Golf betting is a straightforward exercise. There's not a lot of complicated betting options when you bet on golf, and while all sports betting contains some exotic or proposition bets, for the most part, betting on golf means one of three things:
- You can take the odds on a golfer to win.
- You can wager that a particular golfer will finish in the top three.
- You can bet that one golfer will beat another in a head to head match up.
Depending on which sportsbook you use, you may have other ways to bet on golf, but before you get into more complex betting systems, you should have a handle on these three basic propositions.
("Online golf betting," by the way, just means that you're placing your bets with an online sportsbook, rather than with a neighborhood or brick-and-mortar book.)
How to Bet on Golf
Betting on golf is like betting on any other sport. You read the odds, you make your pick, and you sweat out the four day tournament hoping your guy comes in.
Some people familiar with betting pro football or the occasional college basketball game may not understand a golf betting board when they first see it.
Basic Money Line Odds
Here's an example set of odds (using imaginary numbers). This represents the top of the field, as determined by handicappers:
- Tiger Woods + 150
- Phil Mickelson + 300
- Steve Stricker + 450
- Jeff Overton + 650
- Ernie Els + 700
- Field + 350
These are basic money line odds. Let's say you want to be on Tiger Woods as the outright winner -- his "+150" line means for every $10 you wager you earn $15 if he wins. A wager on Ernie Els would pay off $70 for every $10 bet, etc. Remember, when you bet on golf in a sportsbook, a $10 bet on Jeff Overton would pay back $75 and not $65 -- sportsbook bets require paying for the wager when it is made, and not only upon losing. A winning bet at a sportsbook means you get your original wager back, thus the extra ten spot.
The Field Bet
You may be curious about the "field" bet. That bet means if any golfer other than the ones listed on the line wins the tournament, your ship has come in. Obviously, oddsmakers aren't going to put any names in the "field" category that have a reasonable chance of winning, though the "field" option usually has a lower payout than some golfers on the line.
A "field" bet is generally a bad bet, not just because they seldom win, but also because your odds aren't that valuable if you do win.
A top three finish bet may seem like an easier win -- if your golfer finishes anywhere near the top of the heap you can earn some scratch -- but the shorter odds offered on these kinds of bets don't exactly make them lucrative propositions.
Since it;s an easier bet to win, you've got really low odds on most top three finish bets. The sportsbook is really paying off three wins in a "top three" bet situation, so they're going to offer less of a return.
Let's stick with the above example sheet and calculate new odds for the same golfers to finish in the top three.
- Tiger Woods - 150
- Phil Mickelson + 100
- Steve Stricker + 150
- Jeff Overton + 250
- Ernie Els + 300
- Field - 140
In this case, a bettor would have to risk $14 to win $10 on a top three bet involving the "field". A bet that Tiger Woods will finish in the top three costs $15 to win $10. There's a big difference in the money you can win when betting a top three finish as opposed to a winner.
Head to Head Match Up Bets
The other of the three most popular golf betting options is the head to head match up bet. In these bets, there are two golfers listed as "head to head". This means one golfer is "playing" against another on the odds board.
Though there is no actual head to head competition going on, the two golfer's scores are compared to one another to determine a match winner. These match ups are determined by the sportsbook, and common match ups include high profile players, such as Phil Mickelson against Tiger Woods during a PGA golf tournament.
Each player has an odds line, such as Woods -250 and Mickelson +280. Bets on head to head match ups are straightforward money bets and are very similar to bets placed on baseball games.
Sportsbooks that get a lot of golf betting traffic pick multiple head to head match ups for major golf events. The good thing about a head to head match up is you have little to think about outside of which golfer is beating the other on a given day.
When you bet on golf in a head to head format, and you can pretty much keep your eyes on those two players to determine your outcome.
Most people interested in making informed head to head golf bets look at a player's history on the course they're playing. Betting on a head to head match requires you do a little golf handicapping of your own, including considerations for weather and a golfer's recent "trend".
The Best Time to Make a Golf Bet
The best time to make a golf bet is during one of the major golf tournaments. These major tournaments include:
- The Masters
- The U.S. Open
- The PGA Championship
- The British Open
They're the top tournaments in terms of betting volume, and you'll likely get better (or at least more playable) odds during those times.
How to Pick Golf Winners
Because a golf tournament is spread out over so much time, and the risk of injury or bad mojo is so high, betting on winners and top three finishes is difficult. The first round of a golf tournament is made up of hundreds of players, so picking just one winner is more difficult than picking which of two teams will cover the spread during March Madness. A gambler's insight, intuition about a player, and historical performances on similar courses can inform a golf bet, but the bet is much harder to win because of the size of the field.
Because there's only one winner and hundreds of players, there are more upsets at the tournament level in golf than in any other betting situation. In recent years, you could safely bet on Tiger Woods and maybe two other players -- but even Tiger's dominance is receding (and rapidly at that).
There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the ebb and flow of golf winnings, so beating the PGA betting odds is a tough proposition. Betting on an outright winner is usually a losing gamble, but playing a match up or two gives you something of an edge in handicapping. Playing a "top three finish" bet is usually a "safer" bet than the other two, but at such low odds you'll never get a huge return.
None of that means that there's no such thing as a betting edge in golf betting. Bet on golf with a good head on your shoulders and a deep understanding of the game and you can likely win a little walking around money. Like any other sports bet, a bet on golf requires a little money, a little wisdom, and a lot of luck.