Ten Great Golf Gambling Games

Ten Great Golf Gambling Games

Our suggestions for fun betting games to play with friends during your next round

Back in 2007, I wrote Golf Digest’s Complete Book of Golf Betting Games. Since then, friends, family, even perfect strangers have stopped me on countless occasions to share their “perfect” golf-gambling game. In short, if the game works for you and your group, it’s a perfect game. However, if you struggle on the first tee to think of a fun game to play for the next 18 holes, here are my 10 favorites.


PERFECT FOR: Golfers who routinely struggle with a specific hole

DESCRIPTION: Instead of the scorecard mandating where handicap strokes are given, a player can use his or her handicap strokes on any hole until they run out. A maximum of two strokes can be used on any one hole. The only catch is that the handicap stroke (or two) has to be declared before the tee shot on that hole. The player with the low-net score wins the pot. This game is great because, if there are holes on your course where you routinely struggle, you can use your strokes on those holes to avoid a big score.

2. 5-3-1

PERFECT FOR: Threesomes

DESCRIPTION: It’s tough to find good games for three players but this one might be the best. There are a total of nine points available on each hole (a point has a predetermined dollar amount). The player with the low score on a hole gets five points. The player with the second-lowest score gets three. And the worst score on a hole gets one. If there are ties, you simply divide the points by the number of players tied. For example, two players tie for the best score on a hole. That means they split the first- and second-place points (5+3/2=4 apiece).


PERFECT FOR: Golfers who like to keep it simple and fair

DESCRIPTION: The problem with the popular gambling game called a “nassau” is that winning the 18-hole match is often undervalued. If the front, back and 18 are equal in the amount wagered, that means a golfer or team could conceivably win the first 10 holes, and halve all but two of the remaining and win only a third of the amount wagered. Hardly fair. With a closeout, the 18-hole match is worth a set amount and once it’s decided, a second match on the remaining holes begins for half the original amount. It reduces the odds of a lackluster payout for really solid play. But the real beauty of this game is that it’s simple to keep track of the match.


PERFECT FOR: A group of any size with legitimate Handicap Indexes

DESCRIPTION: Each player takes his or her course handicap, then subtracts that number from 36 and that becomes the point quota they have to make during a round. Typical scoring for a mid-handicap group would be 1 point for a bogey, 2 points for a par, 4 for a birdie and 8 for an eagle (points can be adjusted in any way). The player with the most points above their quota wins a predetermined pot. If no one finishes above their quota, you can roll the pot into the next round or decide it by some kind of tiebreaker. I’ve always liked this game because pars and birdies are worth so much more to average golfers than just being one shot better than a bogey.


PERFECT FOR: Mid-to-high handicap groups

DESCRIPTION: At the end of a round, each player gets to throw out his or her score on three holes and then the best 15-hole score wins the pot. This is a great game for mid-to-high handicappers because it keeps everyone involved much deeper into the round, especially if a player or two had a couple of “blow-up” holes along the way.


PERFECT FOR: Learning how to putt better in the clutch

DESCRIPTION: You know those three-footers that your group always swats away as “gimmes?” You can’t do that with this game. You have to putt them out. And any time a player three-putts or worse (the ball has to be on the green for the first putt), a specific amount is added to a pot. That money keeps accruing during the round and the last person to three-putt has to pay the other players the amount in the pot. There are many variations of this game including a progressive version where the pot amount starts at a dime and doubles each time someone three-putts. Another version makes the person with the most three-putts pay. It’s recommended to play this game when the course isn’t crowded because it can slow things down. However, it’s a great game to learn how to make short putts and not take other putts for granted.


PERFECT FOR: Shaking off bad holes

DESCRIPTION: Among the many side bets, this one is my favorite because it rewards players who don’t give up. Essentially, any time a player follows up a double bogey or worse with a par or better on the next hole, they win a point (dollar value determined in advance by your group). Any time a player makes back-to-back double bogeys or worse, they lose a point.

