Skip to Content

Why Golf Courses Have 18 Holes

Many golf players do not doubt the meaning of the most friendly 19th hole in golf. We deliberate which clubs we should use, even why we play with white golf balls and make sure our kit and attire meet golfing criteria. The 18 holes of a golf course are also synonymous with this age-old sport. But do we know why golf courses have 18 holes? 

Golf courses have 18 holes as developed by St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1764. The Old Course originally had 12 holes. Ten were played twice, making a round of 22. However, golfers improved the course by changing the first four holes into two (as they were too short), creating today’s 18-hole course.

The history of golf started with planning the first golf course; designing the course from the tee, and the hole was originally a continuous loop.

A golf course. Why Do Golf Courses Have 18 Holes?

Let’s see how a landmark decision to make an 18-hole course almost three centuries ago has become the standard.

The 18 Holes On A Golf Course Are Traditional

Much about golf quickly boils down to tradition. Tradition appears self-evident as this sport’s association as one of the world’s top sports. It is also a sport played for more than five hundred years.

The modern game’s early history is located in a single spot, the prestigious St. Andrews Links. It’s as if the atmosphere there has rubbed off on the game of golf too.

Golf courses have 18 holes which is the standard for courses. The number of holes defines the course’s length and the distance played, which is significant in calculating golfers’ handicaps. The first course dates back to the 18th century and remains the blueprint for the 18 holes courses.

The number of holes that make up a golf course is regarded as the course’s degree of difficulty. Before the 18-hole course became accepted as the norm for all future courses over 300 years ago, golf courses were not standardized. These courses often had nine or twenty-two holes.

Read more: How Many Holes In a Golf Course?

Once the number became standardized on 18, there was consensus on the number of holes, and most courses worldwide now have either 9 holes or 18 holes.

The First Course Fixed The Layout Of Future Ones

When the first 18-hole course was laid out, it was regarded as the turning point in the history of a golf course and that of modern golf. The development happened at St. Andrews Links golf course in Scotland. The decision was based on the size of the original course there, the Old Course.

The decision to turn the Old Course at St. Andrews into an 18-hole course was taken in 1764. The idea was to shorten the original golf course by removing four holes. The original course had 22 holes.

The course development was part of the Society of St. Andrews Golfers (much later Royal and Ancient Golf Club – RAGC). The Society of St. Andrews Golfers was an affiliation between members who oversaw the development of golf courses and established rules and regulations that are still in place worldwide.

St Andrews Old Course, Scotland. View of course and clubhouse.
St. Andrews Old Course

The shortening was to happen: the four shorter holes in the original course were consolidated to make up two longer holes.

At that early stage, a round of golf was made up of 22 holes. The Old Course had 12 holes on its course, and a golfer played ten holes twice in a round, making it a 22-hole round. The golfers started along the coastline and played 12 holes. On the return, golfers then headed back or in to play a further 10 holes.

However, the course layout was disputed – the distance between the holes and tees. The Society of St. Andrews Golfers relooked the number of holes, especially the first four. They decided that these four were too short and would be made into two longer-distance holes.

Consolidating these four shorter holes into two longer ones set the groundwork or blueprint for the standard 18-hole golf course, which is now used worldwide.

No course’s design is arbitrary. All courses are carefully planned. Almost 300 years ago, what was decided then still influences the layout of a golf course.

How The First 18 Hole Golf Course Worked

When the first golf courses were laid out with 18 holes, there was already consensus amongst the golfing fraternity following what was decided at St. Andrews’ Links. The decision on the number of holes, not the shape of the Old Course at St. Andrews, soon became regarded as the prototype for all 18-hole courses.

Though the St. Andrews Old Course was designed as a long loop, this was not the case for all subsequent courses. The St. Andrews Old Course started at the clubhouse and ended there.

The clubhouse is also the proverbial 19th hole or pub and prize part of any course. Originally the 19th hole was a betting one, one player playing another at a final hole.

St Andrews Clubhouse
St. Andrews Clubhouse

In the original planning of the 18-hole golf course at St. Andrews’ Old Course, the first section of the loop with nine holes was described as heading out or away from the clubhouse. Also, the return course, also 9 holes, was known as heading back to the clubhouse or simply in.

What was also taken into account with designing 18 hole courses was to keep the course as compact as possible. The design took into account where the tee stood and where the green or hole was. The shorter the distance from the tee to the hole, the greater the course’s playing benefit.

Since the landmark decision to consolidate four shorter holes of the 22-hole course into two longer ones, 18-hole golf has been established worldwide. Though the settings may differ, the number of holes is fixed on 18 and 9 holes. The most traditional golf course is an 18-hole course.

Do you want to know how many golf courses there are worldwide? Check out this article to find out, How Many Golf Courses In The World?

Controversies Over 18 Holes For A Golf Course

The golf course layout has the clubhouse at the center, which means nine holes are going out or away from the clubhouse. Golfers from there will be playing to the furthest point of the property where the golf course is established. At the furthest point, there’s hole number 9.

The layout of a golf course follows a specific plan, which determines the game. The best evidence of the earliest thinking on a golf course design is still used on the golfing scorecards.

The terms ‘out’ and ‘in’ or ‘out’ and ‘back’ refer to the golfers’ route. Out is away from the clubhouse, and in signifies the return to the clubhouse.

In the beginning, an 18 holes course was not uniformly accepted. It was only much later that the 18 holes became an accepted standard. Of course, it’s hard to think that the number of holes for a round of golf was not 18 holes then as it is so commonplace today.

St Andrews Old Course, Scotland. View of course in front of clubhouse.
The Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland

Some of the early controversies were those at Prestwick golf club (host course to many a British Open Championship), which in 1851 had 12 holes.

As tournaments were based on 36 holes, golfers had to play three rounds to make up 36 holes. At St. Andrews, these tournaments in 1873 had two rounds of 18-holes, each making up the 36 holes.

Interestingly, 12 and 18-hole courses and 9-hole courses could make up the 36 holes played in tournaments.

Eventually, in 1881, Prestwick golf club added six holes to their original course to have an 18-hole course. St. Andrews 18 holes course was a standard and influenced the design, layout, and actual number of holes per course.

“Another example is the club I currently play at. It opened in 1913 with 9 holes and was soon extended to 12.”

Golf Educate

But only in the 1960s, when a local farmer decided to move into the construction business and sell off parts of his land, was it able to extend to 18.

This led to a re-jig of the holes. The 1st became the seventh, the 2nd the eighth, and so on as the newly acquired land was better positioned to become the new six holes and create a better loop back to the clubhouse.

Let’s Wrap This Up!

So now you know why golf courses have 18 holes. Deciding on the number of holes to play at St. Andrews was the key to establishing the modern game of golf. It had not always been straightforward, though. It’s easy to take for granted that playing a round of golf was always 18 holes.

However, much deliberation and decisions have been taken to arrive at this uniform number of 18 holes for a golf course. It took decades in some cases, but for more than 300 years now, the 18 holes golf course has been standard.

About Post Author