How Do Team Tournaments in Golf Work?

Golf Team TournamentsOf all the major sports, and especially the main betting sports, golf is undeniably one of the most individualistic. Each player is typically responsible solely for themselves and competes as an individual against all the other players.

Their caddy is usually as close as most golfers come to having a teammate but in truth, the caddy is an employee and whilst they can be influential, success or failure lies solely with a player.

However, whilst the vast majority of tournaments are part of regular tours, be they in Europe or the US, Asia or Africa, and be they for men, women or seniors, there are a growing number of team events in golf.

These team tournaments come in a range of guises and here we will look at the biggest and most prestigious of them, as well as how betting on such events differs from having a punt on a regular golf tournament.

Team Tournaments vs Pairs

Golf PairsBefore we get into the meat of this article let us first distinguish between true team tournaments and events in which golfers play in pairs. There are several events where golfers compete alongside one other player but these are not really what we mean by true team tournaments and so are not our focus here.

Some of these have been around for a long time whilst others are more recent attempts by organisers to modernise and appeal to a younger audience. One of the more established events in the pairs format is the World Cup of Golf. Inaugurated in 1953 (then as the Canada Cup). This has changed its structure several times over the years but has almost always involved two golfers from the same country competing together.

Given the fact that the pairs are forming a team to represent a nation, some may consider this to be a team event. Equally golf at the Olympics could be perceived in the same way, as although the golfers play alone, competing for individual medals, they are part of the wider team. Golf has only been part of the Games in 1900, 1904 and more recently in 2016 in Rio. It is set to be included in the games going forward too and in all cases, aside from men’s team event in 1904, it has been played as an individual competition.

None the less, there can be little doubt that when Justin Rose won gold at the Rio Games he did it as much for Team GB as he did himself. However, let us now move on to what this piece is all about: true multi-player team tournaments; and in that regard, there can only be one place to start.

Ryder Cup: Biggest Team Event in Golf

Ryder Cup Cap 1969 Lee Trevino
Reptonix free Creative Commons licensed photos, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Ryder Cup is one of the biggest events in all of sport and certainly a major highlight for golf fans. Named after Sam Ryder, who helped finance and create the first-ever Ryder Cup (played in 1927, though there was an unofficial tournament a year earlier), the tournament is played every two years.

Initially, it was a contest between the USA and Great Britain but with the Brits struggling, Ireland joined to help out from 1973 onwards. This had little impact and so in 1979 the rest of Europe entered the party to create the biennial USA v Europe golfing extravaganza we enjoy today.

The Ryder Cup generates passion, excitement and emotion like no other event in golf. Fans and players love the team element, and the pride and patriotism it invokes. The UK may have been divided by Brexit but once every two years even those keen to “take back control” are firmly European for three days.

Both the structure and format of the event have been tweaked many times over the years, but they have stayed the same for some time now, by and large. Friday and Saturday see four fourball matches and four foursome contests with a total of 16 points up for grabs. On the concluding Sunday, all 24 players (12 from both sides) compete in singles games meaning a total of 28 points are fought over.

A score of 14.5 points is enough to win the Ryder Cup, with a minimum of 14 the target for the defending champions who keep the trophy in the event of a tie. There have been countless incredible contests over the years, with the 2012 comeback, the “Miracle of Medinah”, and the 2004 18.5-9.5 trouncing at Oakland Hills particular highlights for the Europeans.

Such editions have secured the Ryder Cup’s place in golfing hearts. In a hugely individualistic sport, this team tournament, which offers no prize money, is undoubtedly the one in which all players want to be involved.

Other Major Team Tournaments In Golf

The Walker Cup

Walker Cup TrophyThe Ryder Cup has spawned some similar events but it is pre-dated by the Walker Cup. This amateur team tournament has similar origins to the Ryder Cup, with a desire for the best US golfers to prove their worth in Britain. There was an unofficial Walker Cup (named after then USGA president George Herbert Walker, the grandfather of former US President, George HW Bush) in 1921 before the first official event was held a year later.

The Walker Cup has always been contested by the USA, and a combined British and Irish team, which perhaps explains why the Americans have been so dominant. Team USA has won 37 out of 47 matches at the time of writing, with one match tied. The Walker Cup is the amateur equivalent of the Ryder Cup and stars such as Phil Mickleson, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus are just some of the big names to have appeared in both (as well as winning a serious raft of majors).

