On This Page

Popular Bets for the Golf Course

Let’s just be honest, ladies and gentlemen: playing golf is more fun when there’s something on the line. Even if it’s just for $10 or to see who has to take out the trash on Tuesday night. Attaching some type of bet to the game of golf makes it that much more exciting.

Professional golfers put their blood, sweat, and tears into the game so they can feel the fire on the back-9 on Sunday with a chance to win. For all of us amateur golfers, playing different types of gambling games on the course is our way to emulate those pressure-packed moments.

Most of you are familiar with playing match play or a skins game with some friends. If you aren’t, you wound up on the right page. Our expert golf team organized this catalog of the various ways you and your pals can mix it up on the links.

On anything from a closest-to-the-pin contest on a par-3 to 18-hole matches, we’ll discuss the most fun and popular of the plethora of ways to bet while playing golf.

Let’s get started with some of the most basic and common ways to wager on the golf course.

Stroke Play

This is the way most of us always play golf. A stroke-play match is played very straightforwardly.

Each player plays his own ball and keeps his score.

At the end of the 9 or 18 (whichever is designated) holes, whoever has the lowest overall score is the winner.

Easy enough, right?

Match Play

Match play is a great way to play if you want to take a little bit of the pressure off of your overall score. Instead of comparing scores at the end of the round like you would in stroke play, the way the score is kept in match play is a bit different.

Think of each hole as its own unique little match.  If Jack makes a 4 and Jill makes a 5 on the first hole, Jack goes “1-up.” If Jill wins the next hole, the match would be “all-square.” If Jack and Jill both make a 3 on the third hole, the match remains “all-square.” There are no “carryovers” in match play.

A match is won and therefore complete once one player is up more holes than there are remaining.

For example, if Jack is 3-up after 14 holes and wins the 15th, he is now 4-up with only 3 holes left. The match is over; Jack wins.

“Dormie” is the term used when the best your opponent can do is tie you after 18 holes. Say you are 2-up with 2 holes to play; that is considered dormie.

Match play is the preferred format used to decide winners in all the USGA amateur events. The PGA Tour features the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play event, where the top 64 golfers in the world face off in a March Madness-style bracket.

Ask any player about match play, and they will almost always tell you how much they enjoy and relish the opportunity to play.

Skins Game

A skins game is another great way for you and some buddies to play golf. A skins game can be played with just two people; however, a group of four players makes for a more captivating match.

The goal of a skins game is simple – win as many “skins” as you can.
In this case, skins are golf holes.

The caveat is that, in a skins game, generally there are carryovers. Certain skins games may be specified as played with “no carryovers.” Otherwise, assume that if the first hole is tied, the second hole is now worth “2.”

With a foursome of players, a case could present itself where each of the first 17 holes results in a “push” or a tie. In that instance, the 18th hole would be worth 18 skins!

At the end of the 18 holes, each player adds up all his or her skins.

Before the match starts, the group will designate each skin as a specific dollar amount. Some may play $1 per skin; others may play $1,000 per skin.

However much “skin in the game” you want to have will be up to you and your playing competitors.

More Ways to Gamble on the Golf Course

Stroke play, match play, and skins games may be the three most common and well-known ways to play golf for some money. Don’t get it twisted. Let us be the first to tell you there are many more games you can play to spice up the betting action. Let’s take a closer look.

Golf IconNassau

We aren’t talking about NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. We are talking about “Nassau,” the conventional way for you and your golfing buddies to have a fun match. You can play with 2 or 4 players, and it’s essentially 3 separate bets.

  • — Front-9 Bet
  • — Back-9 Bet
  • — Total Bet

Before you begin, you decide how much you are playing for. A $20 Nassau means the front-9 is worth $20, the back-9 is worth $20, and the total (18 holes) is worth $20. Basically, you are on the hook for $60 if your buddy shuts you out. Unless, of course, you are playing with “presses”.

Presses

Golfers that need more betting in their lives are the fans of the presses. “Pressing” during a match essentially just means you are a starting a brand-new bet, independent of the original bet.

In other words, let’s say you are playing a stroke-play match and you are down by 4 strokes heading to the 18th tee box. Since you are unlikely to win the hole by 4 strokes, a way to “get even” is to press your opponent and win the last hole.

Say the original match was “18 holes of stroke play for $20.” If you win the 18th hole by one shot after pressing but still lose the overall match, you end up walking away dead even. You lost $20 for losing the overall match, but you won $20 on your press bet.

Auto-2-Downs

Degenerate golfing gamblers out there know this term all too well. The “presses” we just explained above can be automatically implemented each and every time one side goes down 2 holes in the match. Watch out, as this can get expensive quickly if don’t have your best stuff that day.

