10 Golf Betting Games for the Course: How to Play and Rules

There is nothing better than playing golf on a Saturday at a majestic course with three of your closest friends.  Hold on a second! There is something better than simply playing golf with your buddies.  The only thing better than playing golf with your comrades is winning money from them through the many golf betting games and “side-bets” that can take place throughout a round on the links!

Here are 5 Golf Betting Games to indulge in the next time you hit the course!

  • Nassau
  • Skins
  • Stableford
  • 2 on 2 Scramble
  • Rabbit

Here are 5 fun “Side-Bets” to try during your next round!

  • Par 3’s: Closest to the Pin
  • Par 3’s: Don’t be the Furthest from the Pin
  • Par 5’s: Longest Drive Challenge
  • Par 5’s: Don’t be the Worst Driver
  • Bounce Back

To learn more about each of these golf betting games, as well as an in depth look at the rules for each game, keep reading!

1. Nassau

No, we are not talking about the capital of The Bahamas when we mention Nassau here, but a golf trip there sounds awfully nice (LOL)!  Nassau is probably the most popular gambling game on the golf course because of its simplicity.  One cool fact about Nassau is that it is actually three bets (Front 9, Back 9, and Full 18) wrapped into one round of golf.  Nassau is normally played in a 2 vs. 2 team format but can also be played in the “every man for himself” variety.

Rules of Nassau:

  1. First, you must decide whether to play in a team format or an individual one.  (Hint: If you have a normal foursome group, then the team format is probably the preferred way to go.  If you have a threesome, opt for the individual format.)
  2. The 3 overall bets must be agreed upon by each player.  In Nassau, you wager on what team (or player) will have the best score through the Front 9 holes, the Back 9 holes, and the best 18-hole score.  For example, let’s say the team with the best Front 9 score will win $5, the team with the best Back 9 score will win $5, and the team with the best 18-hole score will win $10.
  3. Play the Front 9 holes.  Check the scorecard to determine the winning team (or player) and payout the bet accordingly.
  4. Play the Back 9 holes and do the same as above.
  5. Check the scorecard for what team or player had the best 18-hole score and payout the wager accordingly.
  6. Establish the Pressing Rules (AKA: The Pressure Rules because of the added pressure put on the golfers).  This step is not required to play Nassau but can make the round much more interesting.  For example, you could agree upon a simple “double-or-nothing” Press Rule.  This Press Rule would ensure that even if a team has an awful Front 9 score, they could still come back and win the overall wager.  Many golfers prefer to play Nassau with the added Press Rule since it ensures that no team is ever out of the game until the last hole is completed.

2. Skins

Skins is another top-rated betting game amongst golfers.  The first Skins Game took place in 1983 and was packed to the hilt with fanfare because the entrants were 4 PGA Hall of Famers (Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, and Gary Player).  GEEEZ! Talk about a loaded foursome!  Although the PGA removed the Skins Game after 2008 due to sponsorship reasons, it is still a favorite betting game for golfers of all skill levels.

golf ball dollar bills
 

Rules of Skins:

  1.  Skins uses a match play format and can be played with 2, 3, or 4 golfers like Nassau.
  2. Golfers must decide how much each hole is worth.  This is called the “skin”.  When the PGA had the Skins Game, each hole was worth a minimum of 25k and a maximum of 200k!  However, do not let that deter you from playing Skins!  Many golfers play for a dime or a buck per hole at municipal courses all over the world.
  3. If 2 or more golfers happen to tie on a particular hole (also know as Halving the Hole or the Carryover Rule), that hole’s “skin” is carried over to the next hole.  For example, we will say that each hole is worth 1 dollar.  Let’s say that player A and player B both shoot a 4 on hole #1.  Players C and D both shoot higher than 4.  The hole is graded a tie, and now hole #2 is worth $2 instead of $1.  The “skins” keep accumulating in this manner until a golfer wins a hole (and that skin) outright.  You can imagine the pressure that builds each time a tie occurs, and this Carryover Rule applies!
  4. At the end of the match, the golfer with the most skins is declared the winner and has a little extra money to put in his or her pocket.

