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.

Newsman golfs across Detroit to explore his city

Last month Fox’s Charlie LeDuff took on an epic challenge to play golf from the tips of Detroit – literally, an 18-mile, par 3168, single hole stretching from one end of the city to another. Besides smacking a driver down highway 75 this unusual expedition had an underlying purpose: an attempt to learn more about the city and the day-to-day living of its citizens.

The 46 year old Pulitzer Prize winning writer carried just 4 clubs in his bag while facing extraordinary hazards, abandoned houses, dying landmarks and grassy fields. On his trek through Detroit he learned more about the troubles facing city residents as they struggled to get by, including a mom trying to find her suicidal daughter, an unhappy cop, and a generous deacon.

LeDuff didn’t opt for a caddie (though he did have a crew with him) and took no mulligans – Detroit rules are to play it as it lies. By the time he holed out his final putt at the Belle Island Golf Club, LeDuff counted 2525 strokes (an astonishing 643 under par). You can watch this great piece of golf/journalism below:

I’m thinking back to what I saw behind me – a city, its people holding on, waiting for a savior, a savior who may not be coming. I wonder if the people know the savior might be found within themselves, their neighborhoods, their families. The old saying is true, ‘No man is an island’

– Charlie LeDuff

The Immaculate Par

My fellow competitor left his first putt a woeful 5 feet short of the hole, and as he approached his ball it was clear that he wanted to finish. Finish he would – with style. As he read the break, I turned my back to the hole and began the walk down the slope towards my mark, which sat some 30 or 40 feet from the cup on the other side of the green. When I arrived, I turned back towards the hole expectingCheater! to see my competitor partway through his pre-putt routine. Turns out he’d already hit and missed the 5-footer, leaving it an inch left of the cup. I caught him just in time to witness the most ridiculous, yet brilliantly straightforward, act of cheating one could imagine: hand picks ball off of green, hand puts ball into hole, hand extracts ball from hole as if the 5-footer had dropped. Bogey magically turned to par.

“CHEATER! Are you joking? Really? I’m standing right here! Did you think you could get away with that? I’ve sweated every 2-footer all day long and you’re going to pull a f*#@ing stunt like that in broad daylight?” Continue reading