5 golf betting games guaranteed to liven up your rounds, according to a pro gambler

Justin Thomas flashing some earnings during a 2020 practice round at the RBC Heritage.

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Welcome to Stuff Golfers Should Know, a GOLF.com series in which we reveal all kinds of useful golf (and life!) wisdom that is sure to make you the smartest, savviest and most prepared player in your foursome.

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To get a sense for the kind of on-course wagers Erick Lindgren has been known to make, take a gander at this clip. It chronicles the day, in 2007, when Lindgren, a 12-handicapper at the time, cashed in on a $350,000 bet that called for him to walk four consecutive rounds in the searing heat of a Las Vegas summer, shooting under 100 for each 18.

An outsize proposition for the average weekend duffer, the wager was par for the course in those days for Lindgren, a professional poker player and golf junkie (and bettor) who routinely pegged it against friends and rivals with six-figure sums on the line.

Time moves on, though. A man matures.

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Now 45, and a father of two, Lindgren has less appetite for risk, which doesn’t mean he’s gone cold turkey on his gambling. He still plays poker. And he still likes a little action on the course, just enough to get the juices flowing without raising the prospect of financial pain.

Because that’s the comfort zone for many of the rest of us — and because $2 Nassaus get old after a while — we asked Lindgren for a rundown of his favorite money games. These 5 formats oughta hold your interest, even if you’re playing for nothing more than pride.

1. Umbrella

In this 2-vs.-2 partners’ game, 6 potential points are available on each hole: 2 for low score; 2 for low total; 1 for closest to the pin in regulation; and 1 for birdie. If one side gets all 6 points, that’s called an Umbrella. The win total doubles to 12, mushrooming in size, like an umbrella opening.

2. Wolf

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There are several variations of this feral game, which requires at least three players. But in every format, the tee-off order rotates from one hole to the next. After hitting first, Player A has the option to go solo against the group, or, after watching each subsequent player hit, select a partner. If they’re feeling bold, Player A also has the option to declare themselves the lone wolf before anyone hits. The stakes then triple on that hole.

3. Hammer

There are a lot of ways to beat yourself in golf. In Hammer, you also get the chance to bludgeon your opponent. You can play it with two golfers, 1 vs. 1, or as a two-person team game. As with many golf gambling games, rules and formats vary. But the gist is this: each hole is played for a designated sum, but at any point, you can “hammer” your opponent (an especially good time to do this is after your opponent has hit one in the weeds). If your opponent declines the hammer, they forfeit the hole. If they accept, the stakes double. Let’s say you then hit a lousy shot yourself. Your opponent has the option of hammering you back. On it goes like this until the hole is completed. Stakes can get high, and things can get ugly, as they often do when people fight with hammers.

4. Daytona

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In this 2 vs. 2 game, team scores are registered as a double-digit number. So, let’s say you make a 4 and your partner makes a 5, that counts as a 45. If your two opponents make a 5 and a 6 their score is a 56. The differential between 45 and 56 is 11, so 11 is the number of points you win. Where things get interesting is if you make a birdie. In that case, your opponents’ score inverts, with the higher digit going first, turning a 56 into a 65. The differential between your two scores (45 and 65) is now 20, a significantly bigger win.

5. Hole-by-Hole Opt Out

It is often said that matches are decided on the first tee, before the opening shots are struck. We’ve all been part of such lopsided affairs, when it quickly becomes clear that one side simply doesn’t stand a chance. In poker, that’s what’s known as “drawing dead.” No one wants to draw dead on the course. As a precaution, when playing matches against people outside his usual group, Lindgren sometimes proposes an opt-out clause. At any time during the round, after the completion of a hole, the white flag can be waved, ending the match.

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A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.