The History of Betting in Golf: Let’s make it a little more interesting


There is little that can better spice up a good golf game than waging a little bet with friends. Most of us keep it small and simple, betting a couple of bucks or a round of drinks. However, golf folklore is infamous for costly, outrageous, and just plain wacky bets.


Have you ever bet that you could make a hole in fewer strokes than your partner? So did Sir David Moncreiffe and John Whyte-Melville in 1870, but they probably played with a little higher stakes than your average bet. The records of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews report that the bet was literally life or death and the loser had to die. Although the records omit the outcome of the match, it is recorded that 13 years later, John Whyte-Melville gave a speech where he lamented “the causes that led to…” the death of Sir David Moncreiffe.

Such wagers in early Scottish golf were not uncommon, especially among the aristocratic class. Restrictions were even formally set by the Honourable Company in the mid-18th century to limit the amount one could bet on a game of golf, but were not followed as elite gentlemen continued to play for large sums.

In the early 20th century, golf bets became less extreme but far more unusual. There are stories of a man who bet he could win a game wearing a suit of armor, and another of a man who bet he could score under 90 in a dense fog.

There are also tales of golf debauchery in order to make sure a bet to swings in one’s favor. Infamous gambler, Titanic Thompson, bet that he could sink a hole in one 40 feet away. His poor opponent probably gawked in amazement as he made it in, unaware that Titanic payed a greenskeeper to lay a track straight to the hole. Don’t get any ideas!


More about Titanic Thompson, the man who could “sink” everybody.

Cigarettes and Golf

The game and cigarettes have always had an interesting relationship. After reading Bernard Darwin’s essay titled The Golfing Cigarette, a post was warranted. Growing up, cigarettes were a part of my experience – the long drag remains in my father’s pre-shot routine.

In Darwin’s essay, he conveys 5 (of many) different types of cigarettes on the golf course. They are:

  1. There is the one that a man lights on the tee just to steady him and help him over the first hole.
  2. There is the one, particularly applicable to medal rounds, which follows a disaster in a bunker leading to a six or a seven.
  3. There is, in a match, the one that is felt to be absolutely necessary when a nice little winning lead of three up or so has suddenly been reduced to a single hole.
  4. There is the cigarette to be smoked at the turn, irrespective of the state of the game, but because the turn is a definite occasion and an occasion calls for tobacco.
  5. Finally and most blissful is the dormy cigarette…

Golf and cigarette’s relationship has been like any other; good times and bad times ebb and flow. In the early years of competitive golf, it was viewed as disrespectful to smoke in a match. Americans slowly morphed the perception as even the great Bobby Jones took a few drags during critical moments.

Unquestionably the pinnacle of golf and cigarette’s relationship was during the commercialized boom years of golf. The years of post-war golf seemed to curb the stigma and when the likes of Ben Hogan and others made it a habit, the act was more accepted; proven by the King’s promotion of LM’s (image below).

The relationship of cigarettes and golf today is still strong, but more subtle. Although, an opponent lighting up a Camel is in no sign of disrespect, it’s more likely to be perceived as a weakness. Vernacular has even changed. Smoking cigarettes, is no longer called smoking cigarettes, but ‘ripping nails’ is just as easily interpreted in the golfing elite’s terminology.

Cigarettes and golf will always be married together. Both need each other: cigarettes because without golf, there would be less moments needed for them, and golf, because without cigarettes, the game would be that much more difficult.

Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan smoking cigarettes before their shot.

Darren Clarke smokes a golfer's cigarette.

Post-round cigarette for Ben Hogan.

Miguel Angel-Jimenez smokes cigarettes and cigars.

Arnold Palmer promoting LM's.

Angel Cabrera is one of the most prolific smokers on tour.

