How the Hammer Golf Game/Bet is Played

Preparing to hit a golf ball with a sledgehammer
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Hammer (or "Hammers") is a golf betting game for two golfers playing 1-vs.-1, or a group of four golfers playing 2-vs.-2.

Before we describe the most basic version of Hammer, be aware that groups and golfers who are longtime Hammer players are likely to have their own (sometimes idiosyncratic) interpretation of the "rules" of the bet and it can get very complicated very fast. Always clear up the ground rules of any side game or format when you are playing with new partners.

Also, Hammer can get very expensive very fast. Consider the initial bets accordingly.

Hammer Basics, Using a 1-vs.-1 Matchup

Player A and Player B agree on an initial, per-hole bet. Let's say $1 per hole.

Next, at any point at the beginning of the match one of the two golfers can "hammer" the other, which doubles the bet. You're playing for low score on the hole, worth $1 (in our example). But say Player B's drive finds deep rough, putting Player A in a great position to the win the hole. Player A "hammers" Player B, doubling the bet. The first hole is now worth $2.

Once the hammer has been used for the first time, it rotates from player to player. In our example, Player A used the first hammer. So now the option to hammer passes to Player B.

Now let's say that Player B hits a remarkable shot out of the rough to six feet from the cup. B decides he's now the one in position to win the hole, so he hammers back at Player A. The bet on the hole is now worth $4, because every hammer doubles the bet.

Or maybe Player B's shot from the rough was awful, and he doesn't have an opportunity to use the hammer on the first hole. In that case, he keeps it until he does have an opportunity. Once B uses the hammer, it passes back to Player A.

No golfer who has the hammer is required to use it—if the hammer isn't used on a hole, that hole remains worth the original bet amount ($1 in our example).

But many groups wind up hammering, and hammering back, and hammering again, and re-hammering, and the initial bet amount skyrockets. That's why we cautioned at the top that Hammer can get expensive fast.

So those are the basics of Hammer: calling "Hammer" on an opponent doubles the initial bet on a hole; anyone can drop the first hammer of the round, but after that it rotates from player to player (or side to side in a 2-vs.-2 game).

Set Ground Rules Before Teeing Off

There are some aspects of Hammer that you'll need to decide on among your group of players before the round begins:

  • Most importantly, if the hole is halved does the pot carry over to the next hole? Or is the tied hole just a wash, no winner, no loser of the bet? Up to you. (Carryovers are the most common choice among Hammer players.)
  • Does the golfer who is on the receiving end of the hammer have the option to decline? Or are hammers automatically accepted? Automatic hammers are most common, but again, it's up to you. One variation of Hammer is that a golfer can decline a hammer, but doing so means forfeiting the existing bet amount. In that case, forfeiting the bet on a hole by declining the hammer is a way to limit your losses on a hole.
  • Some groups who play Hammer require that the hammer be in the form of "air hammers." An "air hammer" is a hammer that is called while your opponent's ball is still in the air. You can't wait, watch the shot land and see where it winds up. If you want to use the hammer, you have to call it while your foe's shot is still airborne.

If you want to play Hammer but limit the amount of money at stake, you can play it for points rather than money on each hole, and then pay out an agreed-upon amount for the front nine winner, back nine winner, and overall winner.