play. Stroke play is straightforward; whichever player gets the ball into the hole in as few shots as possible over the agreed upon number of holes wins the bet. Stroke play (or medal play, as it’s also known) is how most golf tournaments are played, with some accounting for a player’s handicap (net score) or at higher levels, taking their gross score with no adjustment for handicap.
While there are some gambling games that use stroke play format, the majority of golf betting games use a match play format. Match play betting is great for casual players because individual holes are competed rather than the total number of strokes in a round, so if you have a few big numbers on your card you can still win the match with great scoring on others. Match play is the preferred format for groups and head-to-head competition and can be played with handicap adjustments or straight up, but keep in mind that it’s a head-to-head competition so not useful for larger group play without some creative accounting.
Some tournaments (like your Club’s Member-Guest or a weekend tournament for charity) can use a hybrid of match play and stroke play, gross and net scoring, to create all types of action and opportunities for winning (and losing) money. If you’re getting involved in an organized game with a large field, make sure you study the rules ahead of time to avoid embarrassing situations and to give yourself the best chance of going home with a heavier wallet.
Read More: How to Play Golf During the Pandemic
How to Score Golf Betting Games
Keeping the score of your game can be intimidating, and definitely requires focus. Some groups have that person who likes to be the keeper, but we recommend at least one member of each team keep score, and regularly confirm where the match stands every couple holes. The last thing you want is confusion over a wager to lead to bad blood on the course.
Scoring a stroke or medal play game is relatively easy; players simply record their score for each hole and determine the low player at the end of the round. Handicaps can be recorded prior to the match using dots or slashes wherever a player is “stroking” on a hole, or after the match by adjusting the scores for each player’s handicap. Whichever method you’re using, know that you’ll be responsible for keeping your own card during the round. You will likely have to sign or attest it at the end so don’t cheat, because cheaters never win!
When scoring a match play bet, each hole is worth one point and the low scoring team or player on that hole takes the point. A match can be divided into “sides,” meaning the front nine holes is one side of the bet and the back nine is a second side. This is a neat way to keep everyone engaged and offers groups the chance to adjust the teams at the turn if there’s a mismatch or bad vibes within one of the teams.
You’ll also hear golfers talk about being “one up” or “two down” over the course of a match play game; this refers to how many holes they have won or lost against their opponent. If competitors tie a hole, it is “halved” and each competitor gets half a point. Late into a match play game, mathematics can take over and obviate the outcome. When a competitor is three up with three holes remaining, they are “dormie” because they only have to win or tie the next hole to win the bet.
If a team or player is behind by two holes or more in match play, they may decide to “press” their opponents. A “press” is an exciting variation in match play golf and a really fun element for gamers who like being under pressure and relish the action that comes with gambling on golf. When an opponent presses their competitor, they concede the current bet and open a new bet. So if you’re up three with four holes to play and you get pressed, the next four holes are a new match play game. Traditionally, the bet created by a press uses the same stakes as decided prior to the start of play. Pressing is an exciting way to double your winnings but also works out well in friendly wagers because the opposing team has a chance to win their money back on the press.
This is just the basics of pressing in golf; for a complete understanding (from invoking to accepting, automatic presses to exactly how much is at stake with each press), check out this guide to how to press in golf.
Ok, so now that we have the mechanics of scoring your golf bet out of the way, let’s get on to the games!
Golf Betting Games: Nassau
Nassau is a golf gambling game that many of us know well, and it’s a great one to keep players consistently engaged throughout a round. As a match play format, a nassau creates three separate bets: one bet per nine, and a third on the overall 18-hole match. Also known as 5’s or 5-5-5 because of the popularity of the standard $5 bet, the maximum amount a player can lose is $15 and three bets creates a lot of action for your round. Nassau can be played with presses and even using a stroke play format. Barring catastrophic play from one or all members of a given team, it’s a good way to limit the financial hit while still giving everyone an incentive to play well.
Ideal for foursomes who want good action without a lot of stress.
Golf Betting Games: 5-3-1
Apparently, there are a lot of golf betting games that have numerical names. While the uninitiated reader might assume from the previous entry that this is just a scaled wager system like 5-5-5, it is, in fact, not that at all. 5-3-1 uses stroke play to determine the doling out of points for any given hole. Before the round starts, players agree on a wager for the course (say $15 dollars if we want to keep things on par with Nassau), and their money goes into the pot*.
