Many club golfers have a regular small wager between members of their four ball group. In most cases it is a dollar, or a few dollars, spread over the eighteen holes. One player will collect the four marked balls of the group and toss them over his head. The two balls landing closest together will form a two ball partnership against the other two. Teams will play a dollar for the first nine holes , a dollar for the back nine holes, and a further dollar for the aggregate eighteen holes. It will be adjudged on the four ball best ball principle, with handicaps on the Stableford score determining who wins the hole with the fewest strokes.
The popularity of this little wager is not about winning money but, rather, it spikes the competitive juices; especially as most club competitions are run as individual awards. The added team competition keeps players interested, even if they are out of the running to win the individual awards in their respective grades. Sinking a putt when the hole is on the line and, perhaps, the whole dollar on one of the nines increases the pressure and the perceived reward. Playing golf is all about mastering the skills under the gun, when your competitors are hoping that you will miss or fluff the shot.
Gambling on professional golf as a sport, when punters pick a player to win a tournament, is another matter altogether. Here bookies offer odds on form players and class players, much the same as they do on horse races. Picking a player to win one of the four major golf tournaments is much like picking the winner of the Cox Plate. You are looking for a player in form, due for a win, perhaps, having finished runner up or in the top five recently. Then, you need everything to go right for him, or her, and the golfing gods to be smiling down on you and your player. Today there are free bets and bonuses from bookmakers on golfing tournaments.
In the old days, back in the nineteen fifties and sixties, before golf prize money became substantial, professional players would wager big money on themselves to earn a decent living. There are infamous tales about players like Lee Trevino and Sam Snead taking on golfing hustlers for thousands of dollars. Nerves of steel are required when you are staking your own money on sinking a putt or getting up and down to win ten grand.