600 Years of Bettin’ on Birdies
Betting is part of golf. While gambling anxieties have paralyzed other sports, golf has welcomed wagering since the game’s early versions migrated from Europe to the east coast of Scotland in the late Middle Ages. In fact, golf’s handicap system, which ensures even competition, grew out of golf’s acceptance of betting among players. Money Golf: 600 Years of Bettin’ on Birdies by Michael K. Bohn is the first book to chronicle the game’s long and healthy relationship with betting, one that is unparalleled in sport.
The story starts with Scottish kings and queens and ends with Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam. In between are anecdotes from hundreds of players, including Old and Young Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Babe Zaharias, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Lanny Wadkins, and Phil Mickelson. There are betting tales from U.S. presidents, Hollywood stars, famous athletes from other sports, women players, and golf’s greatest hustler, Titanic Thompson.
They have all talked of their golf course wagers, the breadth of which span the entire record of the game. Even the simon-pure amateur Bobby Jones bet when he played, occasionally with his pairing partner during tournaments. Money Golf also includes a primer on common betting games, as well as wagering advice from the high priest of golf course betting, Sam Snead
Despite widespread wagering among golfers, no betting scandal has ever besmirched organized golf. Most golf historians attribute this record to the game’s ancient and tested code of honor. Along with lessons about manners and standards of conduct that accompany instruction on the golf swing, the code steers the sport away from betting’s often disreputable handmaiden, cheating. “Golf will never have a scandal,” declared Lee Trevino, a man who grew up betting on the golf course. “Golfers are raised differently.” Celebrate the unique role that betting plays in the game with Money Golf: 600 Years of Bettin’ on Birdies.
Excerpts from Money Golf
“We always have to have something riding on it,” Annika Sorenstam said of golf with Tiger Woods. “I think the bets keep him motivated to beat me.”
Praise for Money Golf
“Michael Bohn has written a splendid book recording the history of betting on golf. The examples start with Scots royals James I and Mary Queen of Scots and lead through the golden days of match play in the 1800s and 1900s to the present day fever of the Ryder Cup. Henry Longhurst, the great British writer and commentator, said, “You should always play for a little more than you care to lose!”
— Archie Baird, director, Heritage of Golf Museum, Gullane, Scotland
“A zesty collection of tales from the monetary front lines of golf. Bohn’s funny and detailed recounting of classic and sometimes harrowing wagering wars reveals how wide and colorful the theater of operations really is. It’s entertaining and also useful—it’s rich with field-manual material that helps simple soldiers like me live to fight another day.”
— Guy Yocom, Senior Writer, Golf Digest
“If you play golf for money, you need this book; if you don’t play golf for money, you need to start.”
—David Owen, golf writer and author of My Usual Game
“Intently researched, skillfully reported, artfully written, Money Golf is something you can bank on, proving once and for all that some of the best stories are about following the money.
— Thomas Bonk, golf writer, Los Angeles Times
Forward by Lanny Wadkins
“I have always played informal rounds with some money on the line—a couple bucks when I was in high school but a little more after I turned pro. It’s just the nature of the game.”
Questions & Answers
Betting Advice from Money Golf
- Don’t play friends for a lot of money; they won’t be friends long.
- If you see someone break a rule, call it then, not back in the clubhouse or behind his back.
- Don’t accept another man’s bet. Modify it somehow, and make a counteroffer.
Selected Betting Games
Nassau. This is normally a match play bet. Golfers can, however, play it medal by scoring each nine separately. Played either in a singles or four-ball game, there is, in its simplest form, one bet on the front nine, a second for the back, and a third for the match—that is, $2, $2, and $2.
Bobby Jones. Each golfer plays his second shot from the location of his opponent’s tee shot. The bet is usually a Nassau, buts other wagers will do.
Scruffies. A player can elect to call a Scruffy on himself after a horrible tee shot. If he pars the hole, he wins the bet. He pays for bogeys or worse. A birdie doubles the bet. Opponents must first agree the shot was bad enough to qualify for a Scruffy.