At the end of each hole, the player with the lowest score on that hole gets 5 points. Second place gets 3 points, and third place gets 1 point. “But Jordan,” you ask, “what happens if several of us get the same score on a hole?” Not to worry. This game is also called The Rule of Nines because if you look closely, 5+3+1=9.
If we apply that to every hole, the total points doled out should equal 9. Two players’ scores tied for the lead? Give ’em 4 points each and third place takes 1. Two tied for second place? Give ’em 2 points and award 5 to the winner. The one thing to note about 5-3-1 is that it’s really at its best with three players.
*5-3-1 can also be played using a Nassau-style wager on the front and back 9’s as well as a total for the course. Some variations have players deciding on a dollar value that corresponds to points, so the payouts are more spread out between players, and the second place finisher loses less $ than the poor soul in third.
Ideal for threesomes with a solid handle on arithmetic.
Fun Golf Gambling Games: Bingo Bango Bongo
Not gonna lie, I picked this one because of the name. However, upon further research, I will sing this game’s praises until my dying day. In keeping with the previous two entries’ tendency towards the rule of three, Bingo Bango Bongo (“BBB”) has its own triumphant triumvirate. Scoring for BBB is very simple:
- Bingo: The first player to get their ball on the green
- Bango: The player whose ball is closest to the pin once everyone’s balls are on the green (meaning that if you’re on the fringe, you still have a shot to earn the Bango)
- Bongo: The first player to get into the cup
Each B is worth a point, and you tally up points after the round (or nines) and pay up. Points can be worth a dollar value, or you can put money in a pot and divide it how you choose. BBB is a chess-like game of strategy wherein you really need to know your friends, the course and yourself. It is imperative that the order of play is followed exactly as that’s what makes BBB such a challenge: longest drive won’t win you a single point, here, and neither will lowest score.
For example: on a par 4, you rip one up the fairway and could not be more personally excited to have hit such a wonderful shot. Your friend goes next and lands their ball 20 yards short of yours. But because you’re a fine respectable young golfer following the order of play, they are the first to take their second shot. If it lands on the green, it’s their Bingo.
BBB has no gimmes, go-aheads or tap ins. This is a game that will give you laser focus on the greens because every shot could win you money, and every shot counts.
Ideal for a fun day on the course for golfers who prioritize a good time over seriousness of play.
Golf Gambling Games: Wolf
Wolf is a golf betting game that everyone, in my friend circle at least, knows well. This is a game of strategy and humility with straightforward rules, but they do require some diligence to legislate. Order on the tee is decided before the first hole (up to your group how) and then rotated based on this original order and not who won the previous hole (1-2-3-4, 2-3-4-1, 3-4-1-2, you get the drift).
On each hole, the “Wolf” is always the last person to tee off. Before they take their shot, they decide whether they would like to pair up with another player on that hole, or if they’d rather play it solo as the “Lone Wolf.” If the Wolf pairs up with another player, their pair plays the other pair in a best ball game to decide the hole. If the Wolf chooses to go it alone, it’s them versus the field, so they have to beat each of the other players’ score. The advantage of being the Wolf is choosing a partner based on the shot they just hit.
Here’s how points are awarded in Wolf:
- If the Lone Wolf beats everyone, they receive 4 points
- If the Wolf’s team has the lowest best ball score, they receive 2 points
- If the team opposing the Wolf’s has the lowest best ball score, they get 3 points
- If any player has a lower score than the Lone Wolf, each non-Wolf player gets 1 point
For a fun variation, give an incentive for declaring Lone Wolf before anyone hits their tee shot by doubling the amount of points the Lone Wolf can win (or lose) depending on the outcome. Or, make it a requirement that the Wolf must select a partner only after seeing their tee shot, and not after all three players have hit. Mix it up and make it a format that works for you!
Ideal for foursomes with a comparable range of skills.
High Stakes Golf Betting Game: Vegas
Do you have too much money and want to get rid of it quickly? Then call me, I’ve got some swing aids I’d love to sell you. But if you’d prefer to lose it on the golf course, play a round of Vegas. It is one of those rarefied games where any player stands to lose an absolutely astonishing amount of money, or win big out on the course.
Though it might cost you, the rules of Vegas are pretty straightforward. Teams mix (not add) their scores on every hole to create a two, or if you’re very unlucky, three digit number. If I score a 5 and my friend Bart pars out with a 3, we get 35 points on the hole (lowest number goes in the 10’s spot*). If our unlucky victims score a pair of 4’s, they’re looking at a hefty 44 on the hole. Boom, they owe us $9 on the first hole (because 44-35=9).
