What is a Calcutta in Golf? Golfing Terms Explained For Everyone

Placing a friendly wager on a golf game and receiving prizes after a day of golf is nothing new. However, the prize money offered is insignificant compared to what is at stake when you get involved with Calcutta in golf. What is a Calcutta in golf? 

Calcutta is a betting system in golf where you win money when you bet on golfers that you think will win, and they do win. You can bet on your own team or another team.  Some tournaments use them and not just in golf, but in other sports as well. 

What Is a Calcutta in Golf?

calcutta in golf. Man in golf cart smiling

In the simplest terms, a Calcutta in golf works like this:

  • Golfers bid, auction-style, on the golfer or team they think will win the tournament. Usually, you can bid on yourself and your own team.
  • The highest bid will win the team/golfer.
  • Funds raised through the “auction” goes into the pool.
  • The owners of the tournament winner(s) receive a predetermined payout from the auction pool.

Basically, if you choose the best golfers, and they win… then you win. 

Because the exact Calcutta golf rules vary between tournaments, gambling software applications frequently determine odds and payouts. Payouts at a member-guest tournament are most commonly paid to the first and second-placed team owners. Other options are for 3-place and or the 5-place payout system.

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How to Run a Golf Calcutta

How does a golf Calcutta work? Running a Calcutta golf tournament is a fairly straightforward process:

  • Select the participants in the tournament—golfers, golf courses, and auction participants.
  • Determine the tournament format. A Calcutta is typically an 18-hole, stroke-play tournament.
  • Prepare the Calcutta auction event by making information available to all participating teams.
  • Run the auction process to allow guests to purchase a participating team.
  • Enable golfers to compete for the duration of the tournament.
  • Upon tournament completion, winnings must be paid out to winning owners.

Relatively substantial amounts, sometimes even exceeding $30,000, are involved, thus luring some unsavory characters. These characters are often involved with shenanigans that may not normally find their way into the country club grill room.

In terms of professional golf, the auction pools are minute, but for amateurs, it is a huge incentive to participate in Calcutta betting for a golf tournament

How Much Money Can You Make in Calcutta for Golf?

Teams can sell in excess of $1,000, but it ranges anywhere from $800 to $2,000, which may reach even higher at more affluent golf clubs. In total, you can win more than $30,000 if you wager on the right team. While each club will have its way of doing it, most rules remain the same.

Calcutta Betting Golf Strategy

Before participating in a Calcutta golf auction, learn the common rules and how each operates. You need a smart Calcutta betting strategy before you start.

Know the Payouts

Knowing how many teams will receive payouts can influence your Calcutta golf bet. If only the winning team receives prize money, your betting should be vastly different from when up to 5 teams receive a payout.

It would be advisable to determine upfront whether the full pool will be paid to a charity or what percentage will be paid to punters.

In a charity event paying the complete pool to the charity, the winning teams typically receive prizes from sponsored companies or the golf club.

A good strategy to maximize your payout is to pay less for a team that is not likely to win if the payout goes to multiple teams, but it’s a bad strategy when only one team is getting paid out.

Study the Players

Before playing golf in Calcutta, research the players before the auction to save you money and frustration.

Evaluate their handicaps to determine whether they have a steady history or if there are sudden spikes or drops around competition time.

It would furthermore be advisable to investigate their performance during tournaments to see if there is any manipulation of their handicaps.

The investigation will help you choose the player or team to acquire at the auction.

Why Should You Try a Calcutta?

Calcutta in golf has nothing to do with your golfing ability and rates high on the betting scale.

Anyone with a good eye for talented golfers can win at Calcutta betting in golf. 

Due to the amount of money wagered, the system is open to manipulation. Unlikely as it may be in the gentlemen’s sport of golf, no one expected it to happen in a team game like cricket.

This is a clever way of raising charity money, though you could experiment with this on your next golf day.

Calcutta in Golf Charity Fundraisers

Although the USGA doesn’t always love Calcuttas, they have been used for good purposes from time to time. They are frequently used at tournaments, and your Calcutta bet raises charity funds.

Money raised under these circumstances may go to the charity selected by the winning bidder, or the auction pool can be split between the owner and the charity based on a predetermined percentage split.

Golf tournament Calcutta organizers set the rules and limits for fundraising purposes.

Why Should You Not Participate in Calcutta?

