Gambling and the Game of Golf

Most of us are not great at golf. I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as good. Therefore, I am not able to go out and compete on a high level. However, I enjoy friendly competition and rivalry, so we tend to seek ways to make the game of golf more interesting…enter gambling.


Gambling 'I said we were going to play a game of skins, not shirts and skins!'The handicap indexes of those in the office that play golf are wide ranging. Ryan is a 3.1, Scott is a 9.5, I am a 17.7 and Chris is a 20.3. So when we go out to play, the last thing we do before teeing off is to calculate course handicaps and determine how many strokes each of us are getting. We generally select teams and play a two-person best ball for lunch. Another option is to play Wolf with the last place person owing the winner a lunch or each person throwing in $5 with the winner taking the pot. Most of the time, Ryan and I will have an individual side bet for lunch regardless of the other wagers. Although we’re not playing for much, the side games make the day a lot more interesting and seemingly more important. It is a great reason to stay focused throughout the round, even on days where nothing seems to be going right.


Most people are familiar with the “5 dollar nassau” and “Wolf”. However the most common form of golf gambling is the “skins game.” Skins games create a pool of cash from entrants and split the pot amongst those that get a better score than the other entrants on a particular hole. Skins games are so common, in fact, that the USGA had to specifically state that winnings from them will not interfere with a golfer’s amateur status under Rule 3-1. As long as the skins game is optional (not part of a mandatory entry fee), your winnings do not count against amateur status as prize money for a first place finish would.


MickelsonGambling on golf isn’t just for the hacks like me though. Stories of PGA TOUR pros and their Tuesday gambling matches are things of lore. Phil Mickelson is the most prominent practice round gambler, but a vast majority of the world’s best players are using side bets to “spice up” their preparation days. Side note – you should Google “Phil Mickelson Tuesday gambling” and read some of the stories…they’re hilarious. One of my favorites is the time he beat Nick Watney in a British Open practice round for $1000 and when Watney pulled the grand out of his pocket after the 18th Hole, Mickelson gave him his money back and said, “this is Britain…I need pounds.” The conversion rate put the loss for Watney closer to $1,700 for the day.


I also find that golf is one of the best sports to make small wagers on off the course (court, field, etc.). In the office, we will find ourselves in a disagreement about where the cut will be, whether Hudson Swafford will make a birdie before Seamus Power, or other nonsensical topics surrounding the game. What better way to make the day interesting than to pass a dollar back and forth 3 or 4 times with silly bets. We do serpentine drafts with eight players each for all of the majors and DraftKings has a great feature for Leagues that allows us to have a weekly contest in the office without paying them the rake.


The point is, gambling and golf have a long history with one another. Probably because most people aren’t great (or even good) at golf, and it is a way for everyone to win something occasionally. The key when gambling is to keep it within reason and make it another fun part of the game we all love responsibly.

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