By Brent Kelley. Golf Expert
Brent Kelley is a sports journalist who has covered golf for more than two decades, at newspapers, magazines and online.
Question: What Does It Mean to Press a Bet in Golf?
Answer: The press, at its most basic, is a second bet that begins during the course of a round, joining and running concurrently with the original bet. When one player presses, he is starting the second bet, or "pressing the bet." The second bet is usually for the same amount as the original bet.
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Players can agree to use presses with any type of match, but the Nassau is the "home" of the press, and pressing is easily most associated with Nassaus.
Like all bets and betting games in golf, there are no official rules for the use of presses. There are many variations of presses and how they can be used, and customs vary by region and by preference. We'll go over some of the common scenarios here, but let's start with an example to make the nature of presses more clear.
Example: Nassau with Presses
(A Nassau, remember, is a bet on the outcome of the front nine. a bet on the outcome of the back nine. and a bet on the outcome of the whole match.)
Let's say you're on the sixth hole of your $2 Nassau. You're already a couple holes down, and it doesn't look good for you to win the front nine. You decide to press the bet. What happens? A second bet - also worth $2 - is initiated. The original bet is still in place, but now a second bet covers holes 6-9. If your opponent wins the front nine overall, but you win the second bet (in this case, covering holes 6-9), it's a wash.
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Or you or your opponent could win both bets.
You can press at any point in the match if you are behind. You can press the front nine if you're on the front nine; the back nine if you're on the back nine; or the overall match.
So the basic press in a Nassau is not that complicated. However, if golfers begin pressing and re-pressing and then re-re-pressing, good scorekeeping (and perhaps an accountant) is a must. Also, as we pointed out near the start, there are no official rules for pressing, and many golfers play variations or use completely different rules for their presses. Always clarify the rules before the match starts.
Here are some more elements and variations of the press:
Are presses mandatory?
Of course not. State the rules you'll be playing by
before the bet begins. If you don't want presses to be an option, just agree with your opponent that there'll be no pressing.
Who gets to press?
It is up to the player who is trailing to invoke or offer a press.
When is it OK to press?
Whenever you are trailing. Some golfers use the guideline that a player must be at least two holes down before he or she can press, but in many cases all that's required is that a golfer be behind.
It is not unusual for presses to be forbidden on the 9th and 18th holes of a Nassau. And many golfers like to limit the number of presses (for example, only one press per nine), both to keep the dollar amount from climbing too high, and to make scorekeeping easier.
Invoking, offering or rejecting the press
This is something you'll need to clear up before the match starts. It is most common for the trailing player to be able to invoke a press, which is to say, the press is mandatory if the trailing player wants to declare he's pressing.
However, many people choose to give the leading player the option of declining a press. If such an option is agreed upon, then feel free to reject the press with impunity.
If this is not hashed out before the match starts, you can still try to decline a press. However, doing so is considered very bad form and you risk being ridiculed by your golf buddies.
What's an "automatic press"?
An automatic press is a press that is neither declared nor offered - it comes into play automatically when a pre-set condition in the match is met. That condition in the home of the press, the Nassau, is usually that one player falls two holes behind the other. If automatic presses are in use, and you fall two holes behind, the bet is pressed - whether you like it or not.
Is the amount of the press always the same as the original bet?
It usually is, but it doesn't have to be. Some golfers prefer to play by the rule that the press is worth half the original bet. If it's a $2 Nassau, then any presses will be worth $1.
Also, some golfers prefer the rule that a press doubles the amount of the original bet. In a $2 Nassau, for example, a standard press would be worth $2. But if presses are doubled, then the press is worth $4; and if someone then re-presses, that press is worth $8, and so on. Playing the double-up version rather than the "standard" version can get expensive quick.