Why Is Golf 18 Holes?
Golf is a game rooted in tradition and etiquette.
New golfers are often left scratching their heads about some of the conventions and rules. One of the biggest questions is: why is a round of golf 18 holes? Confusingly, some courses are half this length, too. How to know which is best?
As with all things golf, there’s a good reason for this - and we'll have to travel back in time to uncover the answer.
Discover the convention behind golf’s gold standard course length and the location of that elusive 19th hole.
Understanding the Story Behind 18 Holes
Back in the day, golf courses were not standardized; the number of holes varied, but they were also not played in a particular order. Some courses had seven or fewer holes.
Often, the holes were played twice to create a game of reasonable length. And it could get confusing because there was also no designated order to play the holes.
The 18-hole course was born at St. Andrews in Scotland and became the gold standard. However, this course had only 12 unique holes, as some were played twice. At one point, the Old Course had 22 holes!
Later, this leading course created 18 unique holes with a designated route illustrated by different colored flags.
There’s a nice story that the origin of 18 holes refers to the number of shots in a bottle of whisky, but this is a myth!
18-hole courses can take a long time to play; golfing commentators often advocate the development of shorter courses for busy lives.
There are 12 and 16-hole courses springing up around the world, and even a 21-hole course in Florida building on a growing trend for odd-numbered courses. However, 18 holes remain the regulation standard.
Golf is a sport where tradition and etiquette act as the essential adhesive. So, it’s unlikely that the 18-hole course will ever give way to shorter (or longer) alternatives.
The Origin of 18 Holes
The concept of the 18-hole golf course is found at the ‘Home of Golf,’ St. Andrews in Scotland. The famous ‘Old Course’ is the origin of the 18-hole standard.
In 1764, golfers at St. Andrews decided to amalgamate the first four short holes into two. There were ten holes in total, with eight of the holes played twice. Add the extra two, and you have the original 18-hole golf course.
In 1856, the R & A Golf Club (Royal & Ancient) decided to renovate their course. It changed to feature 18 unique holes, each with a flag attached. The color of the flags showed the golfers the route to follow.
Where St. Andrews tread, other golf courses followed, but the development was slow, and the 18-hole system only became an established feature in golfing in the early 1900s.
How Long Does It Take To Play 18 Holes?
A good average to work to is fifteen minutes per hole based on four amateur players, so 18 holes will take four to five hours to complete. However, there are many variables. Let’s get into them below.
As a rule, amateur players can take longer to play a hole than more experienced golfers, making the total course time longer.
An accomplished player can complete 18 holes between two and a half hours. An amateur will take three hours or longer.
However, the concept of playing through can speed things up when a group of faster golfers is invited or allowed to pass a slower group.
Social golf can mean a round takes longer – it often depends on chattiness levels and has nothing to do with skill and technique! Keep in mind though, that dawdling on course and not keeping up a good pace is disrespectful to other players.
Experienced players on a familiar course will note how many strokes it has taken to play specific holes in the past. This gives a decent average and a feel of how long the round will take. Relying on a hole-in-one isn’t always realistic!
Play during a busy time, and you’ll inevitably have to wait for certain holes. The only way to avoid this is to change the time of your round.
Busy periods can add an average of five minutes to each tee box before you start the hole. Add that to every hole, and that’s an extra 90 minutes on your round, meaning an 18-hole course can take around six hours to complete.
Strong, gusty winds and wet weather will slow down your game and make the course harder to navigate. Sunny, calm days produce faster course times.
Play solo or with one other person, and you’ll get around quicker than in a group of four. On average, four players will take between four and five hours to play 18 holes.
A flat, open course will be easier and quicker to play than one with undulations and lots of trees. This is where a golfer’s skill level comes into play, too.
Each course has set tee time intervals, which dictate the number of players. Sending players off every six to seven minutes means the round will take longer to play than if groups start around every ten minutes.
Day of the Week
Weekends are the most popular days to play; that certainly stands to reason. If you can play during the week, however, it’s easier to be more efficient with your time.
Time of Day
Play early in the morning or tee off later in the afternoon, and you’ll encounter less traffic on the course.
Save Time – Use a Cart!
Golfing can be all about the walking and the chat between holes, but if you use a cart, you’ll probably save at least an hour on the average 18-hole course. Remember to take the right club with you when leaving the vehicle.
However, always check the track of the cart path, as sometimes it’s nowhere near the hole you want to play. Walking can be surprisingly direct!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Are There Only 18 Holes in Golf?
There aren’t always 18 holes in golf, but this course standard was defined centuries ago by the oldest golf club in the world, and it’s a tradition that endures to this day.
Smaller clubs offer nine holes, which can be extended to a full-length course by just playing round twice.
Why Is It Called 18 Holes?
These courses are referred to in this way because 18 holes is a universal golfing standard worldwide and in competition.
Beginners get confused about references to the 19th hole. There’s no need to search in the woods because this is a tongue-in-cheek name for the clubhouse bar at the end of the round!
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