Golf and gambling go together like Tiger Woods getting the “W” at major championships. If you watched the ESPN 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan, you know that golf is a sport where a lot of gambling can take place on the course.
Whether it’s a few bucks on the round, a $5 Nassau or who’s buying dinner, gambling always makes golf even more exciting. It’s amazing how just a little bit of added pressure can make a huge difference on every shot on the back nine.
While there are a lot of great gambling games out there, perhaps the Super Bowl of gambling in our sport comes in the form of a Calcutta event. It’s where all the action happens.
A Calcutta event in golf is a common betting format at a lot of member-guest tournaments and is unlike any other event in the sport. It’s an auction style event that plays out of a “pot” and pays out a few teams.
So if you’ve ever wanted to learn more about this event and how to run a Calcutta, keep reading for the full breakdown.
Calcutta Golf 101
History of the Golf Event
The history of golf is rich and the Calcutta tournament is no different. The style began in the 1800s in the city of “Kolkata” in India at the Royal Calcutta Turf Club which is the oldest golf courses (and second outside the UK). It was known as the “St. Andrews of Asia” and is still a top pick if you ever get the chance to play there.
The venue has been a host to tons of professional and amateur events over the past century. This is where the betting style originated with horse racing and eventually transferred over to golf as well.
What is a Calcutta in Golf?
A Calcutta is a tournament style for betting purposes; sometimes it can be used to raise money for charity while in other cases, it’s just meant to make sporting events more exciting. It especially makes golf even more fun!
Here is a quick overview of how the tournaments works:
- One or several golf courses are selected for the venue
- Individuals or teams are bought in an auction prior to the event starting
- The highest bidder becomes the “owner” of the team of players
- In most formats, the individual or team can purchase half or all of their team and become the owner (known as a “buyback”)
- The sum total of the pot is determined
- Tournament is played over a single round or several 18 hole rounds (sometimes on different golf courses) in a traditional stroke play tournament (but can be a four ball format for Member-Guest Events)
- Pay out is distributed to top two or three teams once the golf rounds are complete
Before the event, a formal auction-pool wagering event is held where each player (or team) can bid on one at a time. If this is happening at a local club where everyone knows everyone, expect some teams to bid very high as they’re likely the tournament favorites. Typically, this auction is done with cash, so make sure to hit the ATM before heading to the auction (which usually happens the night before the event).
In terms of the bidding process, you can purchase one or as many teams as you want. The more teams you bid on, the more action you have on the event. Plus, spreading your money across multiple teams also makes it a more diverse plan; similar to having different stocks and bonds in your portfolio.
But remember, usually only the top three teams pay out (and sometimes it’s only the top two). Also, some tournaments will use golf software to apply odds to each team and determine win-show-place amounts.
Once all teams are bid on and the auction is complete, the total pot is determined by the tournament director. This cash is what you’ll be competing for in the event!
A fun piece of Calcutta golf events is that you can buy back some or all of your own team. So if you’re feeling confident about yourself or your team, you can become the “owner” of your tournament team.
You can buy back 100% of your golf team or a fraction of it.
The tournament itself is the one part of the Calcutta that is simple and straightforward. The format is normally an 18-hole stroke play event but can work with many different types of golf games. Usually, the golf courses play challenging but fair so that it is a fun event for everyone.
Typically, the event usually done as individuals or as two man teams over the course of 1-4 days. This format is pretty typical for member-guest and member-member tournaments but can work with any type of golf outing.
Sum Total Payout
You might be thinking, “How does the payout work anyways?”
The final step to running a Calcutta golf tourney is tallying up the results and getting the prize money paid out.
Once the event is over, the pot is distributed to the top three teams. Usually, it’s done on a 70-20-10 basis; meaning that the first place gets 70% of the winnings, second place wins 20% and third place wins 10%.
As you can tell, there is a big difference between first and second which makes it that much more fun to be a part of these types of golf tournaments.
If you have more questions about running a Calcutta golf tournament, hopefully these FAQs will help you learn everything you need to know.
Is a Calcutta in golf legal?
Yes, a Calcutta is legal and the betting style goes beyond just golf into other sporting events. This format is also done in other sports like bowling, horse racing, NCAA basketball, and billiards as well.
How do you run a Calcutta golf tournament?
Running a Calcutta in golf is a little bit more complicated than running your average scramble event but it can be done. The first thing you need to do is check that the golf courses allow that type of event as some don’t allow players to gamble in this format.
