How to Bet Golf: Analyzing the Course

How to Bet Golf: Analyzing the Course

Jason Scavone
May 13, 2024


They’ve been playing The Masters for the better part of 90 years. There aren’t any surprises left at Augusta National. And if you’re learning how to bet golf, there’s a little upside to that. 

Maybe you only bet one tournament a year. Or maybe you’re tempted by big numbers in the outright winner markets. (Who can blame you?) If you’re going to bet golf, you need understand which horses fit best for the courses at hand. 

Analyzing a golf course comes down to breaking it down to component parts, and applying key player metrics. 

The Masters is a rare treat because unlike most tournaments that move around courses, Augusta National gives us a trove of mostly apples-to-apples data. It’s a great course to use to familiarize yourself with these concepts.


Components of a Course

Distance is a logical jumping-off point when you’re looking at a course.

The longest course the pros play right now is the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina, which runs 7,671 yards. TPC River Highlands in Connecticut is the shortest at 6,800 yards. 

But not all distance is created equal. 

“It depends on how long the par 3s are versus the par 4s and 5s,” golf bettor Tom Peabody said. Peabody is the brother and betting partner of Unabated co-founder Rufus Peabody. “A course where the par 4s are longer and more difficult is going to be very different from a course where it has some really long par 5s, but everything else is pretty moderate.”

Some basic course information can be found on the PGA Tour’s website

You also should factor in the fairway width on the course, and how difficult the rough on a course can be for players who aren’t as accurate.

(If you’re like us, you know the feeling of praying for a course that’s easy on fellow members of the shank community.)

At Augusta, for example, the average fairway width is around 50 yards, and the rough there is very forgiving.

“It’s one thing to have rough that’s not penal, but Augusta’s rough is barely there,” Peabody said. “It’s insanely short. Less than 1.4 inches. You’re not going to find another course  with rough less than 2 inches anywhere else. You can miss the wide fairways and the rough is essentially more fairway. Misses are not going to be punished. Guys can just bomb it with reckless abandon.”


Augusta’s Demanding Short Game

Total distance, the way the distance is distributed, and a course’s demands for accuracy are huge factors. You also need to know how the greens play. 

Are they large or small? How fast are they? How sloped are they?

“Knowing the greens really well is important because players who know what side to miss on, or what putt they’re going to be left with, are going to do better,” Peabody said. “The breaks are notoriously very subtle. It’s like putting on glass. You see a lot of guys looking really confused who haven’t played there a lot. It just does not do what you think it’s going to do.”


The Basics of Strokes Gained

Once you’ve got a basic understanding of a course’s layout, move on to a player’s strokes gained stats. 

Strokes gained is a way to evaluate how well a player is striking the ball relative to an average professional. Say for example the average pro takes three strokes to hole out from a par 4 fairway from 200 yards. If Jon Rahm does it in two, he’s gained one stroke.

The stats rely on data from the ShotLink system, which uses radar, cameras and lasers to track every facet of every shot in a tournament. 

There are four component categories of strokes gained statistics: off-the-tee, approach, around-the-green and putting, plus two additional summary metrics: tee-to-green and total. You can get a golfer’s strokes gained stats on the PGA Tour website.


  • Off-the-tee looks at the first shots players take on par 4s and 5s and factors in distance and accuracy.
  • Approach includes next shots, such as irons on par 4s and 5s. This also includes first shots on par 3s. 
  • Around-the-green measures shots from the rough, fairways and bunkers near the green. It’s a short-game category to evaluate chipping and wedge play.
  • Putting takes stock of a player’s on-the-green game.
  • Tee-to-green encompasses the first four categories and excludes putting.
  • Total is the whole magilla.


Knowing a player’s strengths and weaknesses is the other half of the equation. But there are a couple more course factors to consider first. 



Grass and Hazards

Courses have different types of grass in different climates, and differing types between the fairways and greens. All of that can affect how a player performs.

You can find grass types and mowing heights on the tournament sheets from the Golf Course Superintendents of America. Augusta checks in with ryegrass fairways and bentgrass greens

Some grasses, like Bermuda, have grain that make it harder to chip out of and change the nature of putting depending on which side of the grain a shot is coming from. 

“Players are more comfortable on certain grasses. Bermuda versus poa annua is huge because poa is bumpier, more inconsistent.” Peabody said. “I think a lot of it is mental. Players grow up playing Bermuda in the Southeast or poa on the West Coast. There’s a comfort level there regardless of how it might actually be borne out in the data.” 

The number and types of hazards are also a factor to consider. 

Water, for example, introduces more variance into a round. Players have much less margin for error in courses with a lot of water.

Augusta has water hazards on six holes, and only on approach shots, which makes tee play somewhat less important. 


Putting it all Together

When you have a framework of what the course is asking, and which players are capable of delivering, you can start to put together an idea of who may be catching those late Sunday tee times.

Augusta doesn’t demand pinpoint accuracy, but you’d better be able to stick your approach shots and putt well. 

Scottie Scheffler, the 2022 champion, is the current favorite in The Masters, at around +400 depending on your shops. Does he fit the bill?

According to the Tour, Scheffler ranks first in approach, with 1.347 strokes gained this season. He’s fourth in around-the-green at 0.547 strokes gained. He’s fourth in off-the-tee at 0.903 strokes and ranks first in tee-to-green and total strokes gained. 

If he has a weakness, right now it’s his putting which is slightly below average at 0.014, good for 99th overall.

Scheffler is good at just about everything at the moment, but it’s that “2022 champion” part that might be most important this weekend. Course experience is a significant factor anywhere. But at Augusta it’s paramount.

“The fact that you have to get invited by a member to even play it makes course history and experience so much more important,” Peabody said. “Orders of magnitude more important than any other course. It’s a challenging course where you need to take your medicine. A lot of the experience is knowing when a bogey is a good score on the whole, and not trying to push it.

“It’s one of these tournaments where it’s a slugfest and you’re going to make bogeys. It’s about  minimizing damage. Often it’s the older players with more experience who know that. The younger guys are not as good at taking their medicine sometimes. It’s a war of attrition.”


Weigh the Narratives Against the Course


The caveat is that course fit – especially on a well-known course – is likely priced into the market. 

But you can still use it to try to see if the market might be missing something, or more importantly, may be overreacting to some elements. 

“It’s not like you can make money by saying, ‘Oh, this guy has played well here.’ That’s all priced in,” Peabody said. “But there’s generally room to find inefficiency. There is so much information out there and everybody’s got it. 

“With Augusta, everybody knows everything about this course and so you get it all priced in. The narratives around accuracy on courses versus everything else, I’d say there’s maybe more ability to fade those narratives than anything else at this point. It’s harder on a qualitative level, but still doable.” 

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