Everything You Need to Know About Golf Gambling

Man wearing yellow polo hitting gold ball with club at golf course
Courtney Cook; Unsplash

There are two things you need to know about PXG founder and CEO Bob Parsons: he’s golf-obsessed and loves gambling. So naturally, Parsons is keen to put some cash on his regular matches.

“I just love to put myself in that position,” Parsons says. “The feeling’s wonderful.”

He’s not alone. Many players thrive under pressure. PGA tour pros will often play big money games to simulate the experience of a major championship. It’s also fun for amateurs to see if they can handle the pressure and not let the fear of losing diminish their abilities.

For Parsons, the trick to maintaining his focus with money on the line is remembering to have fun.

“I’ll catch myself not being happy about how it’s going, and I start thinking, ‘Brother, you’re doing the opposite of what you need to do to win.’ ” Re-engaging with a more jovial spirit almost always turns things around.

Paul Casey of England hits from the bunker on the seventh hole during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links, on February 10, 2019 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)

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Of course, it’s called gambling because the risk of losing is a reality. “The most I’ve ever seen change hands on a hole is $9,600,” Parsons says; he is a billionaire, after all. “I’ve got the wherewithal to handle it. But I think about what I might lose and just accept it.”

Older caucasian man in. black suit and sunglasses sitting on outdoor sofa next to golf clubs
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What is golf gambling: types of games to play

As in the game of golf, gambling on it requires adhering to established etiquette, such as: Never welch on a bet, or no one will want to play with you; don’t get over-competitive, or no one will want to play with you; don’t tally up scores or exchange money on the greens, as it slows play.

Also, don’t gamble with money you don’t have or can’t comfortably afford to lose. If you think you might have a problem please contact ncpgambling.org.

For those who want to spice up their regular game with a little cash on the like, there are loads of ways for players to bet on a golf match. The “Nassau” is probably the most common. Essentially, it’s a match-play format with wagers on the front nine, the back nine, and the aggregate. Another intensely popular wagering concept is ‘Wolf.”

Each member of the group rotates as the “Wolf,” who hits the first tee shot. That player can then choose a partner as they tee off for a best ball contest on each hole. The “Wolf” can also choose to play solo against the rest of the group for a larger wager (usually double). And for those who are supremely confident in their game, the “Wolf” can also choose to go “Lone Wolf” before they hit their tee ball, which escalates the action further.

For fans of math, “Daytona” is a two-against-two game and scores are displayed as a double-digit integer—with the lower in the first place and the higher in the second. So, if you rolled in a par putt for a 4 and your partner made a double bogey, the group score would be 46; and if your competitors made bogey and double, their score would be 56 and the point differential would be 10. Each point can be assigned a dollar value. Had you made birdie, your team score would have been 36 and your opponents’ score flips their highest number first—now 65—for a 29-point shift.

But for Parsons and his usual crew of competitors, there’s only one game, and it’s called “Sweat.”

Titleist golf ball on tee
Scott Warman; Unsplash

Parsons describes his favorite on-course cash game as a kind of modified version of “Wolf,” in which you have the option to choose a partner for a hole. In “Sweat,” it’s one person versus the rest of the group, “so you have to beat three or four capable golfers’ best ball, which is no easy task,” Parsons says.

Every hole starts out with a value of one point. Parsons and his crew typically play for $100 per point. But here’s where it gets interesting: Any of the sides can double the bet against the person who has the tee whenever they want—as long as the ball has not already been holed. This is called a “roll.” A player can decline the “roll,” but they would then forfeit the hole and wager.

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In another twist, when you “roll” someone, they get a half stroke advantage. So, you’d want to be in a good spot before kicking up the action.

Birdies automatically double the bet, eagles quadruple it, and a hole in one is 10x. There’s also what Parsons calls a “stop loss” rule that insists any player up 5 points or more must accept a “roll.”

There’s also no limit for “rolls” per hole, so “Sweat” is a game that can escalate quickly. While it sounds like it might be hard to keep track of where everything is during a match, Parsons insists it’s quite the opposite. “If you’re in it, you know exactly what’s happening,” he says.

Obviously, Parsons plays this game on a fairly sizable scale and will pretty much wager whatever his fellow competitors want to, but there are stakes he finds too high.

“Any amount that would devastate somebody I was playing with,” Parsons says. “I would have no interest in doing that.”

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