Wagering on the golf course is as old as the game itself, and while there’s no definitive history of when the first golfer asked his partner “So, MacDougal…you wanna make this a wee bit more…interesting?”, stories abound of the first golfers competing for animal pelts, “skins” or whatever they could afford to wager.
So we thought it would be fun to examine the various games and side bets that golfers play. As the rules, descriptions and names vary immensely, I’ll use the most common definitions — but I encourage you to experiment with different variations of these games to find a structure that works for you and your group.
(Note – please keep in mind we do not condone or encourage gambling on the course, as it may not be allowed on your course/club/state/planet. That said, these games can all be played for money, points, beers or just bragging rights)
To make things easy, let’s imagine four golfers: Angus (hdcp: 2), Ben (hdcp: 10), Charlie (hdcp: 15), and Dan (hdcp: 30). “Nett scores” refer to the player’s score after handicap strokes are subtracted (but you can play all these games without handicapping if you wish).
Nassau (or 2-2-2)
Nassau is generally accepted to be the most common side-betting game. Essentially it contains three bets: low score on the front nine holes, low score on the back nine holes and low score over the full 18. It can be played individually or as a team, and is suited to most types of scoring, whether you’re playing ambrose, stroke/match, alternate shot or best ball.
Stakes can be anything you want, though a $2 Nassau is the most common: earning $2 for winning the front nine, $2 for the back, and $2 for the round. If you or your team win all 3 bets, you collect $6 each.
A common feature to this bet is the “press”. A team or player who is trailing at any point (generally two holes down), may elect to “press the bet”, essentially starting a new bet that runs in conjunction with the original bet.
For example: 17th tee, Ben is two holes down to Angus (so the best Ben can hope for is a tie). Ben can elect to “press” the first bet, and if Angus accepts, a new $2 bet starts in conjunction with the first bet, covering the 17th and 18th holes only. If, say, Ben beats Angus on both of the final two holes – then he ties the original bet, but wins the pressed bet. With pressing, and re-pressing, this can add up, so be careful!
You’ve probably seen this one on TV – where the networks entice top pros to “battle it out” at some tropical course for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But here in the real world (at least on my course), it’s a much more modest game.
To play: Prior to play, either establish the value of each “Skin”, or simply have each player put a set amount into the “pot”. The player who wins a hole outright (lowest nett score) earns one “Skin”. If two players tie for the lowest score, then the Skin carries over to the next hole, and the outright winner of the next hole would claim two Skins, and so on. At the end of the round, players count the number of Skins they’ve won, and then collect the established Skin value from each player in the foursome (or, alternately, collect a percentage of the pot, etc).
Example: First hole nett scores: Angus: 4, Ben: 5, Charlie: 5, Dan: 8. Angus wins one Skin. Hole 2 nett scores: Angus: 4, Ben: 4, Charlie: 5, Dan: 7. No Skin awarded, carry-over (thus Hole #3 is worth two Skins to the outright winner, and so on). In most cases, you’ll see Skins carry over for many holes – I’ve played in a foursome where we had carryover for almost the full round, with the 18th hole valued at 16 Skins! My mate holed out from the bunker for a nett eagle to steal the lot (plus a “sandie” and a “watson”) but we made him pay heavily for the beer at the 19th!
Rabbit is a fun and simple game that I’ve played for years, but somehow rarely win.
To Play: Set the value for the Rabbit (there are only two available to be won in the round). Similar to Skins, it is based on a player winning a hole outright. Once you win a hole, you are then “Holding The Rabbit” until someone steals it from you. The goal is to be holding the Rabbit on either the 9th or the 18th hole.
Example: Hole #1 nett scores: Angus: 4, Ben: 5, Charlie: 6, Dan: 11. Angus captures the Rabbit with the best outright nett score. Hole 2 nett scores: Angus: 4, Ben: 4, Charlie: 5, Dan: 8. Angus retains the Rabbit (i.e. no outright winner). Hole 3 nett scores: Angus: 5, Ben: 4, Charlie: 4, Dan: 6. Angus still retains the rabbit (still no outright winner – even though Ben and Charlie beat Angus. Note: a variation on this is to set the rabbit “free”). Hole 4: Angus: 3, Ben: 3, Charlie: 4, Dan: 2 (Hooray for Dan! He immediately captures the rabbit!). After 9 holes, let’s say Dan has still held on to the Rabbit: he wins the front 9, and “holes” the Rabbit (and wins the pot for the front 9). A new Rabbit is available for the back 9.
Variations: You may include a step where “the Rabbit is loose”: If, say, Angus is holding the Rabbit, and Dan is the single low score on the hole, the Rabbit goes “free” instead of Dan capturing the Rabbit immediately. It can then be won starting on the following hole. This introduces the possibility of the Rabbit being loose on the 9th, in which case, it is lost. Players then have the option of doubling the value of the Rabbit on the back 9.
The Wolf (or Ship, Captain & Crew)
I’ve won (and lost) more money on this game than I care to remember. A great game, full of twists and excitement.
To Play: Wolf is a “points” system game designed for 4 players, and is a combination of team and individual play. Players rotate as “Wolf” on each hole, and the Wolf alone decides whether that hole is to be played as 2-vs-2, or 1-vs-3. Thus, every hole can have different partners.
