The Money Ball Golf Format Explained

"Money Ball" is the name of a golf tournament format that starts with teams of four golfers. On each team, one player per hole is the designated "money ball" player, and that player's score will be counted as half the team's score on every hole. The other three players on the team contribute the other half of the team score. But there is often a very big catch in Money Ball: If the golfer who is playing the "money ball" loses it, the team is eliminated from tournament contention.

Before we continue, let's note that Money Ball goes by many different names. One version of it is called Lone Ranger. Devil Ball, along with Money Ball and Lone Ranger, is one of the three most-common names. Other names for this format include Yellow Ball, Pink Ball and Pink Lady. Choker Tournament is yet another name sometimes used.

A Money Ball tournament uses four-person teams (three-person would also work). Let's say our team is comprised of Golfers A, B, C and D. On Hole 1, A is the money ball player; on Hole 2, it's B; then C on Hole 3, D on Hole 4, and back to A on Hole 5. That's the rotation.

Sometimes the money ball itself is one provided by tournament organizers, and one that is marked in some way. Perhaps it is a red ball, yellow ball, pink ball or some other colored ball. Regardless, on each hole, the designated money ball golfer plays that ball.

There are two primary ways to score a Money Ball tournament:

  1. Most commonly, the other three golfers on the team play a scramble, and their scramble score is combined with the money ball player's score to create the team score. For example, let's say on Hole 1 the money ball player, Golfer A, makes a 5. Golfers B, C and D play a scramble on that hole and score 4. So the team score on Hole 1 is a 9.
  2. Alternatively, the other three golfers on each hole can each play their own golf ball, with the best ball among the three counting. So on Hole 1 if the money ball player scores 5, and the other three golfers' scores are 5, 7 and 6, the Team Score is 10 — money ball score (5) plus low ball of the other players (5, in this example).
Now, about that catch: Many Money Ball tournaments include the stipulation that if the designated money ball is lost, that team is eliminated from contention. (The golfers continue playing out the round, they just can't win the Money Ball tournament.) Obviously, if that stipulation is in effect, then the single, most important thing to do is avoid losing the money ball.

In the book Chi Chi's Golf Games You Gotta Play (affiliate link), Chi Chi Rodriguez and his co-author explain how that can affect a team's strategy:

"Look at the scorecard carefully when establishing your team's money ball order. Keep poor players away from water holes, and put your best players on the highest-handicap holes. If it means taking an iron off the tee or even putting a ball 10 times on a par-3 to keep alive, do it. The money ball must live at all times."
Another book, Golf Digest's Complete Book of Golf Betting Games (affiliate link), advises, "The money ball player should never take chances. ... Keep the ball in play and let the rest of your team focus on making a good score to go with the money-ball score."

If the Money Ball tournament is one in which the other three golfers on the team are playing best ball (rather than a scramble), they can play aggressively, chasing birdies, any time the money ball player is in good shape on a hole.

Variations for Money Ball

One variation involves a lost money ball. Instead of eliminating the entire team, only the golfer who loses the money ball is eliminated. The team then continues as a threesome. If a second golfer on the team loses the money ball again, only then is the team eliminated.

Another option in place of eliminating the team: If the money ball is lost, the money ball golfer puts another ball in play (with any appropriate penalty strokes) and completes the hole. That score is then doubled to count as the team score.

There is also this trick: If the money ball player makes birdie or better, then that score is doubled and serves as the team score (unless the team score would otherwise be lower with the normal rules listed above).

In another variation, the money ball serves as a "bonus" competition, a honey pot. The 4-person teams compete using whatever scoring method the tournament is employing. So long as that scoring method involves all four team members playing their own balls into the cup, there can also be a money ball rotation. The money ball score is kept separately, and the team with the lowest money ball score wins a bonus prize.

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