Solheim Cup And Curtis Cup

Solheim CupIf the Walker Cup can be viewed as the amateur Ryder Cup then the Solheim Cup has to be seen as the women’s equivalent. A much younger team tournament, having first been played in 1990, it sees Europe and the USA face off every two years with the hosts alternating each time, as with the other events we have looked at.

This is the most evenly balanced contest of the ones we have examined and at the time of writing both teams have won three of the last six renewals of the Solheim Cup. Overall it is the US that leads by a healthy 10 wins to six but since the Americans won four of the first five things have been pretty even.

The Curtis Cup is, in simple terms, the female version of the Walker Cup. First played in 1932 at Wentworth, it sees the best amateur women do battle and is a clash between the US, and Great Britain and Ireland. The trophy for the winning team was donated by the 1906 US Women’s Amateur championship, Harriot Curtis, hence the tournament’s name.

Presidents Cup and Similar Tournaments

Presidents CupYet more team tournaments have been created over the years and the biggest of those is the Presidents Cup. Established in 1994 this is a clash between the USA and an International (sometimes called Rest of the World) team that does not include European golfers.

As with all the tournaments we have discussed, the format has changed over the years but the Presidents Cup tends to have more points. There are 12 players and it is held every two years (in non-Ryder seasons) but it is held over four days and since 2015 there have been 30 individual matches, including 12 singles contests on the final day.

The US has been hugely dominant in the Presidents Cup, winning 11 of 13 matches and only losing once in 1998. As well as the Presidents Cup there was a similar competition, the Seve Trophy, named, of course, in honour of the legendary Seve Ballesteros. This biennial team tournament pitted Continental Europe against a combined British and Irish team.

The Seve Trophy was first played in 2000 but since 2013 it has no longer been part of the golf calendar. It seems unlikely it will return which is a shame in many ways as it served as a valuable testing ground for players and captains ahead of the Ryder Cup.

The Royal Trophy was a similarly short-lived team tournament in golf, running from 2006 to 2013 inclusive and unlike the other events we have looked at this was held annually. This saw Europe compete against Asia for a trophy donated by the King of Thailand. In 2014 it was replaced by the EurAsia Cup, in keeping with other similar events, a biennial fixture. This event is now largely used in the way the Seve Trophy had been before, as a European warm-up for the Ryder Cup.

Betting On Golf’s Team Events

Ryder Cup Betting Odds

In terms of betting, few punters are likely to get involved with most of the team tournaments we have detailed here. The Ryder Cup is the major exception and this is certainly a huge betting heat. Serious golf fans may also wager on the Presidents Cup, Solheim Cup and Walker Cup (probably in that order) but whatever team tournament you want to bet on, how does betting on such contests differ to normal golf betting?

The key difference is due to the markets, with golf’s major and most popular normal options not generally applicable to team tournaments. The vast majority of “normal” golf bets are placed on the tournament outright market, with each way bets at long odds proving especially popular. People love the way golf offers the chance to land a long-odds winner, with tournaments regularly won by players at prices of 20/1 and above and even odds of 100/1 or more.

Golf Betting 400Effectively just two “players” contest the tournaments we are looking at here and odds for the underdog in, say the Ryder Cup, are rarely much over evens. Where there is a very big favourite you might see one team at 2/1 or perhaps even a little longer but that’s still a long way from seeing your 125/1 each way bet romp home.

That said, there are some options where longer odds can be found, with the tie in the outright market generally priced between about 10/1 and 15/1. Other bets of interest, some of which offer the chance to land winning bets at long odds (admittedly not usually as big as backing a long shot to win a regular tournament) include:

  • Correct Score – a bet on what score in points you think the overall match will finish at
  • Match Handicap – if you fancy one team to dominate, back them to win giving their opponents a head start
  • Top Points Scorer – this is a bet on which individual will record the most points, with sub-bets including the player with the most points for a named team, the highest-scoring rookie and the highest points scorer by nationality
  • Specials – bookies get hugely inventive with their specials, especially for the Ryder Cup so look out for things such as who will score the decisive winning point, who will hit the first shot and even what colours the teams will wear!

In terms of how to pick your winning bets, the same rules that apply to individual tournaments are key. That means form, course form and suitability to the format are key, with a proven record in match play also something to look out for. Home advantage in these team tournaments tends to be a big factor as well, whilst the roles of the captains should not be understated.