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What is a 'SWAT'? How to play one of golf's most fun betting games



A few weeks ago I played in my first ever SWAT golf tournament. Depending on your level of nerdiness, you may have heard of it before.

A SWAT — nobody’s really sure how it got that name — is a time-honored tradition at Oakmont Country Club from close to the time of its founding in the early 1900s. Today, Oakmont hosts SWAT tournaments three times a week, has an official SWAT chairman, and keeps track of every result.

These SWAT tournaments have become a fun way to build camaraderie among the club’s membership and get the competitive juices flowing outside of the club’s bigger events.

It’s a game that has been slowly adopted by other clubs around and one that my club, Tamarack Country Club, recently started doing. That’s how I played in my first SWAT, and I had so much fun that I wanted to do a quick explainer, in case you want to try spinning up a SWAT on your own.

Here’s how they work.

The SWAT, explained

The first and most important thing to know about SWAT tournaments is that it’s a scratch game, meaning that there aren’t any handicap strokes applied to anyone. Instead, the way you keep things fair is by forming four-man teams, with an A, B, C, and D player. A players are the lowest handicaps; D players are the highest.



When you sign up to play a SWAT, you basically just submit your name and handicap and let one person organize the teams. It’s the only way to keep the teams even, but it’s also part of the charm of all of this. You get to meet and play with people you ordinarily wouldn’t. It won't take long to quickly bond with your new teammates.

Once that’s done, each foursome acts as its own team, and they play one-ball best ball Nassau against every other foursome in the SWAT for some predetermined stakes, whether it be $1 Nassau, $5, or $10. There were 40 people in the SWAT I played in, which means there were 10 different matches going on at the same time. If you played a SWAT with a similar amount of people and lost every match every single way (which is really unlikely, unless you're playing really terribly), the most you’d lose is $270 for $10 Nassau, $135 for $5 Nassau, or $27 for $1 Nassau.

In order to keep the integrity of all the matches there are absolutely no gimmies allowed — every putt has to be finished, whether it's three feet or an inch tap-in.

There’s some number-crunching involved in calculating the results of the SWAT, but it’s not quite as complicated as it sounds. You just have to go hole-by-hole tracking each group’s match against the other groups. Raj was the mastermind behind our SWAT’s scorekeeping system, and here’s what the spreadsheet he used for it looked like.

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Once the results are in, you settle up and go home.

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If you've got a large group with a wide-range of handicaps, a SWAT is a great way to get everyone involved. And when you're standing over a nervy short putt with your teammates depending on you, without the comfort of any strokes as a cushion, you'll start to feel the uniqueness of the SWAT in all its glory.