3. Stableford

Stableford is a golf betting game that is great for all players to enjoy, but it is especially helpful to high handicappers (golfers with a handicap of 20 or higher).  Stableford eliminates the frustration that one or two nightmare holes can bring to a round!  There is nothing more frustrating than to string together a few great holes of pars and birdies only to see your score get flushed down the toilet by taking a 7 and an 8 on the next 2 holes!

Unlike traditional stroke play (where the lowest score wins), in Stableford, the player with the highest score wins.  This scoring format leads to loads of fun for the whole group because it gives each golfer a “high risk- high reward” mentality.  Miracle shots that a golfer would not usually try can be attempted in Stableford without paying a steep penalty. 

A good way to play Stableford requires each golfer to put up a “buy-in” dollar amount before the round starts.  The group must then decide if the pot will be “winner take all” or if the pot will be divided up based on how many points each golfer ends up with.

Stableford Scoring System

  • Double Bogey (+2) or Worse = 0 points
  • Bogey (+1) = 1 point
  • Par (Even) = 2 points
  • Birdie (-1) = 3 points
  • Eagle (-2) = 4 points
  • Albatross (-3) = 5 points

4. 2 on 2 Best-Ball Scramble

The Scramble is quite possibly the most popular format used in all of amateur golf.  Corporate outings and fundraiser events usually employ the “best-ball” scramble.  Teams of 4 compete against each other for free rounds of golf or gift certificates to the pro shop.

However, the Best-Ball Scramble can also be used as a betting game for golfers.  Take your regular foursome and play 2 on 2!  Try to pair up the teams to match skill levels.  In other words, do not put two high handicappers together on the same team (unless all 4 golfers are high handicappers, LOL).  Decide how much money you want to play for and obey the following rules.

  1. Each player on the team hits a tee shot. 
  2. The team then decides which ball is best to hit as their second shot.  This sequence continues until a putt is made.  (Side note:  Lots of folks prefer to institute a 2-putt maximum rule for each hole.  This means that once your team reaches the green, the worst you can do is 2-putt.  This prevents a hole from taking up more time than is necessary.)
  3. 2 on 2 Scramble is played with a stroke play format, so the team with the lowest score at the end of the round wins the bet and the bragging rights!

Need a little more variety in your scramble?  Try instilling a Miami Scramble rule to this list.  In Miami Scramble, the same rules above apply but with one stipulation:  The golfer who has their tee shot selected to play the second shot is unable to take another shot until the team reaches the green!  This version of a Scramble keeps things more interesting because it means a “Ringer” cannot carry a team for the entire round.

5. Rabbit

Did you ever play the simple game of Tag-You’re-It as a kid?  This golf betting game is kind of like that.  This betting game of Rabbit can be your go-to if you do not like to add up a bunch of different numbers after a round. 

Rabbit can be played with a twosome, threesome, or foursome.  The first golfer to win a hole outright (with no ties) is the Rabbit.  That golfer remains the Rabbit until a different player wins a hole outright (again, no ties).  The goal is to be the Rabbit after the 9th hole and after the 18th hole.

Rules of Rabbit:

  1.  Determine a “buy-in” amount and gather it from each player.
  2. Take the total pot and divide it in half.  (Side note:  This is just an example; use any payout percentage you wish)
  3. The golfer that is the Rabbit after 9 holes gets half the payout, and the one who is Rabbit after 18 holes gets the other half.

Side Bets

Let’s say for the sake of argument that you do not wish to wager on the total golf match but still have a tickle in your tummy for some side betting action.  Par 3 holes and Par 5 holes offer a great opportunity to make some cash on the side. 

On a typical golf course, there are usually (4) total Par 3’s and (4) total Par 5’s!  That makes for 8 fun betting opportunities!  These 4 options below are great side wagers to try out with your buddies the next time you hit the links!

6. Par 3’s:  Closest to the Pin

Since I am a decent iron player, this side bet is my personal favorite!  This wager is self-explanatory and simple. 

  1.  Decide what the wager will be.  A good option is to have each golfer put in one dollar. 
  2. All 4 players hit their tee shot. 
  3. The closest to the pin wins the pot for that par 3 hole.