Then, you need establish where the money is going: is the pot being split 50/50 with a charity, or is 100% of the money staying in the pot?
Next up is deciding the format (individuals vs. teams) – in general, it’s usually a 2-man team event. (Some may even be played in a Stableford Format.) Then, the auction so people can start bidding on individual players or teams.
This is the most challenging part of the entire event as you will need to set a date and time for people to show up and start bidding.
Should you play a Calcutta as an amateur golfer?
This is a tough one because it’s a bit of a gray area but the USGA discourages players from doing it who want to compete in sanctioned events. If you’re a casual golfer who has no desire to play tournament golf (outside of a scramble or club event), you shouldn’t have any issues.
But if you’re someone who is competing in USGA events (like the US Open qualifier, US Mid-AM, etc.) you want to avoid these types of events. The reason is that you can win more than the allotted amount and would have to declare yourself a professional, which would void you from entering amateur only events as you would lose your status.
Here’s how the USGA defines it:
“An “auction sweepstake” or “calcutta” is a form of gambling or wagering in which the players or teams are sold by auction beforehand to the highest bidder. Bidding is not restricted to the players and each player or team is generally offered the right to purchase a percentage of the bet from the successful bidder before play commences. An auction sweepstake or calcutta can often involve considerable sums of money and such gambling or wagering is considered contrary to the purpose and intent of the Rules (Rule 7-2).
While they are very fun to compete in, they can jeopardize your amateur status which can take months or years to get back. If you ever have any questions about this make sure to contact your local chapter of the USGA or email them directly.
How big is the pot?
It’s a good question, but can differ greatly based on the club you’re playing at and the size of the field. If you’re playing at a high-end golf courses, the pots can get big quickly (like $30,000+) while others might be half that or less.
The total pot size is why it’s such an exciting event, for most of a lot of money is on the line and a win or even second place could fund the golf dream for the next year! Also, the pot size is determined if any of the money is going to a charity as well or if 100% is being paid out to owners.
Don’t forget, if you’re playing in a “fancy” event at high-end golf courses, make sure to bring your wallet for the auction!
How does handicapping work?
Since so much money is on the line in these tournaments, handicapping is a big deal. The last thing you want to deal with is sandbaggers who are padding their handicaps when a big pot is up for grabs. An active USGA handicap is required and could be adjusted to the course handicap, depending on the event itself.
Also, in a lot of these events, they will only allow 5-8 strokes between the two players if it’s a 2-man team event. That way there isn’t a huge difference between the two guys and they can’t sandbag the rest of the event.
Finally, depending on the size of the overall golf tournament, you might have different flights based on handicap as well. This makes it more fun for everyone even though the total payouts are lower as the pot is divided (or separate auctions happen for championship flight, 1st flight, etc.).
How are players and teams selected?
One of the awesome parts about this type of event is that choosing teams can happen in a variety of ways. If it’s a member-member event or a member-guest, you obviously just pick someone you want to play with.
But if it’s a charity style event, there might be random drawings to see who gets partnered together as well.
Is their golf software programs to help?
Thankfully, there are plenty of apps and programs available to help you score out this type of event. Programs like “Tournakit Pro” and others will make it easy if you’re the person who is running the event.
Usually, they’ll have some sort of Calcutta auction spreadsheet or other golf equipment to make it easy to fill out and generated the results, payouts, flights, players, etc.
A Calcutta tournament is a great gambling method to add some pressure for members, friends, or guests in any tourney. It certainly raises the stakes as the pot size increases.
Not to mention, the auction itself is a lot of fun and a great way to meet players in the event before teeing off. Plus, if you’re splitting half the pot for charity, it’s a great way to raise money for a good cause as well.
Please remember, if you’re an amateur golfer, you could lose your amateur status by competing in these tournaments if you accept any prize money. If you don’t care about competing in sanctioned USGA events, this shouldn’t be a big deal but it’s worth noting once again. Because if you ever lose your amateur status, it can sometimes take months or even years to get it back!
Finally, if you’re one of the tournament organizers, make sure the payout for the number of places and percentages is clear in advance so that no one has any issues during the payout. So grab your golf clubs and players to have some fun at this type of event.
Have you ever played in a Calcutta golf tournament?
If so, let us know your story in the comments (and if you were a big winner)!