Golf and gambling go hand in hand, they have done for many decades and will do for decades to come. It is so ingrained in the game that even young juniors can be seen passing the hours playing putting contests and putting their best golf balls on the line against friends.
Many golfers out there have played in skins games or bet a few bucks on closest to the pin. One gambling game or format you may not have heard of is the Calcutta. You may be thinking what is a golf Calcutta and what has a city in India got to do with golf? This article is here to help.
What Is a Golf Calcutta
When we talk about this format, things start to get really interesting, you see we aren’t talking about a game that can win you a few dollars here. No this won’t win you a bit of beer money, Calcuttas can attract purses of $20-30,000 and when that happens things always get serious.
These events tend to take place at country clubs and can become a big deal. If you can imagine that members, probably people you know, are out there playing in an event with such high stakes, it is clear that decent galleries are going to build.
This article will go into the history of this format that you have probably never heard of. From there we will explain what it actually is, how this type of tournament works, and discuss the legality of it. By the end of this article, you may be ready to host your first Calcutta.
If you are in the mood to play for serious dough, if the usual Sunday Nassau just isn’t doing it for you anymore, then this article could help you turn up the heat for some serious money golf.
Quick History of Calcutta
If you are thinking that there must be a connection between the name of this event and the namesake city in India, you would be right. During the British Raj period, the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC) was a horse racing venue that hosted many gambling events.
Polo was often played at the RCTC and it was in this sport that the Calcutta Derby Sweeps used to be played. These were traditional English events that generated huge amounts of money but wait we’re here to talk about golf, not horses.
This city has a strong connection with golf as it is home to the oldest golf course in the world outside the UK. It is said that this is where the first connection to the Calcutta format and the game of golf happened.
As has already been mentioned, going and gambling have a long history together. Given the debauchery of the Brits in India at the time, it was only really a matter of time before they found a way of getting the Calcutta to work on the golf course.
What is a Calcutta in Golf?
Before we go into how the Calcutta it would be good to use the example of a famous Calcutta-style event to establish some base knowledge. “March Madness” the NCAA basketball playoffs is often done as a Calcutta auction. So if you are familiar with that then we have a solid start.
The Calcutta can be an individual or a team event, depending on how many golfers you have playing in it. You can even play it over multiple courses if you want to go all out. Your individuals/teams are then offered in an auction and the highest bidder becomes the team owner.
Each team/individual has assigned odds of victory, this another part of the strategy of the prospective team owners. Handicaps are in play during Calcuttas too so this adds another layer of complexity. Many use specific software to help designate odds to the teams before the auction.
The auction can be especially exciting when this event is held at a club where everyone knows the players involved. In this scenario, people know the golfers and the bids can get seriously high as people battle to become the owner of the favorites. You can also buy more than one team.
If you feel good about your team then you have the option of buying it yourself. Players can buy out their own team in the auction and show just how confident they are in their own skills.
Once all of the teams are bought the total prize pool is set. The money is there to be played for and if your team comes in the top three, or two depending on the event, then you are in the money. You also need to decide if the full pot is up for grabs or if a portion is going to charity.
How does a Calcutta in golf Work?
The actual playing of the event can vary depending on how many golfers are involved and how many courses are being played over. The simplest form would be individuals playing matchplay head to head in a round-robin style. Everyone plays everyone else and results go into a table.
You could have stroke play where individuals or teams play stroke play over different days and those results go into a table. Equally, you could play team matchplay over different days in the round-robin style to make up the table of results.
This one is up to tournament organizers but essentially you need a way of having a level playing field for everyone to compete against everyone else. You need a way of keeping the scores and you need a league table to see who is coming out on top to decide winners.
The simplest form of the event is an eighteen-hole stroke play event with individual golfers using handicaps. That keeps it interesting on the odds front and makes for a quick blast of an event. Others like to eke it out over various days and make a week of it.