The player teeing off first is the Wolf. He then watches as each of the other players hit their tee shots. The Wolf has the option to pick one of them as his partner on the hole – but he must choose the player immediately after that player has hit (i.e. if Angus is the Wolf, and wants Ben as his partner for that hole, he must announce it immediately after Ben’s drive — before Charlie tees off, and so on.). If the Wolf decides that none of the other 3 shots were to his liking, he may play the hole alone, against the other three.
To win a hole, the Wolf’s Team must have a lower better ball score than the opposing (or “Hunting”) team. If so, then both the Wolf and his partner score 1 point each (If they lose, then the Hunters get 1 point each). Ties may be carried over, or erased. A Wolf playing alone receives double the points if he wins, or loses double points to each of the other three players if he loses.
Here’s where the fun begins: After hitting his tee shot, and before anyone else tees off, the Wolf can announce “Lone Wolf” in which he will automatically play solo vs three Hunters. In Lone Wolf, the winnings are worth triple (but so are losses). For those truly adventurous (or foolhardy), the Lone Wolf may declare his intentions to go it alone before his own tee shot. In this case, all bets are quadrupled.
The payout: Whomever has the most points after 18 holes wins (either “winner take all”, or $1 per point, or whatever). Note: The player in last place after the 16th hole is usually given the courtesy of being the Wolf on the 17th and 18th holes.
Bingo Bango Bongo
This game can be played by any number of players, and is based on points. The beauty of this game is that it puts hackers on an equal footing with scratch players – without handicaps being needed.
To Play: There are three points available on each hole. The first player to get his ball on the green gets a point (Bingo). Once all balls are on the green, the player whose ball is closest to the pin gets a point (Bango). And the player who is first to hole out gets a point (Bongo).
Example: Our foursome tees off on a par-4, and everyone outdrives Dan. Being furthest from the hole, Dan is “away”, and is first to play his approach shot — thus having first crack at getting on the green. Let’s say he’s successful, and thus wins the Bingo point. Angus and Ben both hit their approach shots safely onto the green, but Charlie leaves it just short, on the fringe. Being off the green, Charlie is “away” and thus plays his third shot; a nice chip to within a few inches of the cup. Now that all 4 balls are on the green, the closest to the pin (Charlie) gets the Bango point. Finally, Ben is “away” and putts next – draining a 30-footer for birdie. He is the first to hole out, and earns the Bongo point.
The payout: At the end of 18, the player with the most points wins. (Note that this game requires strict etiquette to be enforced. The player who is away (or off the green) must always play first (“out-of-order” tap-ins are a no-no!). Tee-off honours must also be followed (best score on the previous hole tees off first, and so on), especially on par-3s.
This is a great 2-person team game that really lives up to its name. It is also a fun variation for a social tournament.
To Play: Team A (Angus and Ben) tee off. Team B (Charlie and Dan) then decides which of the two drives that Team A must play (i.e. often the worst, or most “gruesome” of the two). Team A then chooses Team B’s drive in the same manner. From there, the team members play alternate shots until their ball is holed out. (So, if Angus hit the chosen drive, then Ben plays the second shot, Angus would play the third shot, and so on until the hole is completed). At the end of the hole, the team score is recorded. The lowest 18-hole team score wins the pot.
Whingers (or Mullies, Mulligans)
This is basically a game of do-overs, or mulligans.
To Play: Players’ handicaps are converted into mulligans (free shots) to be used anytime during the round. For example: Charlie (hdcp 15) gets 15 free shots to play any time he wants. So if he chunks his tee shot into the water on the third hole, no problem: he simply reloads (and now has 14 mulligans left).
Note: The only common rule here is that you cannot replay the same shot twice (i.e. use two mulligans for the same shot). Also, to make things a bit more even, you can choose to play three-fourths or two-thirds of handicaps.
Acey Deucey (Aces and Deuces)
Best for groups of four, with similar abilities (or with good handicapping). This one is simple but fun: On each hole, the low score (“ace”) wins two points from each of the other three players, and the high score (the “deuce”) loses one point to each of the other three players. The player with the most points after 18 holes wins.
Quick Guide to Other Common Bets:
(Generally worth $1 each, from each player)
Sandies/Camels: The most recent person to hit into a bunker is holding “The Camel”. If another player hits into a bunker any time after that, THAT person is now holding the camel. Whomever is holding the camel at the end of the round owes the $ to EACH of the other players. (Note: saving par (or getting up and down) from the same bunker means you don’t have to take the camel)
Arnies: Saving par without your ball ever hitting the fairway
Muncipals: Saving par having played on the adjacent fairway
Barkies/Trees: Similar to the camel – whomever is the most recent to hit into the trees (or simply bounce it off a tree), is holding the Tree. But by saving par after hitting a tree (or being in/behind them), you avoid having to take the Tree.
Low-putts: Whomever scores the lowest number of putts in the round
No-Putts: Take your final score, subtract the number of putts made—winner is whomever has the lowest number of shots left
Greenies: Whomever gets nearest to the pin on Par 3s
Watsons: A chip-in from off the green, regardless of score
Froggies: Losing your ball in any water hazard. (If you manage to save par on that hole, you’re safe)
Tigers: Hitting an in-human shot that was seemingly impossible (by unanimous vote)