Days are getting longer and The Masters is right around the corner. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place with mild winters, your game might already be rounding into form by now. But for those of us in colder climes, it’s been a winter of carpet putting, grip adjustments, and the rarely reliable indoor golf simulator. As the weather warms up and players start to knock the rust off, it’s as good a time as any for a reminder on the rules and scoring of some of golf’s more popular betting games.
Whether you’ve got a regular game going or find yourself in a less familiar group with a couple of bucks on the line, the quick recaps below should come in handy...
Probably the most popular game, and one of the easiest to understand. A Nassau has three payouts - one each for the low front 9, low back 9, and low total round. Nassaus are often referred to with a dollar amount in front of them (“a $5 Nassau”), meaning each of the three bets is worth that amount.
A common addition to the Nassau is the press, which is essentially a “double or nothing” wager. Presses occur when a player or team is losing by a set amount (usually 2 holes in match play). When a press is called, a new game with the same payouts begins concurrently with the original game, and runs for the duration of the round. So if Team B is two down after five holes and calls a press on Team A, a new four-hole match begins covering holes six through nine, while the original front nine game continues as is. Additionally, both the back nine and overall (full round) games are doubled in value. Though it’s a fairly tame game, a few presses can start to add up.
Wolf is a game for three or four players that quickly reveals your level of confidence in yourself and your playing partners. On every hole, one player is designated as the wolf, and that player has the choice to play the hole alone (as the lone wolf), or to pick a partner. Some of the details are up to you: does the wolf tee off first or last? Does the wolf get to see every tee shot before picking a partner, or have to decide after each shot whether or not to partner up with that person? How much is each point worth? But the premise remains the same.
Four player rules: If the wolf plays the hole alone and wins, he/she gets three points. If the lone wolf loses the hole, each of the non-wolf players get one point. If the wolf chooses a partner, it becomes a straight 2v2 match, and the winning team gets one point apiece.
Three player rules: Same as above, except this will always result in a 2v1 situation. If the individual player wins the hole, he/she gets two points. If the team wins, each player gets one point.
Also known as Hollywood, Sixes always leads to exciting matches and great grillroom trash talk. It’s a simple game: your foursome plays a 2v2 match, and rotates partners every six holes. This breaks the round into three six-hole matches, so every shot is crucial and every mistake agonizing. You’ll also quickly figure out your favorite and least favorite partners.
Not strictly a gambling game, but whenever a big team event comes around in pro golf, we’re treated to discussions about the difference between fourball and foursomes. Fourball is just what it sounds like: four players each playing their own ball. Foursomes is 2v2 alternate shot. It’s a more expedient way of getting a four-player round in, and as anyone who has played much club golf over in the U.K. will tell you, it's a great format for a 36-hole day. Foursomes also ratchets up the pressure on every shot, since your partner will be the one dealing with your shank or snap hook.
Rabbit is a fun and easy game, and would work well as a side bet during another game as well. The first player to make the lowest score on a hole (no ties) captures the rabbit. The rabbit is only set free when another player wins a hole outright. Then, the next time a player wins a hole, they capture the rabbit, and so on. The holder of the rabbit after the 9th and/or 18th hole wins a set amount.
Math and losing money. Sounds a lot like Vegas, right? In this four-player, 2v2 game, a team’s scores are sandwiched together (lowest score first) to form one number. For example, if you make a four and your partner makes a three, your team’s score is 34 for that hole. Add up your points at the end of the round, subtract the winning (lower) score from the losing (higher) one, and the losing team pays off the differential. Since this game results in high point values and differentials, it’s often played for a nickel per point.
A great game for three people. Lowest score on a hole gets five points, second lowest gets three, and highest gets one. For any ties, you divide the points by the number of players tied. So if two players tie for best score, they would each get (5+3)/2 = 4 points. Points can have a set dollar amount, or your group can all contribute money to a pot and make payouts at the end.
Conversely, Snake is one of the best games for practicing under tournament conditions. In Snake, you have to putt everything out, and any time someone three putts (or worse), they add a set amount to the pot. Various payout structures exist: either the last player to three-putt pays everyone else the pot amount, or the player with the most three-putts does. It’s a great game for learning to concentrate on those slippery four-footers.
Pick Up Sticks
If you’re looking to spice it up a bit, and you don’t take your game too seriously, Pick Up Sticks is your new game. This match-play game for two or four players dictates that whenever a player/team wins a hole, they eliminate one club from the opponent’s bag. The opponent then cannot use that club for the rest of the round. Some groups make the putter untouchable, but the variations are up to you.
Next time your group is stuck in a rut and playing for lunch gets boring, try out one of these games. Leave a comment below if there are other great games or bets we've missed here.
See you on the links.