5 Ryder Cup Highlights To Watch Before Medinah in 2012

The Ryder Cup: it’s brilliant, it’s patriotic, it’s a rare moment of bonding that the game rarely shows. For one week, the world’s best from the U.S and Europe team up and compete in a dazzling biennial affair. Hosted this year in the U.S. at Medinah Country Club, outside of Chicago, the golf world will be watching as Europe tries to defend the title and keep the cup overseas. Below are 5 videos every golfer should watch before the first stroke is struck. Each video has been selected to emphasize the emotion, patriotism, and strategy all intertwined into a tournament unlike any other: The Ryder Cup.

Context behind the Ryder Cup:

Before 1985, the U.S. had dominated the Ryder Cup only losing three times since it’s inception in 1927. However, in 1985 the tides began to turn with the help of young, charismatic golfers like Seve Ballesteros, and the competition has never been same since. Below is a chart showing which teams won, by how much, and who lead the team to victory and defeat.

Continue reading

Tom Watson on the Charlie Rose Show

The indepth, benevolent interrogation by Charlie Rose doesn’t escape the game we know and love. When I heard that Tom Watson would be on the other side of the round, oak table I knew it would be something to TiVo. Below is the 32 minute interview and the summary that follow.

– Charlie opens the interview with a look back at Watson’s chip-in on the 17th at Pebble.

– Watson truly believed he could win the Wednesday night before the start of the tournament.

– His example of what makes his experience beneficial is fantastic; trust and confidence in the course made his 6 prior experiences at Turnberry such an advantage.

– Watson on links golf “That’s links golf, you just don’t know.”

– Tom’s hatred of failure is what drove him to succeed.

– The caddy-player relationship in Watson’s life is amazing. Bruce Edwards spent over 30 years on the bag with Watson.

– When the ball was in the air on 18 at Turnberry in 2009, Watson thought it would be 77′ all over again.

– Watson’s major motivation for great play at the Masters this year was his son being on the bag.

– To be great at anything, you’ve got to have conviction that you’re great. Tom believed that.

– Everyone always talked about Jack and his strategy around the course. Watson puts it in much simpler terms by saying, “Jack was the best at taking the element of risk out of an individual shot.”

Two Questions Watson Asked Hogan: it surprises me that Tom only met Ben once.

– Do you ever think a tall golfer will ever be one of the best players?” Hogan responded by saying “Absolutely.”

– How nervous did you get when you were playing in competition? Hogan replied, “Tom, I was so nervous I was jumping out of my skin.”

– Charlie asks “Why would you wake up and not warm-up well if you in the lead?” A simple question, but yet, it cuts to the heart of the enigma is that is the game of golf. Watson replies that is just the way the the game is and feel is such a big factor.

– The snowball effect of losing confidence happened to Tom midway through his career.

Watson finds “it.”

– His practice session on the range in 1994 is where Tom Watson discovered his secret. There are many similarities to Tom’s secret and the one of Ben Hogan.

– Wow, did not know Tom Watson thought about quitting the game.

– Learn from the best through observation.

– Watson equates ball striking to pitcher’s and their control of the movement of their pitch.

– The modern golf swing is epitomized in Sam Snead’s swing.

Jon @ atruegolfer.com

Rockwell’s Works on Golf

I love Norman Rockwell. I love golf. The following two Norman Rockwell pieces incorporate the game into his artwork.

Man Leaving Work to Go Golfing was published on September 20, 1919. I’ve always felt it’s important to leave art up to interpretation but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the sign over the gentlemen’s desk that says “Do It Now,” and the note left on the door that reads, “Gone on Important Business.”

Missed! came from Rockwell’s Sporting Boys series. The facial features of all the boys says it all!

Which piece is your favorite?

Jon @ atruegolfer.com

4 Ways To Get Invited Back to a Member Guest

When your friend or relative invites you to a Member-Guest, it’s a big deal. They are, in essence, saying, “I want you to come represent me in front of my friends at my club.” It is a true honor. This privilege creates a lofty amount of responsibility; below are 4 simple, easy ways to get invited back to your friend’s Member Guest.

Make Your Partner Look Good

There are many ways to do this and not do this. A few that come to mind include:

– Tell stories of the past you have together. Each of you know one another for a reason, let his fellow members in on a side of your host they may not know — a good side, that is.