When the golf is done and the results have been decided, you need to figure out who the winner is and who is going home with the money. In the Calcutta format, the prize pot is usually split out by percentages to the top finishers.
You will often find that the Calcutta is used as a way of raising funds for a charity too. A certain percentage of the prize pot will be ring-fenced for whatever cause is being represented at the event.
Usually, the money is split between the owners of the top three or five teams. Say all of the money in the pot is going to the successful team owners, you may find a 50%, 30%, 20% split, or any variant of that.
When you consider that it is common to see pots worth up to $30,000, it is easy to see why people love Calcutta events. There is just so much money to be won. With that kind of money can often come dubious behavior, something we will come onto in a little bit.
Is a Golf Calcutta Legal?
In the eyes of the law, the legality of the Calcutta depends on whatever region you plan on playing in. This kind of event is often run for charity though so it can have positive effects for local communities when done in this philanthropic way.
The Dark Side of the Calcutta
Although it is legal to arrange and play a Calcutta in many areas, this doesn’t mean that it always attracts the best behavior from the participants. There can be some darkness that goes along with this kind of event.
When big money is on the line, people can get a little crazy. People can get greedy and they can use illegitimate means to try and win. It is not uncommon to hear of some dodgy dealings taking place during a Calcutta.
These can take the form of bribes being paid to golfers to take a fall during the event or bribes so that people don’t bid during the auction. This can add to the drama of these events although it’s not always for the right reasons.
Are Calcuttas Legal in the Eyes of the Golf Laws?
This is where things get a little bit more difficult. By USGA rules, gambling is not permitted as it is a form of playing for money which is only allowed by professional golfers. It is always worth checking the rules with your local body to check their stance on it.
These rules can be incredibly important because if you wish to play in national events, this can bring your status into jeopardy and make you ineligible. What’s more, losing your amateur status can mean you are frozen out of these events for years.
The best bet here is to be safe. If you plan on playing in high-level events then you are probably best to avoid these kinds of events altogether, it just probably isn’t worth the risk. This doesn’t mean you can’t take part in the event as a whole, you just can’t play.
If you are an amateur golfer who just loves playing casual games and club events then you almost certainly have nothing to worry about in the eyes of the golfing rule book. You can enjoy the event and if you lose your amateur status then you can tell your friends you’re a pro golfer.
Is a Calcutta Gambling?
Yes. There are no two ways about it, when you take part in a Calcutta as a team owner you are gambling. You are buying a team in an auction in the hope that they win, or at least place, and you win more than your stake.
You can take part and not gamble too. You can play in a team and not buy that team, that way you are just there to play your best golf and you have the added excitement of people putting money on the line. Your golf can win or lose people money, added pressure can be exhilarating.
It doesn’t have to just be about this though, there are plenty of ways you can gamble on a golf course but none seem to have the excitement of the Calcutta. There is something about these events that people just love.
The Popularity and Excitement
If you speak to many people who have taken part in a Calcutta or who have one at their club every year, they will often tell you that it is an annual highlight. There are tales out there of golf clubs having bigger turnouts for Calcuttas than they do their club championships.
This is an event that many people want to be at and be involved in. There is an electric feeling at the club when these are on and it is all that people can talk about. They are just so much fun and when they have a charity element they can contribute to society too.
If you have never heard of a Calcutta then hopefully this article has excited you about how much fun they can be. What could be better than an event where your whole club comes together to watch your golfers battle it out for some big money prizes?
Imagine those final few holes when a few teams/individuals still have a chance of winning and watching the team owners chewing through their fingernails in the clubhouse. This is the kind of tension and excitement that can ooze through a clubhouse during a Calcutta.
It is important that you check out your local gambling laws and make sure that you don’t risk your amateur status if you play in these events. It could be really bad to lose your status and, as fun as it is, a Calcutta is not worth that.
If your club doesn’t have a Calcutta on the club calendar you should take this article and show it to your committee. Every club should have one of these if for no other reason than to bring your members together for a day or two of fantastic excitement.