Golf IconNine-Point Game

The nine-point game is arguably the most fun way to play when you have a group of three golfers. The downside to this game is you need exactly three players for the scoring system to work. The game is played like this:

Each hole is worth exactly nine points. There will always be exactly 162 points (18 x 9) up for grabs by the completion of an 18-hole round. The way the nine points are broken up at each hole is dependent on what score each player makes.

Possible Outcomes
  • If each player makes the same score, they each receive 3 points. Regardless of if they all made a birdie or a double-bogey, if they tie the hole, each player earns 3 points.
  • If Player A and B make a 4 and Player C makes a 5, Player A and B each receive 4 points. Player C receives 1 point.
  • If Player A makes a 4 and Players B and C make a 5, Player A receives 5 points. Players B and C each receive 2 points.

Those are the basic scoring breakdowns. Of course, sometimes it gets more complicated.

  • Say Player A makes a 3, Player B makes a 4, and Player C makes a 5. The scoring breakdown would be 5-3-1 (5 points for Player A, 3 points for Player B, 1 point for Player C).
  • Now say Player A makes a 3, Player B makes a 4, and Player C makes a 6. In this case, Player A receives 6 points, Player B receives 3 points, and Player C receives 0 points.
  • The last one is the full 9-point sweep! In order to do that, one player must beat each of the other two players by at least 2 strokes. If Player A makes a 4 and Players B and C each make a 6, Player A is awarded all 9 points.

It may sound overwhelming at first, but it’s actually quite simple. Once you play a few times, the scoring system becomes second nature.

Golf IconWolf

Wolf is a fantastic option for a group of four friends to play if they want to change up the way they gamble on the links. This one is slightly more complex, but follow along.

Each hole, the players rotate as “the wolf.” If you are the wolf on the first hole, you will also be the wolf on holes 5, 9, 13, and 17. The wolf hits last off the tee box. After the first three players have hit, “the wolf” must make a decision.

Based on the results of the tee shots, the final player (wolf) has two choices. Either pick one of the three players as his partner for the hole, or decide to go “lone wolf.” If he chooses a partner, the hole is played as a “2 vs. 2 format.” If he chooses to go lone-wolf, he is playing 1 vs 3. The kicker is that if the player is the lone wolf and wins the hole, he earns double points.

The time to choose to be the lone wolf is when each of your three playing partners has hit poor tee shots, or if you have high confidence that you will be able to win the hole on your own. Otherwise, choosing a partner is going to be your best bet.

Each time a player wins a hole, they earn one point. The points are recorded and then compared after the round. How much each point is worth in terms of dollars will of course be up to you and your group.

On-Course Side Bets

Now that we have discussed the most widespread ways to wager money on the golf course, it’s time to talk about the additional side bets. For those of you who don’t have the patience to wait for 9, let alone 18 holes to be completed to see if you won or lost money, we have you covered!

Here are some fun “mini-games” to bet money on the golf course.

Golf IconClosest to the Pin

Generally played on the par-3 holes, this is exactly what it sounds like. Each player in the group hits from the same spot, and whoever’s ball winds up nearest to the hole wins the bet. That bet is whatever you and your pals decide it is!

Golf IconSandys

Some golfers like to reward players when they are able to make a par after being in a bunker. Any time you wind up in a sand trap and salvage a par, you earn a point. The point is worth however much you and the group decide the points will be worth.

Golf Icon“Points-Based”

An extension of the “sandys,” “points-based” games award points to players any time one of them achieves something significant. Whether that is making a birdie, chipping-in, making a par from a bunker (Sandy), it’s up to you. Anything you and your playing competitors want to award a point for is fair game, as long as everyone is in agreement.

At the beginning of the round, the group can decide, for example, that each point will be worth $1. Points will be awarded for a multitude of accomplishments during the round, and all points are tallied up when it’s over. If you end up with 14 points and your opponent had 6 points, you would win $8.

The Takeaway

Obviously, we didn’t cover every imaginable bet you can make on the golf course. What our golf specialists did for you was organize a page of several thrilling ways you and your friends can wager next time you are on the golf course.

We went over the simplest and most basic ways to play, such as stroke and match play. We wound up talking about when to be the lone wolf, and how to sweep all nine points in the nine-point game.

The fact of the matter is that no matter how, why, or what you decide to bet on while playing golf, chances are you will be enjoying yourself.

Hopefully, the fresh ideas and examples of wagers to make on the golf course give you a chance to explore next time you are on the golf course.

Just make sure you bring your wallet and some extra cash, as things can always get quite interesting while betting on the links!