Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Your money or your life

So, you fancy a game of golf with some friends, or you're playing in a club competition... but you want to make things 'interesting'.

"Let's have a bet," you say. You all agree and then it comes down to format and value. I typically play €1, €1 and €1 (front 9, back 9 and overall). It's harmless and creates a bit of good-natured niggling, especially when putts are (or more often aren't) conceded. If you play with the same guys on a regular enough basis, the chances are that the money evens out.

It doesn't always work out that way, and things can get a bit fraught is you let them.

I played at Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) in 2006, just before Tiger won the British Open. There were three of us who had been friends for years, and a fourth who I didn't know well. It was agreed that we'd play £5, £5 and £5 in a fourball betterball format. The 4th guy, let's call him Buck, was one of my opponents. I know £15 is not a lot of money, but this is on top of the green fee, hotel and flights, and we had come here to experience the course before Tiger ripped it to bits. £15 is just enough to make things a bit tense when you're coming to the business end of the round. And that's exactly how it turned out.

On the 15th, I had a 12 foot putt to halve the hole. As soon as I struck it I knew it was short... as did Buck. The ball was still rolling and he's celebrating, chanting: 'It's short, it's short'.

I was so angry that I could hardly hit a ball out of my way on the final holes. I paid out my £15 but I learned a lesson - some people take winning money on a golf course far too seriously.

It was no surprise, therefore, that when I found myself on the tee at Mount Wolseley a few weeks later (for a Junior Scratch Cup) and the discussion turned to betting, I was decidedly nervous.

"We're playing for £5, £5 and £5," said John, indicating that there were five of them in on the bet.

Fortunately, I didn't have the chance to answer.

"Hold on a sec, John," said one of the others. "Tell the truth." The guy turned to me. "We're not playing £5, £5 and £5. We're playing £500, £500, £500."

We teed off about five minutes later after they'd picked me up off the ground. Not surprisingly I was not in on the bet.

Their format was not simple: as well as the straightforward bet, there were side bets. If you had a bogey (against your handicap), you paid everyone else €50. If you made a birdie, everyone paid you €100; and an eagle would net you €500 from each of the other four.

So, with one eagle you could afford to play 17 rubbish holes and still walk away €500 to the good.

"What do you guys do?" I asked, thinking stockbrokers, solicitors, bankers.

Nope. Two builders, one carpenter, one plasterer and one farmer who'd sold off all his land to a developer.

That was 2006. Somehow I doubt they're playing for that kind of money anymore. It may still be 5, 5 and 5, but I'm guessing that's in Cent!

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