How to Play the Wolf Betting Game in Golf

Wolf Is a Format for a Group of Four Golfers

Man playing golf with friends watching
Wolf is a golf game for groups of four golfers. Les and Dave Jacobs/Image Source/Getty Images

"Wolf" is the name of a golf betting game for a group of four golfers in which one golfer on each hole—called the Wolf—chooses whether to play the hole 1-vs.-3, or to partner up and play it 2-vs.-2.

Wolf goes by a couple other names, too, including Ship, Captain & Crew, and Boss. Wolf is typically played with full handicaps.

Setting the Order of Play in Wolf

Setting the order of play—who tees off first on each hole, and in what order the other golfers in your group follow—is important.

Wolf is one of the betting games favored by golf legend Chi Chi Rodriguez, who, in his book Chi Chi's Golf Games You Gotta Play, explains the order of play:

"Wolf is a classic four-player game that creates a different team on every hole or a gutsy one-on-three situation. An order one through four is established on the first tee and will continue to roll over through the entire round. The first player in the rotation tees off first on number 1, followed by players two, three, and four. On number 2, the second player in the rotation has honors, followed by players three, four, and one. The third player has the box on the number 3, followed by players four, one, and two. And player four leads off on hole number 4, followed by players one, two, and three."

How you select the order on the first hole is entirely up to your group. Just stick to it once it's set. The golfer who tees off first on each hole is the Wolf.

The Wolf's Decision: Play Alone or Partner Up

On each hole, the player designated as the "Wolf" tees off first, then watches the other golfers hit their drives (the other golfers on each hole, by the way, are often called "the hunters"). And after each of those drives, the Wolf has to decide: Do I want that golfer as my partner on this hole?

If the Wolf doesn't like any of the other drives, he can choose to go it alone on the hole—himself vs. the other three golfers on that hole. The side with the better ball score wins the hole. (Better ball meaning the lowest score among the golfers on a side. If Players A and B are partners, and A score 5 while B scores 6, the side's better ball score is 5).

But if the Wolf likes one of the other golfer's drives, he can choose that golfer as his partner for the hole. The catch: He must make that choice immediately after seeing that player's drive.

For example: Player A is the Wolf and hits his drive. Then Player B tees off but hits it into the rough. Player C is up next, and hits a pretty good drive. Not the best drive you've ever seen, but a good one. Does the Wolf want Player C as his partner on the hole? If he does, he must claim Player C immediately after C's drive—before Player D tees off.

If the Wolf claims a partner on the hole, then it is a 2-on-2 match for that hole, the Wolf and his claimed partner against the other two golfers. And again, the better ball score wins the hole.

Going Solo or Partnering Up Changes the Bet in Wolf

On every hole, the side with the lowest better ball score wins the hole. But the bet changes depending on whether the Wolf is going it alone or has a partner. If it's 2-on-2, then the golfers on the winning side each win the betting unit. But if it's 1-on-3, the Wolf wins double or loses double.

For example, let's say the betting unit is $1:

  • If the Wolf partners, for a 2-vs.-2 hole, then the golfers on the losing side both pay $1 to each of the golfers on the winning side. (We're using $1 just because it's easy, obviously Wolf winnings/losings can add up, so be careful where you set the bet.)
  • If the Wolf plays the hole alone, then the Wolf wins $2 (double the bet) from each of the three golfers on the other side, or loses $2 to each of them.

A tie score on a hole in Wolf is typically declared a wash—no winner, no loser, no carryover, no money changing hands.

Rodriguez and co-author John Anderson wrote about strategy playing Wolf:

"Wolf strategy is as much about self-confidence as it is about faith in a partner. A good player will go it alone as often as possible, especially on par 3s and par 5s. Because this is a game played to full handicaps (3/4s or 2/3s for complete strangers), it helps to check to see who may be getting a stroke on the hole. Partners can be picked either to help win a hole or just to share losses, depending on your own tee ball."

And Then There's 'Lone Wolf'

Are you the Wolf and feel like going rogue? You can announce before anyone tees off on the hole that you are playing the hole alone, 1-vs.-3.

If you declare yourself a Lone Wolf, you win triple from or lose triple to the golfers on the other side.

What About the Leftover Holes?

We're talking about a game for a group of four golfers, with the golfers rotating tee honors. But that means there are two holes left over—the 17th and 18th—after the fourth wheel completes on the 16th hole. What do you do in Wolf with those two remaining holes?

From Chi Chi's book: "Because the 17th and 18th holes are left over after four turns of the rotation, the player in last place is generally given the courtesy of teeing off first and being the wolf on the final two holes."