– Do not talk about or compare your club. Any form of trying to “keep up with the Joneses” or commenting on how your club does it always comes off awkward.

– Dress like your partner. This doesn’t mean wear the exact same item…that would be ridiculous and is highly ill-advised. But dressing beneath your partner (shirt untucked or tennis golf shoes) could create tension and dressing above him (a flamboyant-Poulter outfit) could make him feel out-of-place at his home course. Best advice: stay traditional and classic.

Play Well

This might be too simple, but depending on your partner, being in contention is a high priority and if you get waxed, coming back may be a tall order. Weeks leading up to the tournament, take some extra range time, bring the putter to work, and get mentally prepared for firing at pins and dropping putts.

Write Personal Thank You Notes

Writing thank you notes is one of the least time consuming ways and potentially has the greatest “remembrance factor” because so few people do it. Notice Thank You Notes” is plural. This means writing two is best form: one to your host and one to the head pro — both thanking them for the weekend, accommodations, and experience. Notes should only be written if the message is authentic and sincere, otherwise don’t bother.

Reciprocate

Some of the greatest relationships are formed on the golf course. As most know, relationships are a two way street and if an individual doesn’t reciprocate in anyway, it hints a lack of appreciation. There are many ways to reciprocate including a gift, a golf trip that you initiate, or your Member-Guest.

Good luck and hopefully your host will see you next year.

Jon @ atruegolfer.com

The Old Course at St. Andrews: Respect Earned The Long Way

The game’s greatest players have all played St. Andrews at one point or another and it’s fascinating to see the stories each one has in developing respect for the birth place of golf.

In a Sports Illustrated interview in 1970, Jack Nicklaus knew what it took to fully understand the greatness of The Old Course:

A golfer must play [St. Andrews] at least a dozen times before he can expect to understand its subtleties. If a player becomes irritated at the bad bounces and unusual things that happen at St. Andrews, forget it.

Two of golf’s greatest players have made the mistake of becoming “irritated at the bad bounces and unusual things that happen at St. Andrews” and have paid for it mightily in pride and in the press. Continue reading

Golf’s Lost Art Form: The Exhibition Match

There is a lost art form within the game of golf. An art that produces an experience because of golf’s rare mix of mental, social, and physical skills required — traditionally, this is called an exhibition match.

A Very Brief History

Before there was a professional golf tour, many of the game’s greatest players earned money by competing in exhibition matches against each other. There was no better ‘exhibitor’ than Walter Hagen. A man with a larger than life personality and a grandiose lifestyle to match it. To draw the widest audience as possible, celebrities of that time would also join in on the competition. Continue reading

“Flight Plan” Takes Off

Below is Flight Plan by artist Michael David Murphy. Twenty five different ball flight sequences of eleven different golfers, all on one major championship afternoon and masterfully timed gives you Flight Plan.

If you are wondering who’s ball flight you’re watching, the list is below. You can see more of Michael David Murphy’s work here. These images were captured during the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. Continue reading

How To Get Masters Tickets?

“Having tickets to The Masters is the best dowry a wife could have in the South.” Those were the exact words exchanged in a brief conversation I had with a young lady late last week. She’s right – as of 2000, there is no direct way to get Masters badges to the tournament. That said, with the tournament coming up next month (April 2-8, 2012) there are some indirect ways to get a hold of tickets and experience the Tournament.

Ten years ago, patrons would get their individual daily badges for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Most of the badges were used by those who originally go them, however too many were traded, exchanged, and sold online. As a result, members began to crack down on this abuse of the system by adapting to the times.  First, they created a single tournament badge. This cut down on the exchange significantly because if you sold your badge for Thursday it was gone for the rest of the week — unless you knew the person using it and they gave it back to you. Further, if you sold your badge to someone who acted inappropriately on the grounds, their (i.e. your) badges would be taken away and you would not receive another one come this time next year.

So how do you grace one of the game’s most hollowed grounds; a place that fosters the sport’s greatest traditions by an organization that advocates its finest lessons? Continue reading