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The USGA discourages golfers from participating in this wild format

March 6, 2020

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If you’re a tournament golfer, a high-level amateur, or someone with particular interest in maintaining your amateur status, we advise you to read the following with caution. Why? Because the USGA discourages anyone considered part of the above groups from participating in this week’s golf game: the Calcutta.

The big picture

It’s helpful to view a Calcutta like an auction draft in fantasy sports. But rather than wagering “fake money” to assemble a fantasy team, you’re wagering real money to “own” a player to beat the remainder of the field. A field that also includes you.

The auction

Each golfer participating in a Calcutta is both a player and an owner, but before anyone can tee off, all golfers must first “buy” another player through an auction. Golfers bid on who they feel will win the event, generally beginning with the lowest handicap player and ending with the highest handicap player. The highest bid wins “ownership” over a player, with their money contributed to the pot.

In theory, an auction should work such that the lowest handicap golfers are auctioned off for the highest prize, while the highest handicappers go for pennies on the dollar.


A buyback is a favorite option of low-handicappers participating in a Calcutta. In this scenario, players can purchase a share of themself from their owner. If the player then wins the tournament, they and the owner split the winnings 50-50. Typically, the cost to buy back a share in yourself is roughly half of what the owner bid for you.

The event

A Calcutta is typically an 18-hole, stroke-play tournament.

The payout

Payouts depend on a couple of factors and are typically decided on a case-by-case basis. If a Calcutta is being played for charity, part of the pot will go toward the charitable cause. If it’s being played competitively, there’s typically a prize payout for the top three to five finishers, with the first-place finisher taking the lion’s share of the profit.

Why you should think before participating

The USGA opposes the Calcutta format, arguing it blurs the line between playing for prize money (which is illegal for amateurs) and gambling (which is allowed). If you participate in a Calcutta and are a highly competitive golfer, you’re at risk of forfeiting your amateur status, according to USGA rules.

“The USGA may inform players they have forfeited their amateur status or deny entry in USGA Championships and membership on USGA teams for international competitions to players whose activities in connection with golf gambling, whether organized or individual, are considered by the USGA to be contrary to the best interests of golf.”

Why you should try it

While it’s certainly not for everyone, winning money in a Calcutta has little to do with golfing ability. Rather, those who are most successful in this format have a keen eye for golf talent. It’s a game perfect for outings — meant to produce a few big winners from large fields of players, and can be a great tool in raising money for charity.

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