7. Par 3’s:  Don’t be the Furthest from the Pin

This side wager follows the exact rules above but with a twist.  Instead of rewarding the closest to the pin, this bet punishes the golfer whose tee shot is furthest from the pin! 

For example, let’s say that golfers A, B, and C all land their tee shot on the green, but that poor ole player D splashes his tee shot into the water!  In this case, player D has to give all three of the other golfers a dollar (or whatever amount was agreed upon).

This wager also comes in handy if Hole #9 happens to be a par 3!  The golfer who hits the worst tee shot must buy the next round of adult beverages at the turn (LOL)!

8. Par 5’s:  Longest Drive Challenge

Attention! Attention!  Calling all Big-Hitters!  This is your chance to shine and earn some good coin! 

If you are great with the Driver but awful with the irons, you may have lost a few dollars on the Par 3 wagers.  This is a great chance to earn that money back and then some!  Par 5 holes are normally wide open, so they provide an excellent opportunity for golfers to really “grip it and rip it,” as John Daly would say!

  1.  Decide what the wager will be (are you noticing a theme here?)  Like in the above example, have each golfer put up an equal dollar amount.
  2. Each golfer hits their respective tee shot.
  3. The golfer with the longest drive wins the pot!  (Side note:  Drives that do NOT end up in the fairway are disqualified and cannot win the wager)

Here is a quick, funny, and personal story about this type of bet. 

Three friends and I were playing the Par 5’s for side bets at our local muni course.  The first three golfers to tee off (I was in this group) all ended up slicing or hooking our tee shots into the trees.  The last golfer to tee off took out his putter and promptly hit a worm burner about 75 yards straight down the fairway to win the wager!!!  Needless to say, the three of us were unhappy!

9. Par 5’s:  Don’t be the Worst Driver

In the spirit of the Par 3’s above, this side wager does not reward the best driver, but it “punishes” the golfer who hits the worst drive on the Par 5’s.

Golfers follow the same Par 5 rules above but with a cruel twist!  The player who hits the shortest drive must pay all three other golfers a dollar (or whatever amount was agreed upon). 

Just as in our above example, drives that do NOT end up in the fairway are disqualified.  If more than one player does NOT end up in the fairway, those players get to “share in the pain” and payout the other two golfers.  If all 4 golfers do NOT find the fairway with their tee shots, then the bet is canceled and graded as No Action!

10. Bounce Back

Bounce Back is a favorite side betting game amongst streaky golfers.  If you are a golfer that often feels those “double-bogey blues” consider installing a bounce-back rule to your round.  The game is designed to reward a gutsy player who shows the tenacity to put a bad hole behind him quickly. 

Bounce Back is a fun game for any skill level of golfer, but it is especially helpful for new players.  Bounce Back can get a young player used to playing under pressure, which will increase their confidence and mental toughness!

Rules of Bounce Back

  1.  Set an amount of money aside that will be used to payout bounce back bets.
  2. Anytime someone in the group has a double-bogey or worse on a hole, they get an opportunity for a bounce back bet on the very next hole.
  3. If that player scores par or better on the subsequent hole (after the bad double bogey), he or she is rewarded with that bounce back payout of cash (whatever figure was agreed upon at the start of the round).
  4. However, if that same player does NOT bounce back with a par or better, he or she must payout that amount of money to the pot.
  5. This rule is optional, but you can decide to pay out more for a birdie bounce back than for a par bounce back.

Main Golf Betting Rule:  Keep it FUN and AFFORDABLE

a sign that says have fun!
 

The next time you play golf with three of your best friends, consider trying one of the above Golf Betting Games, as well as some of the Side Bets that we explained in detail.  Gambling on the golf course adds some spice and fun to the action and can be very enjoyable for all golfers.  However, follow the main golf betting rule:  No matter what, keep it fun and keep it affordable!

Until next time, hit em long and straight!

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Joe Morelli

Joe's been playing golf for 25 years, starting as a junior golfer in his early teens. He loves getting out on the links with his dad and friends -- whether an early weekend foursome or his weekday, afternoon league.