Many golf enthusiasts often ask why golf courses have 18 holes. The truth is that it’s not always been so. Golf courses had different numbers of holes and were not played in any defined order in the past. However, 18 holes have become the standard, leading more people to ask why a golf course would have 18 holes. Here’s a detailed article to explain it.
So, why is golf 18 holes? The story of why golf is 18 holes dates back to 1764 when golfers at St Andrew decided to combine the first four short holes into two, producing a total round of 18 holes. Although it still had 10 holes, with 8 of the holes played twice, it would mark the beginning of 18 holes in golf. 100 year later, other courses began to adopt the 18-hole system as copycats.
Despite adopting the 18-hole system in many courses after the St Andrews decision, it didn’t become a standard for golf courses until the early 1900s.
Today, we’ve seen more experimentation in the size and shape of golf courses, often driven by the desire to provide shorter, faster alternatives for golfers. Both 12 and 6-hole courses are springing up in different parts of the world. But 18 holes remain in the regulation rounds.
Before 18 Holes
The game of golf didn’t have any standards regarding the number of holes to be played per round. Before the standardization of the 18 holes system, different courses had different numbers of holes. Some courses had 15 homes, some had 7, and some less. Even the Old Course at St. Andrew in Scotland, which was the first course to have 18 holes, originally had 12 holes.
However, this variation meant that golfers had to play many holes twice on many of the courses, making the total number more than 18 holes. Confusing right? It was the same for many people at that time, which was part of what necessitated the change.
The Rule Change
Until today, most golf legends regard the Old Course at St. Andrew’s as the home of golf because it was the venue of the first recognized golf event in the 1400s.
However, it was until 1764 that the golf course owners (The Royal and Ancient Golf Club) decided to shorten the 22-hole course to 18 holes to improve the links.
This golf club is still active to date as the oldest golf club globally. The history of this club, as well as its records, made them prominent leaders in golf. So, it’s not surprising that many golf courses soon followed suit in adopting the 18-hole system. However, with the adoption of this system, the course still maintained 12 unique holes.
Constructing The 18-Hole Golf Course
But in 1856, the R&A golf club decided to take the 18-hole system to another level by renovating their golf course. Parts of the renovation included adding holes and replacing the putting greens. Each hole had a flag attached to it, and the colors of these flags showed golfers which hole they should aim for. This would become the beginning of the use of unique 18 holes in courses.
Of course, the hole arrangements meant that multiple holes shared the same green. Some examples of such holes are 6 and 12, 7 and 11, along with 8 and 19.
As we’ve stated before, the R&A golf club had such a tremendous influence over the golf world that other clubs copied the construction of the 18-hole course.
Will Golf Always Be 18 Holes?
This is one question that we now always see in golf forums. While it may seem like several golf rules and playing patterns change from time to time, we think the 18-hole standard may never change. Its connection to the game’s history and the general acceptability it enjoys are among the reasons it may never change.
However, we’ve seen several golfers raise interesting arguments on the need to change the trend. One of the main arguments that springs up almost every time are the fact that people’s lives are becoming busier and busier. As such, the time invested in playing 18 holes is becoming less feasible since it eats into the time set for other activities.
But, a nine-hole round is too short and would be unsatisfactory to most golfers.
Therefore, proponents of change are proposing that a compromise be found between 9 and 18 holes. It remains to be seen whether the number would become a standard or vary from course to course. We don’t see the likelihood of this ever happening. If anything, we sometimes wish there were more holes than the 18 we already enjoy (although, even that doesn’t look feasible).
Regardless, you can research shorter courses and opt for them if fewer holes work best for you.
How Long Does it Take To Golf 18 Holes?
If you’re an amateur or just starting out in golf, this is one question you’ll often think about. The truth is that the time varies. Although it’s generally believed that an 18-hole round would be an enjoyable time, irrespective of who you are playing with, we still think it shouldn’t be an all-day venture.
So, you should expect a reasonable pace of play on the course. Here, look at some factors that may influence the amount of time it would take to play 18 holes.
When playing on a standard golf course, it would usually take 15 minutes for a group of four amateurs to complete a golf course. Calculate it, and you’ll see that it’ll take anywhere between 4 hours to 4.5 hours for the same number of golfers to complete an 18-hole round.
2. Course traffic
This is one factor that significantly impacts the length of time it’ll take to finish your holes. Unfortunately, there’s little you can do to control it.
Depending on how busy a course is, you may need to wait for up to five minutes or more on each tee box before you start the hole. Add that to the average time (10-15 minutes) it takes to complete each hole, and you’ll see that a round can last for up to 6 hours.
Remember, traffic is out of your control, but you can take steps to avoid habitually overcrowded courses.
3. Interval between tee times
Before booking your tee time, we recommend finding out the facility’s tee time intervals. If the course sends foursome off every six or seven minutes on weekends and there’s a full tee sheet, you can rest assured it’ll be a very long round.
However, if the facility typically spaces groups out every 10-12 minutes, then you can be guaranteed a more enjoyable time. Inquire about all these from the pro shop before booking.
4. Day of the week
Like most other sports, people prefer to play golf on weekends. So it should be no surprise that traffic is higher on weekends. If you do not want to spend too much time on the course, a good option would be to manipulate your time so you can play on weekdays.
5. Time of the day
Apart from weekdays, time matters too when it comes to playing golf. Courses experience more traffic at certain times and less at others. If you fancy finishing on time, you must research what time your choice course experiences less traffic. In general, we found that most golf courses get more traffic between 7 AM and about mid-afternoon.
So, if you’re comfortable with putting your tee time off until late in the afternoon, do it. However, it may mean struggling with the darkness of the mid-evening sometimes.
6. Group size
Usually, people expect to spend between 4 to 4.5 hours on a foursome. Smaller groups should expect their rounds to be slightly quicker. If you’re playing in a twosome or threesome, your game will last between three to four hours.
Single players would usually play as fast as the players in front allowed. We’ve seen situations where single players finish their rounds in less than two hours.
7. Riding vs. Walking
Definitely, this would affect the pace of your game. Players that use golf carts can reach and play their balls more quicker than walking players. So, it’s easy to assume that a riding round would take less time.
However, this is untrue for course conditions that are cart paths only. Here, your riding can sometimes be longer. For instance, if the cart path is on the right side of a hole and your ball is on the left, you’ll need to walk up to 50 yards or more to your ball’s position and another 50 yards back to your cart.
If you forgot a club you need in the cart, you’ll need to duplicate the walk to get it, and you know how stressful that can be.
Recap: Why Golf is 18 Holes
To wrap this up, the idea of having 18 holes in golf courses is a universal format that has been adopted around the world. 18 holes have not always been the standard. At some point, different courses had random numbers such as 12, 15, and 23.
However, we’ve seen how the idea of 18 holes was birthed in 1764 and how golf courses gradually moved from what they practiced to the 18-hole system that eventually became a standard.
Now that you know everything about how the 18-hole system started, we hope you drink to the information and smash the rounds next time you’re out on the course.