Golf is a solo sport for the most part and indeed that is the appeal for many players at the top level. They are often self-reliant and highly driven individuals and find the team aspect of many major sports frustrating because no matter how well they play, they can still lose. With golf, win or lose, it is all down to you.
However, whilst the game’s most glittering prizes are individual honours, chiefly the four majors, the unofficial fifth major of the Players Championship, and the WGC events, there are still several team events. In this article, we will look at the different types of team events that exist in the sport; we will also provide information about the most important team events and explain how betting on these tournaments or events is different to betting on the bread and butter of golf on the regular tours.
How Many Team Events Are There in Golf?
Over the years, a number of team and pairs events have taken place in golf but here will detail only the biggest. We’ll look in more detail at these shortly but we think most golf fans would accept that the following are all worthy of inclusion.
- Ryder Cup – Inter-continental team event between USA and Europe
- World Cup – Pairs event that sees two golfers from the same country compete against pairs from rival nations
- Solheim Cup – In simple terms, the women’s version of the Ryder Cup
- Walker Cup – Akin to the Ryder Cup but featuring amateur players from the USA against those from a combined Great Britain and Ireland team
- Curtis Cup – In simple terms, this is essentially the women’s version of the Walker Cup
- Eisenhower Trophy – Broadly equivalent to the World Cup but for amateurs
- Presidents Cup – Like the Ryder Cup but sees an International (or Rest of the World) team (excluding Europe) play against the USA
- Zurich Classic of New Orleans – A pro event for pairs on the PGA Tour
Note that this list is not intended to be exhaustive and does not feature tournaments that no longer exist.
Ryder Cup: Golf’s Number One Team Event
The Ryder Cup is without any shadow of a doubt the biggest, best, most famous and most iconic of all the team events and tournaments that take place in golf. As such, it will be our starting point and also our first example of a true team tournament, as opposed to a pairs event. We will explain more about this distinction in due course.
The Ryder Cup was first played in 1927, though some precursor events took place in 1921 and 1926. The inaugural tournament-proper was hosted in Worcester, Massachusetts in the States following the two dummy events in the UK. The format of this tournament has been tweaked many times over the years but the biggest changes to it have involved who takes part. Until 1971 it was the USA versus Great Britain, with Ireland being added to the GB team in 1973, 1975 and 1977.
That made no difference to the dominance of the States, who won all three of those Ryder Cups, so for the 23rd edition of this event in 1979, it became a Europe versus the USA contest. It has remained that way since, with honours roughly even for the rest of the 20th century before European pre-eminence in the 21st century.
Ryder Cup Format
The exact format, as said, has changed over the years but many things have stayed fairly constant. The Ryder Cup is a true team tournament, unlike, for example, the World Cup, which although it features national teams, is better and more accurately viewed as a pairs event.
The Ryder Cup features 12 players from each side, all 12 in action on the final day of the three-day contest which features 12 singles matches. On both of the first two days, typically Friday and Saturday, there are eight doubles matches and all, including the singles, are contested using the match play format. This means that in total 28 points are up for grabs, with 14 points being enough to retain the trophy and 14.5 needed to win it outright.
The Ryder Cup is typically held every two years, although there have been a number of disruptions that have caused some changes over the years, chiefly the Second World War, 9/11 attacks and more recently the global health crisis. Since 1979, the format has stayed pretty solid, with a mix of foursomes and fourballs on days one and two and 12 singles games on day three meaning, 14.5 points has remained the magic number.
What Makes the Ryder Cup Special?
The Ryder Cup is without any doubt the most important team event in golf. It is not the oldest, as we shall see, but it is certainly the one that most excites global golf fans and the game’s best players. The fact that it is now so competitive is a big part of its appeal, with Europe winning the Ryder Cup in 1995, 1997, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2018. If anything one might even say that Europe have become too dominant but more often than not they start as underdogs due to the immense strength in depth of the US team, who often have well over half of their 12 players inside the top 15 in the world rankings.
Whilst it is not the oldest of these events, it has a significant history, approaching its centenary. Moreover, it is the oldest of the professional team events. Perhaps the greatest thing about it is that the players are not paid and compete solely for pride and honour. In a sport, and world, dominated by money, that helps make the Ryder Cup special. What’s more, despite the absence of a financial incentive, the pressure and passion we see at the Ryder Cup often outstrip that seen at even the majors.
Iconic Moments in the Ryder Cup
Over the years the Ryder Cup has created so many magical and iconic moments. Here are our top five:
1. Miracle of Medinah, 2012
Ian Poulter inspires Europe to an incredible comeback in the States with five consecutive birdies setting up the singles slaughter.
2. European Wait Ends, 1985
Sam Torrance helps Europe to their first Cup success since 1957.
3. War on the Shore Langer Agony, 1991
It all came down to the last putt in a very feisty match, the US hurting from three failed attempts to win the Ryder Cup. Sadly for Europe, Langer’s six-footer slid past the hole.
