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.

Cycles of Greatness on the PGA Tour

The chart below shows the cycles of greatness on the PGA tour since its inception in 1916 through 2004. The chart includes 57 players that have won at least 15 events on tour, as well as the most dominant players, whose rise and fall are graphed out over time. Click on the link to be taken to a page where you can zoom in and view the details of the chart (and can also buy a print, if you would like).

World’s most dangerous water hazard!

Members of Carbrook Golf Club in Brisbane, Australia, now have even more reason to be cautious about the water hazard on the 14th hole. Believed to be the only Shark-Infested golf course in the world, it has now become a common sight for golfers playing the hole to view these man-eating Sharks swimming near the edges of the lake, just off the fairway.

The killers, some up to 10 feet long, are thought to have washed into the lake during a flood in the early 90s when the nearby Logan river burst its bank. Not all reactions have been negative – As club GM Scott Wagstaff said, “You can’t believe how close you are…just six feet away, “There’s no drama, it’s become a positive thing for the golf course. They are amazing. I’ve become a shark-lover since working here.” The club presently hosts a monthly tournament called the Shark Lake Challenge.

Top 100 Courses: #33 San Francisco Golf Club

Continuing with our series from the The Itinerant Golfer’s quest to play all top 100 American golf courses, The Scratch Pad is glad to bring you a profile of the 33rd rated golf course in America, San Francisco G.C.

San Francisco Golf Club
Location: San Francisco, CA
Year Constructed: 1918
Played: May 22, 2010

Please just let me find it . . . Is that really so much to ask? . . . Just give me a chance . . . All I’m asking for is a chance. These thoughts raced through my head as I walked to the left side of the 18th hole at San Francisco Golf Club. The 18th hole is a 508 yard par 5 and I REALLY would like to make a birdie here. Under normal conditions I should be able to reach the green in two, but today the wind is blowing something terrible and after floating a weakly cut drive to the middle of the fairway I was well outside the “go zone”. With the ball lying slightly above my feet for my second stroke I hooked the shot out of sight and now I’m literally just hoping I can find it. All I want is to have a chance to knock my third shot on the green so maybe I can roll a putt in for the birdie. To me, this seems like a more than reasonable request.

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