How to Play the Golf Game Named 'Las Vegas'

Las Vegas Is a Format Loved by Good Golfers and High-Rollers

Wynn Las Vegas golf course Shadow Creek
You don't have to be on a Las Vegas golf course to play the Las Vegas format ... but it helps if you're a high-roller. bibi57/E+/Getty Images

"Las Vegas" is the name of a golf betting game for two teams of two golfers each in which a side's scores are put together (or paired) to form a double-digit number, rather than added together. Don't worry, it's quite simple once you see an example.

Winnings and losings can add up quickly in Las Vegas, which is often played for $1 per point, so it's a game preferred by better (or at least wealthier) golfers.

(Note that there is another format called a Las Vegas scramble that is unrelated to the gambling game named Las Vegas.)

How Teams Scores Work in the Las Vegas Format

We said a team's two scores are not added together, they are put together or paired. What does that mean? Let's say Golfer A and Golfer B form one Las Vegas team. On the first hole, A scores 5 and B scores 6. Add them up and that's 11. But we don't add up scores in Las Vegas, we pair them to form a new number. Put "5" and "6" together and you get 56. Fifty-six is the score for Team A/B on Hole 1.

And (with two exceptions that we'll explain soon) in Las Vegas, the smaller of the two scores goes first when forming the bigger number. In our example above, if A had gotten the 6 and B had scored the 5, the team score on that hole would still be 56, because the smaller number (5) goes first.

A couple more examples:

  • On Hole 2, both golfers make 4s. That becomes 44.
  • One Hole 3, Golfer A makes 8 and Golfer B makes a 3. That's 38.

Here's one of the exceptions we mentioned to putting the smaller number first. If one of the golfers makes a 10 or higher, the higher number goes first. This is good thing! If A scores 5 and B makes a 10, the team score is 105 rather than 510. This is a safeguard against the numbers getting out of hand.

Playing (and Paying) Las Vegas

Now you know how to form the team score on each hole. What about competing against the other team? Simple: The difference in points on each hole determines winnings and losings.

Let's say you're playing for $1 per point (you high-roller!). On Hole 1 your side scores 4 and 5 for a 45; your opponents score 5 and 6 for a 56. The difference is 11 points. Your side just won $11.

Now you see why we said the Las Vegas game is one preferred by very good or financially well-to-do golfers. Winnings (and losings) can really add up.

Chi Chi Rodriguez, in his book Chi Chi's Golf Games You Gotta Play, said this about which golfers should, and shouldn't, try Las Vegas:

"... (N)ovice golfers and anything less than a good golfer should stay away from shaking hands on a Las Vegas bet. Even playing with full handicaps, the money can get out of hand in a hurry if you or a partner is having an off day. And good players may want to avoid this bet if they have a tendency to get loose and make a big number once in a while. A player making nothing but yawn-inducing fours and fives has a better chance than the player carding all fives and occasional threes but then tosses in an eight or a nine."

'Flipping the Bird' in Las Vegas

The second exception to always putting the smaller number first? It's called "Flipping the Bird," and it's an option that your group can choose to add to Las Vegas if you wish.

When "flipping the bird" is in effect, a team that makes a birdie and wins the hole can flip the other team's score for that hole. So instead of the low number going first for the losing team on that hole, the high number goes first. The opponent's 5 and 6 wouldn't be 56, but 65. That's a 9-point difference, so the money can really start to change hands when "flipping the bird."