4. Dancing on the Green, 1999
An infamous, if unsavoury, moment came during the Battle of Brookline as many of the US team and their wives danced and celebrated on the green after Justin Leonard holed a monster, and crucial, putt. That was all well and good aside from the fact that the hole and match were still live.
5. Nicklaus Shows Class, 1969
An incredibly close contest saw 18 of 32 matches go to the final green, including the last of them all. The scores were level at 15.5 each as Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin came down the 18th, also level. Nicklaus holed a clutch putt and then sportingly picked up Jacklin’s marker meaning the match was a tie.
Jacklin commented that he might have missed the putt and the Golden Bear replied he didn’t want to give him the chance. Ah, the good old days when the Ryder Cup was a sporting contest! You can watch Nicklaus talk about “the concession” here.
World Cup of Golf
Quite where the World Cup of Golf falls in terms of classification is open to debate. It is certainly right to include it in this article but as an event for teams of just two players, it is very different from many of the other competitions we will discuss. In many sports, the World Cup is the pinnacle but sadly this is not really the case in golf and this competition has rather failed to capture the public’s imagination in the way the Ryder Cup has.
There was briefly a women’s version of this contest but that was only held five times at the start of the 21st century so we will focus on the men’s event here. As the Canada Cup, this tournament dates back to 1953, when Argentina were the first winners. Since 1967, when the US dream team of Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer won, it has been known as the World Cup (or some variation of that).
Held more or less every year until 2009 it has traditionally seen teams of two players represent their country in a stroke play tournament of varying length and format. It has been held over 36 holes and 72 holes, as a standard combined stroke play event and also one including elements of best ball and alternate shot.
Each nation has one team, with spots offered according to world ranking, though players often declining to take part in more recent years. The US has dominated, with 24 wins, Australia and South Africa come next with five wins each. However, with many of the top American players now missing the event, their last win came back in 2011 and featured Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland, giving you some idea of how many players decline their invitations, despite the considerable prize money on offer.
With recent editions of the tournament disrupted, and its status generally on the wane, organisers have been discussing a major revamp to the format. The most likely move is a mixed-gender World Cup so watch this space.
The Solheim Cup was first played in 1990 and has been held more or less every two years since. It features professional women golfers from Europe playing against their US rivals. Typically held in August or September it, like the Ryder Cup, features teams of 12 playing over three days, with 28 points up for grabs in a match play format.
It does not attract the same coverage as the Ryder Cup but is growing in popularity and uses a more or less identical format these days. Like the Ryder Cup, there is no prize money on offer but there is plenty of passion, tension and excitement in evidence.
Having first been played in 1922, this “Ryder Cup for amateurs” actually pre-dates its more famous brother. Perhaps the biggest difference between this event and the Ryder Cup is that the Walker Cup is and always has been, played between a Great Britain and Ireland team and one from the USA. Another big difference is that the teams are made up of just 10 players.
As with many of the team golf events we are looking at, the precise nature of the matches has changed over the years. However, as with similar competitions, it uses a mix of singles and doubles play, though it is only held over two days, both of which feature singles action.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the US team has won the majority of the editions of the Walker Cup, including 21 of the first 22. Since the 1990s things have been more even and the Walker Cup is a great way to see the stars of tomorrow, with Collin Morikawa and Zalatoris the two most recent stars to have broken through.
The Curtis Cup is like the Walker Cup but for female golfers and also has a long history having first been played in 1932. Like many of these events it is held every two years and again sees the USA do battle with a joint GB and Ireland team.
As with the Walker Cup, it is a great way to see young talent before they become famous and play on the main pro tours. It is contested over three days, like the Ryder Cup but unlike the Walker Cup, and again is a match play contest with a mix of singles and doubles, though the format has been tweaked a number of times over the years.
The last of the “proper” team events we will consider is one of the youngest and sought to build on the success of the Ryder Cup. Established in 1994 and usually held towards the end of the calendar year, this event pits the USA against an International Team, essentially the rest of the world apart from Europe.
As with all similar events, the teams take turns hosting the tournament, alternating every two years. Australia is the most common host nation for the Internationals but South Korea, Canada and South Africa have also had the honour of hosting the event.
Each edition has an honorary chair, typically the president or PM of the host nation, hence the name. Unlike similar tournaments, the Presidents Cup is contested over four days, with three days of doubles play before all 24 golfers take to the course for the 12 singles matches on the final day. Yet again, the exact format of the event has changed over the years and, yet again, the US have very much had the upper hand.
Indeed, the International Team have won just once, in 1998, earning a tie five years later. They have lost all other editions of the Presidents Cup, with some suggesting a change is needed to keep the contest competitive and interesting.
The Eisenhower Trophy is perhaps the least well known of the tournaments we are detailing here. Founded in 1958, it was named after then-President and keen golfer, Dwight D Eisenhower. In keeping with our analogies, it is essentially the amateur version of the World Cup and in keeping with the theme of US supremacy, it has been won on 15 occasions by Team USA.
