Formats & gambling for your golf trip

Having some skin in the game is a sure-fire way to reveal the heroes from the zeros on your next golf trip. Regardless of the stakes having a small wager always brings out some added pressure and normally some interesting trash talk.

It is important to note, however, that not all gambling has to involve money. Some golf trips can be eye-watering expensive, so you should never feel pressured to spend more than you feel comfortable losing. Another great option is to play for other prizes such as the best beds in your house or getting waiter service all evening.

Whilst you may choose to stick to the standard formats like Stableford, best ball if you are playing in pairs, or even a scramble (also known as ambrose in some parts of the world ), here are some interesting and new games you may like to try on your next trip. 

You will notice a focus on games that make golf fun, and many will involve you not always playing your own ball throughout. The perfect games when you may be playing 36 holes a day and need to make the second 18 quicker or more fun :

1.Foursomes/Alternate Shot :

If you have watched any Ryder or Presidents Cup, this will not be a new format. But in my opinion, it is hugely overlooked on golf trips. If you want to play 36 in a day, make the second-round alternate shot. For a start, it will be quicker, but the strategy conversations will be more fun than you think between you and your partner. Better yet, all the pressure of trying to make a score as an individual goes away.

2. Bingo, Bango, bongo

A game in which every shot holds a lot of value to the overall points scoring. Points are allocated in three ways. 

  • The “bingo” point is give for the  first on the green. Strict etiquette is key as the player who has rights to hit first ( either has honours on the tee or is furthest from the flat) must hit first.
  • The “bango” point is awarded for closest to pin when everyone is onboard. This can be played in two ways. Either closest in regulation or simply the closest full stop. Naturally this favours those that may miss the green but chip on from close range ( however they would naturally miss out more on the “Bingo” point.
  • The “bongo” point, for first one in the hole. With etiquette regards who goes first being followed

Each point is worth an associated dollar or punishment value and points tabulated end of the round. The one major issue with this format is that ready golf can not be played.

3. Split sixes

The perfect three-player game in which every hole is worth six points is split between the players relative to their net score on the hole.

An outright winner on any hole will score 4 points and the second 2 points (or 1 point each if there is a tie for the second ). If there are 2 winners, they will receive 3 points each if there is a 3-way tie, 2 points each.

Some variations of split sixes also reward an outright win on a hole by 2 clear shots, all 6 points, which can make for larger swings in a game.

4. Hammer

A game best played in pairs. Each hole starts with a predetermined value at stake (values may go up as the round goes one). At any point, any player can “hammer” the other team, which doubles the bet on the hole. The receiving team can accept the challenge and play the hole out for double or forfeit the hole and value at stake immediately.

The main downside of this format is that some holes will lose a bit of meaning early if stakes are forfeited.

5. Electic scoring

If you are playing multiple rounds on a golf trip at the same course, you allow all golfers to build up their best 18 hole score based on the best score they have on each hole as the trip goes on. This is one of my personal favorites for keeping all golfers interested late in a trip.

This can also be played across different courses by changing from your best net score to your best score to par, i.e., 1 over, par, birdie, etc.

Watch the pressure mount when you are carrying a double bogey on a hole on the last day of your trip.

6. Wolf

Wolf can be a complicated format, but it’s awesome and worth some research {link to}. In short, Wolf is suited to those that love to gamble and back themselves. You have the chance to play 1 vs. 3 if you are feeling brave or even back yourself sight unseen on a hole.

Wolf is great if you want to play with multiple partners during a round also.

7. String Ball

In theory, a golfer can be given a piece of string or rope relative to their handicap. I.e., 13 handicapper gets 13 meters of rope. Over the course of around, a player can use their rope (i.e., all at once or in small amounts ) to move their ball for free. You can also make this game easy and agree to pace footsteps. If you do play this format, ensure you establish some rules around three key aspects.

  • Whether you measure a ball out of bounds or in a hazard from where it sits ( if you can see or estimate it ) or from where it went into the trouble. Generally it is easier to use the last point it was in play.
  • What is the minimum volume of string/rope you can use. Normally 1 metre is fair at a time
  • Can you use your string/rope to place a ball in a hole, and if so does that count as a shot if you choose to do this. This is a fair middle ground. You are sure to make a put but you use rope to do it.

8. Bisque

Bisque is also a fun format when you play a course a lot and have some local knowledge. Based on your standard handicap, players can choose to allocate strokes as they wish instead of just taking them on the holes they would naturally get them on.

You will need to decide if you require the allocation to be done pre-round or just pre-hole. And you will need to decide if you allow multiple shots to be taken on one hole.

9. Daytona

It is a fun game for pairs and a great way to shake up your normal foursome… The players’ scores are paired rather than combined to determine a team score.

If, for example, John and Jenny are teammates, and David makes a 3 and Justin makes a 4, their team score for that hole is a 34. The smaller score always going first.

The team with the lower score wins either the hole or potentially carries forward the margin (i.e., 43 – 34 = 9 points), and you total up the score for 18 holes.

Daytona will generally punish the weaker golfer in your group so perhaps stay away from this format if you are not matched relatively equally.

10. Let it ride

Another game for risk takers but also not the simplest format to keep tabs on. The idea in Let it Ride is for all players to score points on each hole. Based on your net score per hole, standard hole scoring is as follows.

  • Bogey = 5 points
  • Par = 15 points
  • Birdie = 30 points
  • Eagle = 60 points

After each hole, players have to decide whether to bank their points or Let it Ride and carry points to the next hole. For every score carried into a hole, the potential point values are doubled for that hole, but if a player earns a double bogey or worse, they automatically lose all of the points riding on that hole.

For example, if a player scores three pars in a row without banking and then banks his total after the third hole, he would add 15 + 30 + 60 = 105 points to their total.

Bonus Points – Allowing the press.

There is nothing quite like a game of golf coming down to the last hole. Especially a team’s game. But it often just doesn’t happen. One team wins early, and that is the end of the fun. Not necessarily. Allowing a ‘press’ in a game of golf means allowing your opposition at any time to go double effectively or nothing at any point at which they may have either lost a game or even before they have lost and they feel like they can’t turn it around. If you do allow the press, you are best to establish early.

  1. Does the winning team have to accept it ( the best etiquette says they should )
  2. What happens if the 2nd match is tied on the 18th. Do you have a tie breaker or just revert back to the original winner and the press is wiped out.

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