While golf is a game you play for leisure, chances are you relish a little competition with your buddies as well. Not only does having a friendly match against friends give you a chance for bragging rights, it makes you better. You’re not likely to be playing for millions of dollars on Sunday afternoon, but you can still spice up your game with a friendly wager. That’s why we’ve compiled our comprehensive list of golf games ranging from the friendliest and most basic to some that are more complex and could leave your wallet a little lighter or heavier depending on the outcome.
When considering a game with your buddies, it’s important to account for everyone’s handicap to keep the playing field fair. For example, if your handicap is 12 and your partner’s is 15, your partner should be spotted one stroke on the three hardest holes (holes with handicaps of one, two and three). Handicaps for each hole can be found on your scorecard. This form of a game is called a “net” scoring, whereas a match where no strokes are given is called “gross” scoring.
The Top 24 Most Popular Golf Betting Games
Stroke play is the most commonly played game in the United States. In stroke play, players each count all their shots throughout the round and add them up at the end. The winner is the player with the lowest total score.
Match play is a format that tracks how many holes a player has won against his or her partner. The preferred game in the British Isles, a player’s total strokes only matter on a hole-by-hole basis. If player A scores four on a hole and player B scores 6, player A is said to be “one up”. Whichever player wins the greater number of holes in a match is the winner.
Stableford scoring is another alternative to stroke play in which points are used to tally a player’s score. Though there are variations, one point is awarded for a bogey, two points for a par, three for a birdie, four for an eagle, and five for a double-eagle. The winner is the player with the highest point total at the end of the match.
A best-ball format is a game for foursomes when players are split into two-member teams. The lowest score of each team is counted on each hole. For example, if player A makes five and player B makes four, the score of four is recorded for the team on that hole. This game is often played in a match play format.
Scrambles are a fun format that encourage low scores and can be played with anywhere from two to four players. To begin, each player hits a tee shot and the best shot is chosen. All players hit from that spot and the best shot is again chosen. The process is repeated until the ball is holed. This is a great format for company fundraisers or less competitive tournaments where the emphasis is on having fun.
Alternate shot is one of the most difficult formats around. Two-person teams simply alternate shots until the ball is holed. If player A tees off, player B hits the second shot. In the traditional format, one player tees off on even holes and the other on odd holes. Alternate shot match play is a great format for foursomes when all players are of similar ability.
The Chapman format is similar to alternate shot but with a slight twist. Each player on a two-person team tees off. Player A then hits players B’s second shot and vice versa. After the best second shot is chosen, alternate shot is played until the ball is holed.
Nassau is a popular game played head-to-head or with two-player teams pitted against each other. Most often played using match play, the score on the front nine is worth one bet, the back nine score one bet, and the 18-hole total another bet.
Skins is a great game for two or more players. A player is said to have won a “skin” when he records a score lower than anyone else in the group on a particular hole. If the low score is tied, the skin is carried over to the next hole making it worth two skins and so on. The player with the most “skins” at the end of the round wins.
Bisque can be played with just two players or among multiple groups. A variation on “net” scoring where players get additional shots relative to par on the most difficult holes, bisque allows players to instead choose the holes they want strokes on prior to the round. Stroke play scoring is used and the lowest 18-hole score wins.
Ones is popular among groups that play on weekly basis. O.N.E.’s is a net game where a player’s total score is determined by adding scores together only on holes that end in O, N, or E (holes 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18).
This game is great for players with higher handicaps or those who are prone to the occasional blowup hole. Players’ scores are simply their nine low scores on the card. Best nine is fun to play among multiple groups.
A game meant for foursomes, triple six sees each player pairing with another in six-hole matches. Player A and player B play against player C and player D for the first six holes, players A and C pair against players B and D for the next six holes and players A and D pair against players B and C for the final six holes. The most popular scoring system for this format is best-ball.
Gruesomes is a great game that sure to incite good-natured ribbing among friends. Perfect for foursomes made of two two-member teams, each player on a team hits a tee shot and the other team picks the worst tee shot from where alternate-shot is played until the ball is holed. Match play is the best scoring format for this game.
A great game for threesomes where points are allocated on each hole for lowest to highest scores. The player with the lowest score earns five points, second lowest score three points, and the highest score gets one point. If two players tie for the low score, they each receive four points, and the highest score one point. If two players tie for the high score, they each get two points and the lowest score is awarded five points. The player with the most points at the completion of the round wins.
High-low is a game for foursomes made of two-player teams. On each individual hole, the high scores and the low scores on each team each compete against each other for a point. For example, if players A and B score six and five and players C and D score four and three, players C and D earn a point for the lowest high score and the lowest low score for a total of two points.
Bingo, Bango, Bongo
This is a fun format for twosomes, threesomes, or foursomes of mixed abilities. Scores don’t count. Instead, a point is awarded to the first player to reach the green, the player closest to the hole, and the first player to hole out.
Golfers are notorious for getting creative with different formats and adding extra bets to their games to spice things up. Also referred to collectively as “junk”, side bets are numerous and can be a fun way to keep everyone in your group interested throughout the entire round. If the game you’re playing with your buddies simply isn’t enough action, consider adding one or more of the following side bets.
Also referred to as “KP’s”, greenies are awarded to the player that hits their tee shot closest to the hole on a par 3. How much money each greenie is worth should be determined prior to the round.
Just like it sounds, long drives are awarded to players with the longest drive on a particular hole. In order for a long drive to count, it must end up in the fairway.
A player is awarded a “sandy” anytime he gets up-and-down from a bunker in two shots.
If your group is playing a betting game that awards points or units for the low score on a hole, making birdies worth double the normal amount creates some volatility and adds pressure.
If you’re playing a Nassau or Triple Six where there are multiple matches within a round, then adding presses allows players to either a chance to bet “double or nothing.” For example, if you are two down after four holes on the front nine of a match playing Nassau bet, then you may choose to “press” the front nine. When you press, the original bet still stands, but an additional match is started. If you lose the original bet, but win the press, then you break even on the front nine.
When playing games where points or units are used for scoring, players that are losing may want to increase the amount each point or unit is worth in an effort to win their money back. “Coughing” needs to be agreed upon by everyone in the game and should not get to the point where people are uncomfortable with the amount of money exchanging hands.
I speak from experience when I say that betting on the golf course is wildly fun, but can get out of hand. What starts out as a friendly game amongst friends can quickly turn sour if the amount of money exchanging hands becomes uncomfortable. In order to keep friendships intact and prevent somebody’s day from being ruined, there are few things to keep in mind.
Before the round starts, make sure that everyone in the group understands the game and is comfortable with the amount of money at stake. It’s also important that everyone agrees on how many strokes each player is getting to avoid any accusations of sandbagging. Setting a limit on the amount of money a player can lose might also help keep the mood light. If you ever find yourself not understanding the game or uncomfortable with the amount of money you might lose, then it’s always best to decline and opt for simply enjoying your day on the course.
Golf is the most difficult game in the world and more often than not we lose against Old Man Par. Instead of trying to grind out your lowest score every time out, try playing some different formats that keep things fresh and provide a little competition. Whether you’re just playing for a beer in the 19th hole or a few dollars, responsibly adding a friendly wager to your round is not only fun, but is sure to make you a better player.
About the Author
Scott is a professional writer and has been a golfer his entire life. After playing at Oregon State University he spent time playing on the Gateway Professional Tour. Six subsequent years working as a Club Professional allowed Scott to pursue his passion of helping others become better players. Scott now spreads his love of golf through the written word as a full time author and copywriter.