4 golf-betting rules every savvy golfer should follow

golf bets

Don’t leave the course until you’ve settled your wagers.

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The beauty of golf is that we’re mostly competing against ourselves. So say the purists.

The rest of us know better.

We’re mostly competing against our buddies, hoping to take them for a few bucks. It’s that simple: The game is more compelling when there’s something on the line.

If we’re going to gamble, though, there should be rules in place. How should we propose a bet? Where should we set the stakes? What is the right time and place to settle up?

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Matt Rum and Thomas Reinholm are the founders of LoopGolf, a golf-focused app designed to handle everything match-related, from handicaps and scorekeeping to instant payments.

That’s another way of saying that they always play for money.

We asked about the golf-gambling etiquette guidelines they employ.

1. Don’t force bets on your partners

Tiger Woods has said that he likes to play for whatever makes his opponent uncomfortable. Rum and Reinholm suggest showing more kindness. If you’re playing with someone you’ve never played with before, start with a few polite filtering questions. Would you like to play a game? Do you typically play for money? If so, how much do you usually put on the line?

Be attuned not only to their answers but to their body language. Most people aren’t like putts; they’re easy to read. Respect their words and cues. You don’t want to be the doofus who stirs up awkward feelings on the first tee.

Playing with friends is a different story. In that instance, Reinholm and Rum typically propose a $10/$10/$20 nassau, as in 10 bucks each for the front and back, and 20 dollars for the overall. “If the response is not immediately positive or we hear crickets, we immediately shift to…or we could do five-five-10.”

A $2 nassau is not unheard of, either.

2. Don’t initiate too many games

Barkies. Sandies. Presses. Props. There are nearly as many games as there are golfers. Don’t try to play them all at once. In fact, any more than two at a time is usually too many, Reinholm says. “Especially if you’re asking the scorekeeper to track off of this action with pencil and paper.”

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That’s a distracting burden you shouldn’t place on others. If you’re willing to do the scorekeeping yourself, then, as they say, all bets are off. Play as many games as the number-crunching portion of your brain will allow.

3. Avoid mid-match adjustments

Golf is fickle. Matches get lopsided, even when handicaps are applied correctly. If you’re shellacking your opponent — or the other way around — is there any obligation to adjust the strokes are stakes? There is not. A deal is a deal. Ideally, all the details should be nailed down before you get to the first tee. Eleventh-hour negotiations are best avoided. And the window for them closes the instant the opening shots are struck.

“Once the game has been set, we don’t believe in switching things around mid-round,” Reinholm says. “Part of the fun in our experience is having to dig yourself out of a hole if things are going sideways.”

Presumably, you’re playing for money you can afford to lose. Better to hand over a little dough than it is to give away your pride.

4. When and where to pay up

On the 18th green is too early. In the parking lot is almost too late.

“The proper etiquette is that you don’t leave the course until you’ve settled your wagers,” Reinholm says. “If you wait, chances are you might forget to settle your debts and then you’re leaving someone in the awkward position of having to ask you to send them their winnings, which no one will do.”

They’ll just sit around and stew. If the script were flipped, we’re betting that you would do the same.

Josh Sens

Golf.com Editor

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.