Horse Race in Golf: It’s all About Survival

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Playing in horse races is one of my favourite moments on the golf course.

If you’re like a lot of golfers, chances are you’re a little confused about what horse racing has to do with golf. But we’re not actually talking about horses on an actual race track, instead it’s a golf format that is utilized in certain events.

While you won’t see these types of tournaments on the PGA Tour, they’re very common in local events. Keep reading to learn more about this unique tournament format and learn why it’s unlike anything else in golf.

Horse Racing in Golf

Even though it was 2010, I still remember my first horse race like it was yesterday. Everyone was talking about signing up to the horse race after the first day of a two man event. Although I had no idea what it meant, I knew I was ready if I could continue to play golf.

Each participant paid $20 and was entered into the competition. I was told that all groups would start on the first hole and play holes 1, 2, 3 and 8. A certain number of groups would be eliminated from each hole based on their highest score, until the winner was declared at the last hole (crossing that finish line). 

What I didnt know was that all groups played the hole at the same moment (aka no Tee Times). It meant that almost 20 teams of two-man players were playing on the same hole. This made it slow and frustrating.

There were about 100 people watching, so the pressure was 10X higher than normal. However, it was also 10X fun. We only made it a few holes but I loved the challenge and thought it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced on the golf course.

Horse Race Rules of Golf 

My story illustrates how a horse race, also known as a shoot out or derby, is done. Nothing like a normal golf tournament. It’s typically not a tournament but a golf game that is used after the round is complete.

Horse races are where all the groups start on the same hole at the exact same time. This can be a single event or a 2-man event that uses alternate shot format. 

In our case, it was an additional shot. So we strategized who should tee-off on the hole. If you make it to hole 2, the other person will tee off on the same number of holes. 

Groups were eliminated one at a time, depending on how many people or teams sign up. The tournament director will calculate the holes number and then eliminate certain teams. 

For example, let’s say there are 10 teams playing a 5-hole loop. The first hole will lose 3 teams, the second hole 2-3, and so on. The final hole should not have more than two players or groups competing for the lowest score.

If there are ties there is usually a chipping contest or putting contest to advance the hole. In our event it was a chip off and other teams couldn’t watch to see how close it ended up to the hole. The tournament director would then measure the teams and move on to the next.

Another difference is that the person or team closest to the hole putsts first, unlike regular rules. This is contrary to normal golf. The winner is determined on hole number three by a low score or chip off. Some might also play additional holes.

The event may also pay out to the second or third place. It’s usually an exciting finish as cash is on the line and a ton of people are watching. 


Other Formats 

Additionally, it’s common for a horse race to happen after a full round of 18 holes. It’s usually an extension of the round, not the full round of golf itself.

Some tournaments are horse race-based. These events are horse race-based. 19 golfers will play on the same hole, and the winner is eliminated. If there is a tie, they will hold a chipping or put contest while the rest of the players advance.

After playing golf for 20+ years I can’t even imagine this type of event but it sounds very exciting… unless you get eliminated early.

Horse Race Golf Tournament Tips 

Here are some tips to help you play well and take home the cash.

  • Mark your ball. There will be many balls on the hole, so make sure to have a visible mark to avoid hitting the wrong one.
  • Plan ahead. If it’s a team event, strategize who should tee off on the first hole to set your team best up for success.
  • Focus on your short game. There’s a good chance you’ll have to chip or putt yourself through a playoff if there are ties. Spend more time practicing your short game that week! 
  • Keep breathing. It’s easy to get nervous with that many people watching you play golf. You can go through your pre-shot routine and keep breathing. Take a few extra breaths to relax between shots. 

FAQs About Horse Race Golf Event

Are you looking for answers to your questions about horse racing and other golf tournaments? Continue reading if you have more questions about horse racing or other golf tournaments.

What is a darby?

A darby, also known by derby, is a unique format after a round. All players pay cash and all players play on the same hole. 

They play a short loop of holes, and at each hole a predetermined number of players/teams are eliminated either by score or by chip off. This continues until the hole with the lowest score is reached is declared the winner. 

What app for golf works with a derby game?

If you’re running a full 18-hole tournament it’s best to use a golf app like Golf Genius. They allow you to easily track the results and let others view them online.

What is a horserace swing in golf?

Greg Norman described golf swings as a kind of race horse. However, not all horses leave at once. He said this on his website: Website“In the takeaway, all your ‘horses’ – the arms, legs, hips, shoulders, and club – move away from the ball in a unified movement.

The knees and hips are the first horses that reach the top of the swing, followed by the shoulders, which in reality had to rotate twice as far. The arms, which have to go farther still, come next, followed by a complete cocking of the wrists as the weight of the clubhead – the last horse to reach the turn – gives a final downward tug.”

How does Calcutta function? 

Calcutta is one the most exciting parts in golf tournaments. They tend to take place at member-guest or member-member tournaments. Teams can be “bought” by others (or themselves) and play against odds to see how they will finish in the tournament.

If a team invests and wins, it could mean big money. You can also diversify your investments and invest in other teams.

Click here for more information about Calcutta golf.

Final Thoughts about Horse Race Golf Tournament Format

While it’s not like being at the Kentucky Derby, playing nine holes (or more) paired with chipping and a putting contest make it incredibly fun.

Horse racing is a unique tournament format that is one of the main reasons golf is so popular. There are so many ways to play this amazing game on different golf courses; from traditional stroke play, match play, Stableford, and countless other formats. Not to mention endless gambling games as well.

I recommend that you try to enter a horse racing golf event if you have the chance. It’s worth the extra money and can pay off big time if you can deliver in a clutch moment. Plus, it’s something else to see that many golfers and gallery members on one hole.


Michael Leonard

Michael is a friend and contributor of the Left Rough. He is a full time writer, freelance coach, and the creator of Inspire Your Success. He’s also an aspiring professional golfer who’s been playing for 20+ years and regularly competes on mini-tours & amateur events.

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