The Nassau Golf Wager and How to Bet It

Excerpt from 'Chi Chi's Golf Games You Gotta Play'

Ray Floyd and Lee Trevino pretend to pick each other's pockets
Golf legends Ray Floyd (left) and Lee Trevino pick each other's pockets. They gambled on many Nassau wagers over their long careers. Tony Roberts/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

What are all the permutations of betting the golf wager known as the Nassau? We have another article that explains some of the ins and outs of the Nassau bet (and Nassau tournament), including the basics of the wager, plus such things as why it's called "Nassau."

But Nassau wagering can get pretty complicated, and there's no better source on golf gambling and games than Hall of Famer Chi Chi Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is listed as co-author, with John Anderson, of a book titled Chi Chi's Golf Games You Gotta Play, © Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc. (buy it on Amazon).

And in that book, Rodriguez and Anderson included a section on Nassau wagering. With the permission of publisher Human Kinetics, Champaign, Ill., what follows is an excerpt of Chi Chi's thoughts on the Nassau, co-authored with Anderson.

Expert: Chi Chi Rodriguez on the Nassau Bet

Golf's classic and most popular bet. A Nassau is really three wagers in one. The front nine holes make up the first bet, the back nine the second, and the 18-hole total makes up the third. The point or dollar value for each bet is generally equal and set before the round. A two-dollar Nassau is $2 to the winner of the front 9, $2 to the winner of the back 9, and $2 to the winner of the overall match. If someone asks on the first tee, "Who wants to go five, five, and five?", a five-dollar Nassau has just been offered.

The round is scored at match play, with the better of the partners' two scores counting for the team. If team A wins the front 9 holes 3 and 2 and team B wins the back 9 holes 1 up, team A still wins the third bet, 2 and 1.

Then it gets complicated. The bet has many variations and expansions. Most often a player or team falling behind can "press the bet," meaning a new (fourth) bet begins at that point.

The other team or player isn't obligated to accept the press, but not to do so is the sportsmanship equivalent of bringing a bouquet of dandelions to the Rose Bowl. In many cases, the bet is pressed automatically when one side is down two holes. An "automatic" two-down press can lead to scorekeeping that only an accountant can love as the presses and bets mount throughout the round. Be sure to have somebody in the group or the clubhouse who can work the math at the end of the match.

Rumor has it that the back nine didn't exist until Mary, Queen of Scots lost eight pounds sterling off a double press one Saturday morning at St. Andrews and immediately demanded that the Royal Surveyor lay out a second nine holes so that she could attempt to win her money back. She didn't, and the "winners" lost their heads.

Despite what appears to be a small sum of money wagered in a $2 Nassau on the first tee, the original $6, when pressed and repressed and double pressed, can quickly become a big hit. The $2 pressed once makes $4 and, pressed again, adds a third $2 bet to the front 9 for $6. Press the entire side, and it becomes a $12 wager before a player's even gotten to the 10th tee. If the back side goes as poorly, that's another $12, for a total of $24; and if you get bold and press the entire match on 18 and lose, that's pretty much a $50 shot ($48) right there.

Again, it's a good idea to set a limit on total loses before the match starts.

The Nassau is a great game for players of all skill levels, but only if handicaps are applied. Getting strokes on a hole helps keep the high handicapper involved in the action. Knowing that his or her gross 7/net 5 is as good as the opposition's straight 5 can add some confidence and extra concentration to the game. Generally, playing a Nassau doesn't add any extra time to a foursome's round, although it could potentially take a while to add it all up once the group is back at the clubhouse.