Golf Games: The Calcutta

A Calcutta is a tournament betting format. It is often used at golf events to raise money for charity. Before the event begins, teams (or players in individual events) are brought to the “auction block” and the high bidder for each team becomes the “owner.” Half of each bid goes to the charity; the other half goes to the pot. I have also seen Calcuttas where entire bid went into the pot.

In most formats, bidders can purchase as many teams as they like. In really cut-throat Calcuttas, players form consortiums, spreading their money over multiple teams. At clubs where player and team skills are known, the sums bid on teams can get quite high.

One variant allows players or teams to purchase a fractional ownership of their own team for a percentage of the total bet at auction. The only action I’ve seen on this is for half-ownerships, but I suppose that it could be for any percentage. In the half-ownership scenario, a team would pay the winning bidder back half his bid, and thus would reap half of any winnings.

After the event is over, the pot is distributed to the owners of the top three teams according to the predetermined formula. The tournaments I’ve seen distribute the pot on a 70-20-10 basis.

Calcuttas actually can be used for a variety of sporting events, such as the NCAA basketball tournament, the World Cup or horse races. At the beginning of a college football season, for example, you could hold a Calcutta on the final rankings in the BCS. It apparently is also popular in backgammon tournaments (of all things). In fact, it works with any event involving a large number of participants who finish in ranked order.

There are all kinds of interesting strategic considerations in betting on Calcuttas. Since the size of the return depends upon the total bid on ALL the teams, an investor can never know until after the last team has been bought whether he has any possibility of making his money back. It’s entirely possible that the player who bought the winning team paid more than the sum total of all the others.

The term “Calcutta” seemingly has its origins in the city (now Kolkata), which served as the capital of India during the British Raj. There, the Royal Calcutta Turf Club ( officially dates to 1847, but has its origins in the late 1700s), introduced paramutual betting to its horse racing in 1872 (paramutual bets had been invented in 1867 by Joseph Oller). The paramutual bet is quite similar to the “Calcutta” in that the bets all are placed in a pool and then distributed to the winners (minus the vig). Final payout is not known until all bets are placed.

I like the Calcutta format because it keeps groups involved in a golf tournament, even if they are not particularly skilled.

For more golf games:

Golf, Remixed: New Ways To Play The Ancient Game




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