Golf Betting


PERFECT FOR: Hardcore gamblers

DESCRIPTION: Players earn points for making a bogey or better on a hole. A typical point distribution would be 5 for a bogey, 15 for a par, 30 for a birdie and 60 for an eagle (better groups can start with par as the first point-eligible score). After earning points on a hole, the player has the option of banking the amount or “letting it ride,” meaning the point total can still grow on subsequent holes. The point totals double for every hole that they aren’t banked. So a bogey on a second consecutive hole would now be worth 10 and a par would be worth 30 and so on. However, if a player elects to let his or her points ride and a double bogey or worse is made, the player’s total points not banked goes back to zero. Banked points can’t be taken away and are credited at the end of the round. The players with the highest point totals are paid a predetermined amount for every point they have earned in relation to the other players. This is a great game for golfers who are streaky and also for golfers who love to gamble. Think about it: If you make back-to-back birdies without banking, you’ll have earned the equivalent of making 18 bogeys earned at 5 points each.


PERFECT FOR: Twosomes or foursomes looking to break up the monotony of their usual games.

DESCRIPTION: This is a standard match-play competition with a little twist. When a golfer or team wins a hole, they “remove” a club from the opponent or opponents’ bags. That means the other team can’t use that club for the rest of the round. This continues until the match is decided. A variation of this game allows a team to reinstall clubs to their set if someone on the team makes net birdie or better to win a hole. Things can get really creative and shotmaking becomes a bigger part of the round when certain clubs are eliminated. Obviously, the putter should be first to go.


PERFECT FOR: Improving shot selection and course strategy

DESCRIPTION: Instead of rewarding players for good play, golfers are given points for their mistakes. The players with the lowest point totals are paid a predetermined amount for every point less they have in relation to the other competitors. This can be a side-bet game or the group’s main wager. A common point allocation: Hitting a ball in a bunker (1); Hitting into the water (2). Hitting out-of-bounds (3). Three-putting (1). Four-putting (4). Duffing a tee shot (1). Points can also be subtracted for stellar play such as making birdies, holing long putts or stiffing shots from off the green, etc. This is a great game to learn course management and how to stop taking unnecessary risks.


    • Questions for you on the let it ride golf game, I just want to be sure i understand the game correctly. Once you finish a hole, you can either bank the points or count zero points on that hole and “let it ride.” Then on the next hole, all point totals are doubled plus the potential of adding the amount you’ve let ride. So if I parred a hole and let it ride, I’d be facing the next hole with double the points in play for a bogey 5, par 15, birdie 30, eagle 60, PLUS the amount I let ride? So if I birdied the hole, I would have 15 from the previous hole par, plus 60 for this hole for a total of 75 points I could choose to bank or let ride again, correct? If I let it ride again, does the next consecutive hole double yet again, so in this case, a bogey is now worth 20, a par 60 and so forth? Please let me know. Thanks!

      • The points totals are only based on your score and your willingness to gamble. You get to determine if you want to “let it ride” or if you want to “bank” the points earned. The gamble is when you win points on a hole, and then decided to let it ride or bank them. Therefore, if you make a par it would be worth 15 points, before you hit your drive you can say bank or let it ride. If you bank you get 15 points and that hole is back to normal points. If you let it ride you would now be playing for double points on the next hole. So if you make a bogey or better you get double points on that hole plus your previous unbanked points. So lets say you make the par, let it ride, and make bogey. You now have the 15 points from the hole before and 10 points for the bogey on this hole that were worth double. You can at that point bank the 25 points for your two hole total, or you can let it ride again. YES. If you double up on the next hole you would now be playing another press. So everything is doubled twice. Meaning a bogey on the third hole would be worth 20 points (5 for 10 for 20).

        We typically put a three hole cap on the double up rolls. So if you made three pars in a row, and let it ride each time you would have won: 15 from the first hole, plus 30 from the second hole, and then 60 from the third hole for a total of 105 points, at that point you are now an autobank. Which means you get the 105, and the points on the fourth hole go back to normal.

        My recommendation, if you are playing a guy who is willing to let it ride on every hole, you shouldn’t play him for any money.

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