Amateur players are not allowed to compete for prize money under the rules of the USGA, but they are allowed to partake in gambling at a Calcutta event.

This blurs the lines for the USGA whether the golfers are playing for prize money or whether the golfers are gambling.

If you need to retain your amateur status, stay clear of Calcutta in golf. For example, you may want to retain amateur status because the entry fees increase and the courses become more difficult. 

The USGA’s policy on gambling states that participating in a Calcutta event can put amateur status at risk. 

USGA Rule 7-2, Conduct Contrary to the Purpose of the Rules, advises that an amateur golfer must not act in a manner that is detrimental to the best interests of the amateur game or take any action, including actions relating to golf gambling, that is contrary to the purpose and spirit of the Rules.

Decisions 7-2/2, 7-2/3, and 7-2/4 provide clarity around Calcutta’s involvement, particularly decisions 7-2/2. 

An “auction sweepstake” or “Calcutta” is a form of gambling or wagering in which the players or teams are sold by auction beforehand to the highest bidder. Bidding is not restricted to the players, and each player or team is generally offered the right to purchase a percentage of the bet from the successful bidder before play commences. An auction sweepstake or Calcutta can often involve considerable sums of money, and such gambling or wagering is considered contrary to the purpose and intent of the rules. 

The Brief History of Calcutta in Golf

Royal Calcutta Golf Club in India. Credit: Mailkunalsingh, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Calcutta in golf began in the 1800s in Calcutta (now called Kolkata), India, which explains the name. The first event was at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, the second oldest course. Many golfers call it the St. Andrews of Asia. 

They considered it the amateur championship in India, but the style paved the way for a new type of golf tournament. 

How Does Handicapping Work in Calcutta Golf Events?

The handicapping serves as a way to tell the skill of a player and who to bet on in a Calcutta. First, they will announce all the handicaps of the players, and since this is a handicap event, everyone will have a handicap score. Because of the money on the line, you want to wager on the player with the lowest handicap in Calcutta first. As the betting progresses, you will continue to wager on players with higher and higher handicaps until everyone is accounted for.

Most of the time, this wagering happens the night before the event, and the handicapping system plays an essential role in letting you know the best players. These tournaments always use the information of a player’s handicap to determine their standing. This information gets released before the betting can start. 

Unfortunately, the worst part of the entire Calcutta comes from the handicapping because of the difficulty. You must check to see that each player has a legitimate USGA handicap.

For events with teams, you will look at the overall team handicap. You must understand the handicap system and how it works, or running a Calcutta will be next to impossible. 

Related Article: What is an Albatross in Golf? Golfing Terms Explained for Everyone


How Does Calcutta Work in a Golf Tournament?

Most Calcuttas will comprise four teams, and they put all the teams on the board before you wager on them. Each member can buy into your team, with each player receiving 10 percent. In other words, if you buy a team for $1,000, it will cost each member of the team $100. 

Why Is It Called Calcutta in Golf?

They call it Calcutta in golf because it was named after the city of Kolkata in India. This was where the first Calcutta tournaments were played.  

Are Calcutta Golf Tournaments Legal?

Calcutta golf tournaments are legal, with the only danger being that you might be classified as a professional golfer before you want to be ranked as one. The betting style shares similarities with swimming, cricket, tennis, soccer, and rowing. 

Should You Play Calcutta as an Amateur Golfer?

Despite being legal, the USGA opposes Calcutta because it puts your amateur status at risk. You can only collect cash after reaching the professional level. The professional level exposes you to higher golf fees. Anyone concerned shouldn’t participate. 

Final Thoughts

Participating in Calcutta in golf can be an enjoyable and profitable experience in a sport that steers away from paying amateurs any prize money. Being on the winning tournament team makes it even more enjoyable. 

Researching the parties involved before you put any money into the auction-style event and staying away from unsavory characters that may be involved will go a long way for your Calcutta golf betting strategy. 

Lastly, if your amateur status is important, stay clear of a Calcutta tournament, or you may be categorized as a professional golfer.

I hope you enjoyed this article and learned about Calcutta golf’s meaning. When you are offered an opportunity to get involved with a Calcutta tournament at your next golf fundraiser, you will be best equipped to know if you should participate.

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Nick is the founder of GolfSpan and an avid golfer. He's not quite a pro but has over 15 years of experience playing and coaching golfers worldwide. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience when it comes to choosing the right golf gear and finding the right setup for your game.

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