Why Does a Golf Course Have 18 Holes?

18 hole golf course aerial view

Golf is a very captivating sport; there is no question about it. If you are like us, you are most likely hooked on it. If there is a PGA Championship match on, you cannot help but glue your eyes onto the TV and watch it for hours on end. If you have a problem with your drive, you watch countless tutorials until you can get the hang of it. When you go to a course to play with friends, time seems to fly, as if only a couple of minutes have passed by. Well, that is what golf means to us.

If you are as curious as we are about all of the nuances of our beloved sport, you may wonder dozens of things. For instance, how to putt correctly, how to make yourself strong and more athletic to withstand the long hours that golf can demand, or even why is it that all of the golf courses of our day have 18 holes each. Is it a coincidence? We don’t think so. Let’s find out why!

The Myths Surrounding the 18 Holes

If you have been around the golf scene for long enough, you must be acquainted with different lore regarding the origins of the 18 holes in golf courses. One of the most well-known tales by many, as with many others in different walks of life, involves alcohol.

It is believed by some that the reason behind all courses having 18 holes is that it (allegedly) takes 18 shots of whiskey to consume a fifth of it. That means that for every hole played, you would need to drink a shot of whiskey. Thus, after 18 holes were played, the bottle would run empty.

As much as we want to believe this is the truth, this is a debunked myth. The actual reason why golf courses now have 18 holes instead of any other number, involves an old golf course from Scotland named The Old Course at St. Andrews, and a story of several changes that forged a route towards the quantity of holes golf courses have in the present day.

A Brief Story About St. Andrews

This is by many what is considered to be the Mecca of modern golf. It was established in 1552 and was able to withstand the passing of time despite the several difficulties it has encountered throughout its lifetime. One of them consisted of being on the verge of bankruptcy in the year 1797. This, combined with the dispute over the land with rabbit farmers (the Town Council had decided to allow rabbit farming there for nearly 25 years to defy the sport's popularity,) made it particularly challenging to keep the place alive.

Luckily, it was saved by fellow golfer James Cheape, who opted to purchase the territory in hopes of saving it for generations to come. Later his brother’s son, also James Cheape, sold it to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in 1893. With the aid of characters such as Daw Anderson and Old Tom Morris, the course regained its course. It wasn't until the New Course was inaugurated in the year 1895 that it changed to its current name of Old Course.

The place’s resilience is not the only attribute why it is so prominent, but also because a total of 29 tournaments (Open Championships) have been played so far, with the first one dating to the year 1879. Also, many renowned clubs such as The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (the precursor of the modern era R&A, a golf organization that decides worldwide rules for golf outside of the USA and Mexico,) St. Andrews Golf Club, and The New Golf Club, to mention a few, have been established around this area.

The place is currently in trust under a Parliamentary act by the St Andrews Link Trust as of 1974, which means that it is open to the public, even though the aforementioned clubs and others also hold playing rights.

Why Do Golf Courses Have 18 Holes?

Now let’s delve right back into the prerogative you’ve been asking yourself about since the beginning of this. Why do golf courses have 18 holes? And why does the Old Course have anything to do with it? Well, our dear reader, here it goes…

This hails back to 1754 when William St. Clair of Roslin, who at the time was the captain of an organization called "The Captain and Gentlemen Golfers" (some type of primitive R&A,) decided to merge the first four holes of the course into two, under the premise that they were too short. This gave origin to the famous 18-hole course. What you may not know is that it first had 22 holes on each round. 10 holes were played twice, except for holes 11 and 22 that were only played once.

After a series of changes that happened throughout several years, the Old Course developed as we know it in current times. What would ensue later is that several other golf courses would accidentally emulate a similar format of 18 holes by happenstance.

Other Courses with 18 Holes

Some of the courses that followed suit were Prestwick in 1881, Jersey Grouville Links in 1883, and Montrose in 1888, among others. Others were directly built into the 18-hole format, like Forfar in 1871 and Kingsdown, in 1880.

Given the power of influence that Royal and Ancient Golf Club had, many other facilities followed this style of course that became a standard in 1933, only to solidify until 1950 when it became a staple stipulated round under the Rules of Golf elaborated in that year.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, golf has a vast heritage of rich history that dates back to hundreds of years ago, when it was a novel game played by a minority of noblemen. Nowadays, people of very distinct backgrounds and life stories share one love: this beautiful sport.

It does not matter your origin. If you are a golfer, at back2basics.golf we have some top training items that you need to quench your golf thirst.

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