Don’t worry, if you’re not flush with cash, points can be worth whatever you want them to be, up to and including beers, chocolate kisses or pennies.
*If you’re having a bad day and manage to shoot above 10 on a hole, the biggest number goes first so it would be 103 and not 310.
Ideal for gamblers who like to put their skills on the line and have the means to back it up.
Low Stakes, High Reward Gambling Game: Skins
Another popular and potentially lucrative golf game is skins. This is a straightforward betting game that places stakes on each hole. If a single player shoots the lowest score on that hole, they win all the money. If several players tie with the same score, the skin “carries over” to the next hole, meaning it is worth the two points.
This is a great game for good golfers, risk takers and the strategically minded alike. Because one’s performance on the previous hole doesn’t matter, you are perpetually kept on your toes. Variations of play include having the dollar value go up by a set amount per hole (hole 1 being worth $1 and 18 being $18), or per segment (whether that’s two holes or nine). You can also double the skin with each carry over, or just add one point for every carry over.
The only hitch comes when two or more players tie the last hole. If a skin isn’t won on 18, then a sudden death overtime comes into effect. All players are eligible to compete in the first round of overtime; if Player X and Player Y get par but player Z bogies out, Z is eliminated and X and Y play another hole until a victor is crowned.
Ideal for large groups of players, charity tournaments and bachelor or bachelorette party rounds.
Simple Golf Betting Game for High Handicappers: Strike Three
Strike Three is the perfect game for weekend hackers who like action but don’t want a complicated format or scorekeeping concept. Whether you’re out on your first hole of the year or squeezing in a round after the first frost of fall, Strike Three might be your best bet to stay engaged for all 18 holes. This game is dead easy: play golf, then throw out your three highest scores to make the best 15-hole round possible. Winner wins whatever you chipped in up front; it’s as easy as that.
The beauty with Strike Three is that unless you’re far-and-away having the worst game of the day, you might always be able to win with the right math. That way, people don’t get discouraged early, stop betting on skins or become that round’s “I’m just gonna drive the cart and drink, now” person.
Ideal for players who want to play their own ball but don’t want to bet a traditional medal round.
A High Pressure Gambling Game: Snake
If you’re looking for a golf betting game to punish one member of your group, Snake is your game. Especially if you want to improve your putting, since Snake is all about penalizing the short game. What makes Snake unique on this list is that it doesn’t have a winner, only a loser. The final snake must ride home in disgrace knowing that they are the absolute worst, and with fewer bills in their pocket to boot.
The format is simple: anytime anyone three putts (or worse), a predetermined amount is added to the pot. The last player to three putt has to pay the other three players the amount in the pot. Seeing that pot get bigger and bigger* as your round goes on will compel anyone with a mediocre short game to get better in a hurry.
Ideal for decent players (ideally familiar with each other) who want to improve their short game in a high stakes environment.
*Here, I would like to propose an end to the madness of forcing the worst golfer in the group to keep losing money. No, I’m not saying this because I am the worst putter in my group. I propose this because there are stakes that are higher than money, especially amongst groups of friends who play regularly. Instead of money, it’s time to start thinking bigger, and more like the organized sports that we’re no longer sure will exist like they used to. The variation I am proposing calls for a trophy of shame.
I know this hole-in-one golf trophy was designed as a token of pride, but I couldn’t resist customizing one (thanks Great Golf Memories!) with “I Stink at Golf” on the glass dome. Now when we play Snake, the unlucky loser takes it home and must display it until our next round. We even take it a step further to make it more personal for our foursome: the Snake has to add something to the trophy so the next unlucky loser has something to remember them by.
So far, I’ve been the proud owner of the “I Stink at Golf” trophy containing one dead cockroach, one moldy pizza crust, and one lovely printout of my friend’s hand in the “A OK” sign which, as other Circle Game enthusiasts know, means I have to punch myself in the shoulder everytime I accidentally glance at it. I realize now that I need entirely new friends.
Well there you have it, our guide to the best golf betting games for all types of players. Hopefully there’s a gambling game on this list that you’ve never tried before, and which can add some excitement to your next round. Whatever you decide to play, our advice is to keep it low stakes and friendly. Golf is a lovely game and one that should be enjoyed equally among friends and strangers alike.
Is there a golf gambling game we didn’t include in this list? Tell us about it in the comments!
Gambling problem? Call the National Helpline at 1-800-522-4700.