Held every two years without fail, 2020 aside, teams of three, or latterly four, represent their nation. As with all the similar amateur team events, it is a great way to check out future stars. Bryson DeChambeau was part of the successful US team in 2014, with Justin Thomas a victor two years earlier. Alexander Levy (France), Joost Luiten (Netherlands), Luke Donald and even Tiger Woods are also all former winners.
Zurich Classic of New Orleans
This event is certainly very different to most of the others here in that it is a regular feature of the main PGA Tour. Generally played in April, it has long had a purse in excess of $7m and sees eighty teams of two battle it out for glory.
It has gone by many names over the years but actually only became a team, or pairs, event in 2017. Previous solo victors include Lee Westwood, Bubba Watson, Vijay Singh, Tom Watson and Byron Nelson. Whilst considerable prize money is on offer, as well as FedEx Cup points, there are no world ranking points available.
One entrant per team is determined by Tour priority ranking and they then choose their partner, who must play on the PGA Tour or hold a sponsor’s invite. The Zurich Classic of New Orleans, like the other pairs events, is stroke play rather than match play. Due to the format, a changing blend of foursomes and fourballs, low scoring is common and the event is a fun, relaxed addition to the Tour.
There are a few other team tournaments that deserve a mention, starting with the Espirito Santo Trophy. Established in 1964 and still running, this is essentially the women’s version of the Eisenhower Trophy. Reflecting their strength in the women’s game in the 21st century, South Korea won this tournament in 2010, 2012 and 2016.
Another team event worth being aware of, even though it is sadly no longer with us, is the Seve Trophy. Held between 2000 and 2013 this was designed as something of a warm-up and practice for the Ryder Cup, with a Continental 12 playing against a team from the British Isles. The format was largely kept as close as possible to the Ryder Cup in order to aid preparation.
Another team golf tournament that is no longer extant is the Royal Trophy, which subsequently became the EurAsia Cup. Running from 2006 to 2013 in its first guise, there were just three further versions held under the new name, in 2014, 2016 and 2018. This was essentially another Ryder Cup warm-up but saw Europe and Asia do battle.
Betting on the Ryder Cup & Team Events
Now you know all about the many team golf events that are out there, what about betting on them? Well, due to their nature, wagering on these tournaments and competitions is certainly a little different to your run of the mill event. Of all the contests we have mentioned, it is only really the Ryder Cup that attracts a lot of betting action, although the World Cup does too and the Zurich Classic of New Orleans certainly also does.
Betting on pairs events is far more like normal golf betting than true team events such as the Ryder Cup. The outright winner market is where most cash goes and because there are usually a large number of teams involved, the odds are not too dissimilar to those of a standard tournament.
Just as with a “normal” tournament, there are a range of markets on offer, such as Top 5, Top 10 and so on, as well as things like the first round leader. The main difference really is that you need to take into account that you are backing two golfers, not just one. Finding a duo whose talents dovetail nicely is key, whilst players with good chemistry, and often a more relaxed approach, tend to prosper. Because these events are often a little more low key than a regular tournament, “lesser” players can sometimes do better than expected, whilst the very best in the world can sometimes struggle to raise their game.
Ryder Cup Betting
We are talking primarily about the Europe versus USA pro men’s tournament here but in truth the following applies pretty equally to the other similar team events we have mentioned. Ryder Cup betting is different to a regular Tour contest in that essentially there are only two runners in the outright market, rather than 100 or even 150.
As such, if you venture into the outright market you will be looking at odds of around evens for both teams. Typical prices may see the US at 4/5 and the European underdogs would tend to be offered at a shade longer odds of around 11/10; or perhaps if the US are well fancied and on home soil, the odds might be more like 8/15 and 2/1, with the tie often priced between 8/1 to 12/1 or something similar.
The specials markets are very different in the Ryder Cup too, with one of the most popular being who the top points scorer will be. You can either bet on the US, the European, or overall, whilst further specials on Top UK points scorer may also be offered.
Prior to the teams being announced you may find options to back a player to make the team or be announced as captain. The other main area of betting when it comes to these team tournaments concerns individual matches. The most common market is a simple win bet on a named player or duo to win their match, often but not always with the tie included as an option (if it isn’t listed then ties will result in a push/void and you will get your stake back).
Ryder Cup Stats
Betting on the Ryder Cup is great fun and a brilliant way to make one of the tensest three days of golf even more gripping. Over the past 30 years or so there has been excellent value simply backing the European to win. They are invariably the underdogs, especially in the States, but as the stats below show, have often outperformed those odds-against prices.
- From 1985 to 2018 inclusive Europe have won 11 times, the US five, with one tie (1989)
- European strike rate in that period was 65%
- In same period Europe have won seven out of nine at home (lost one, tied one)
- In the States they have won four out of eight
So, historically we can see that even away from home, even money is actually the fair price for a European success. They are often priced better than evens at home and we suspect they have been for all four of those victories on the other side of the Atlantic.