Golf Betting 101 

With the continued spread of legalized sports betting across the US and the first major of the year approaching, what a perfect time for a “Golf Betting 101” piece! In this story, I will briefly highlight my weekly approach to handicapping golf, but where I want to focus some time is discussing the popular golf betting markets that are available for almost everyone to bet and how I personally approach betting each. 

A lot of this will be my own personal opinion on how to best bet into each market, but like other sports, there are more ways than one to skin a cat, as they say. How I bet golf now is very different from how I bet it 10 years ago. And for me, it’s been a perfect example of how you should always be fine-tuning your processes and be open to changing your betting styles, as we have far more markets open to all of us now than we did in the past.  


Handicapping a Tournament  

I won’t spend too much time on this because if you listen to our golf betting podcast Long Shots, you probably have a good feel for this already, and if you’ve never listened to Long Shots, we think you should! A reminder: we record weekly during the PGA Tour season, and the podcast can be found on Wednesday morning when it gets posted wherever you listen to podcasts. You’ll hear Matt Brown, Wes Reynolds, and myself hit every week on the following: 

*Course Scouting 
*Stat Models  
*Recent Form 
*Course History/Correlated Courses  

The first place to start is with the course. How long is it? How big are the greens? How wide are fairways? What defenses/obstacles does the course present? What type of player has won here in the past? 

At the end of your course scouting, you want to figure out which golfers have the best skill sets to win at this course.

How Matt, Wes, and I choose to go about that is figuring out which Strokes Gained stats and other stats will matter the most each week. We each utilize different stat engine websites to help sort out and rank golfers for that week over certain timespans. Whether it’s by weeks, months, or number of rounds is what you’ll hear us reference most often. The beginning of the season and the Fall Swing can be a bit different, but usually, we are looking at which golfers have had the most success in the stats we deem to be the most important over the past few tournaments they’ve played in. That gives us a good idea of each golfer’s recent form. We then compare those rankings to the odds and try to decide on which bets we find value.  

Lastly, you’ll want to look at the course history for each golfer you’re considering or how well they’ve done at courses with similar features (AKA Comp Courses). There are some tournaments where this will matter a lot and not nearly as much at some of the others.

Perfect example: The Masters is one of the tournaments where it matters the most. Why? Well, you can probably guess why, but unlike all the other majors, it utilizes the same course every year. And, unlike a regular PGA Tour event, every bit of experience you can have on this difficult course will give you a better and better chance when pitted against the best golfers in the world.  

Betting The Tournament  

Alright, cool, Kelley. Now that I’ve done all my homework and have a pool of golfers I’m ready to bet on, what are my betting options?  


Who is going to win the tournament? It is the most common bet in golf and one of the most exciting bets in sports. Why? Well, you basically get a four-day futures bet to sweat at usually lengthy odds. We all want to bet a little to make a lot, so it’s easy to see why betting outrights is so popular and by far the most discussed bet type.  

You have successful golf bettors who can bet this market differently from each other, and even differently week to week on tour. Some will enter a tournament with close to 10 of these bets, and some won’t have a single one. It’s all about figuring out what works best for you. Ten years ago, I would bet a large amount of outrights both before and during tournaments and look to bet live Yes/No prices throughout the event. 

Nowadays, I take a very different approach.  Yes, there are some weeks where I might enter an event with 5-6 outrights, not many other bets, and even look to add on outrights during a tournament. But if I’m doing that, it’s probably an event at a volatile track where we can see scores change rapidly. i.e. THE PLAYERS. What I’ll most often do is bet 2-5 of these each week and fill up my card with other bets. Over the course of the season, you’re talking 10-15% of my money bet will be bet on outrights. 

I believe that if you’re looking to bet golf nearly every week, these bets need to be less of a priority for you. Of course, the big wins are fun, but you need to look to cash in other markets that are easier to win in and keep your golf betting bankroll growing – or at least not dying – until you hit that next outright. This is also why I’m not opposed to hedging on these types of bets as much as I might be in other sports. The goal is long-term winning, not just winning one week. 

Tournament Matchups 

Another simple-to-understand market is tournament matchups. Basically, who will finish with a lower score: Golfer A or Golfer B. For me, this is where all tournament betting starts. It’s where you can often find the biggest edge because you’re simply betting 1v1 and not one guy vs. a group or a whole field. If there are matchups posted that I like, I will bet those first and then decide from there how much more money I’d like to invest in that golfer and in which markets. Now, I say, “If there are matchups posted that I like,” because that’s easier said than done. The oddsmakers are not dumb. They are very selective with which matchups they are willing to post, and you’re oftentimes not going to like the opponent they have paired up with the golfer you are targeting.

Finishing Positions  

AKA Top 5/Top 10/Top 20/Top 40 finishes. These are the markets you will see me bet into the most. If I could bet tournament matchups on every golfer I’m targeting each week, I would, but like I hinted at above, you’re not going to find a matchup posted you find value in on every golfer you’re targeting every week. In my opinion, this is the next best way to bet on those guys. A Top 10/20/40 finish can often be a good substitute for a matchup play. 

There are other ways to utilize these markets as well. Maybe you’re looking at a long shot in the outright market who just doesn’t have a great win percentage. A Top 10 bet on them at fairly long odds can be a great substitute or a great add-on. For many of us in the U.S. who don’t have access to each-way betting, adding Top 5s to your outright plays can be a good way to cover yourself in case of a wild ending. For example, two seasons ago, I had outright bets on golfers who finished second or tied for second in 13 events. That can become quite a headache if you’re not covering your outrights with these kinds of bets. 

One important house rule to learn on these types of bets is whether the book pays ties in full or employs “dead heat” rules. I usually only look to bet at books where ties pay in full, but you do get worse odds than at books that do use “dead heat.” If you’re betting these markets, you NEED TO KNOW how dead heat rules work and which books utilize them.  

Live Betting  

Whether you’re looking to add or hedge on pre-tournament positions, get in on a golfer for the first time for an outright or finishing position bet, or even round-to-round matchups, live betting is great in golf. The time it takes between shots gives you plenty of time to get in. With most tournaments, I will add a few bets live and play a couple of third/fourth-round matchups. I recommend holding back some of your pre-tournament bankroll to use in-tournament.  

First Round Leader  

Depending on where you live, you might have more shops that offer First Round Leader (FRL) bets than others. It is a market that I’ve found some success in the past few years, and I am even looking to expand my betting here as we get more shops in Vegas posting them and posting FRL finishing position markets. Now, in sports like the NBA, I’ll often stay away from first-quarter bets because I’d prefer for more of the game to unfold, allowing for more time for my handicap to play out. 

For most people, I’d say the same about this market. It’s not for everybody, and I wouldn’t recommend it for newer bettors. If you’re someone who thinks they have a strong feel for short-term recent form, it’s one I would recommend exploring. If you’re someone like me, you might easily fall in love with guys who never win, but here, I only need them to win that first round to cash.  

Other Bets to Consider  

As I mentioned above with the first round leader, there are new markets going up seemingly every other week at different books. I encourage you to always explore the new markets and try to find ways where there might be value betting them. Top Nationality, Over/Under winning score, and others I will play now and then but not often enough to write about here.  

However you decide to bet the Masters though, good luck!