Golf Games Explained

How to play '5-3-1': A guide to the perfect golf betting game for when your fourth inevitably bails


Erik Isakson

Golf Games Explained is exactly what it sounds like. You want to mix it up and try something new for once? Well, someone has to do the thankless work of playing different golf formats and telling you if it's worth it. You can thank me later.

Picture this: you've fired up the group chat looking for a foursome. You get the three responses you need, you make the tee time and you set up a game. Perhaps a Nassau, even. Handicaps are discussed, dollar amounts are settled on, smack talk commences. The night before, you can't sleep, like a kid waiting for Christmas morning.

Then, three of you arrive on time, and you get the text. "Hey guys... I gotta bail."

You are well within your rights to tar and feather the last-minute bailer, and possibly ban him or her from your golf rotation for life. But fear not, fellow degenerate, we have the exact golf gambling game you need for when you inevitably run into the situation where your foursome becomes a threesome. It's called "5-3-1" (or "9-point"). 

Here's how to play.

Number of players required: Exactly three. 

Best for: People who just can't find a fourth. Players who don't treat score like life and death. Golfers of all skill levels who want action on every single hole. Folks who can quickly get over one or two bad holes.  

How to play: 5-3-1, or as some call it, 9-point, means that each hole is worth a total of 9 points. The first thing you agree to on the first tee is how much each of those points is going to be worth. Let's say it's $1. You can play this game with or without handicaps. Each hole is its own 9-point match, or game, that way you are never out of it and a few good holes in a row can be huge. 

The breakdown: If player A makes a 4 on the first hole, player B makes a 5 and player C makes a 7, player A receives 5 points, player B 3 points and player C 1 point (hence, 5-3-1). The only time it gets semi-complicated is if two players tie. In that scenario, if player A and player B make a 4 on a hole, and player C makes a 5, player A and B receive 4 points each, while player C receives 1 (4+4+1=9). If player A makes 4 on the next hole, while player B and C make 5s, player A receives 5 points while player B and C receive 2 each (5+2+2=9). In the event all three players tie a hole, they all receive 3 points (3+3+3=9). 

Repeat this process on every hole and keep a point tally on the scorecard (easiest way to do this is to write down your score and then your point total per hole in smaller writing either in the bottom or top right of the box on the scorecard). At the very end, the person who came in last place has to pay the difference in point total/dollar amount to BOTH the first- and second-place finishers. 

Variations: First off, shoutout to my man @battmailey who tipped us off to the 5-3-1 game, and a second shoutout to @LivingItUpPod who introduced this "casino" variation of 5-3-1:

We'd imagine some friendships ended with this component added in. Spicy, indeed. 

If you have any golf games or variations of golf games we haven't covered and you'd like to explain, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter/X @Cpowers14.