Many people have asked why
golf courses have eighteen holes.
The early golf courses all had different numbers
Leith Links had 5 holes in 1744 when the Honourable Company, as
they would come to be known, held the world's first recorded golf competition
and they added 2 holes later.
Blackheath followed Leith in having 5 holes
and expanding to 7 holes.
Bruntsfield Links also had 5 holes at this time,
but, because of space, could only expand to 6 holes in 1818.
Old Course had 7 holes for many years, added an 8th in 1832 and a 9th in
had 7 holes by 1810; 14 holes by 1825; 11 holes by 1849; and 25 holes
by 1866, though these were reduced sometime shortly after 1874.
St Andrews (Old Course) had 12 holes by 1764, and probably
much earlier. The holes were laid out in a line and
10 holes were played twice - once 'out' and once back 'in', making a
'round' of 22 holes. However, in 1764, the golfers decided to combine the
first four holes into two, which produced a round of 18 holes,
was really 10 holes of which 8 were played twice.
when Prestwick was
built in 1851 with only 12 holes,
it did not look out of place.
By 1857 however, St
Andrews had put second holes in the 8
double greens of the Old Course, creating a
proper round of 18 holes, and in 1858 the
St Andrews club laid down a round of 18 holes for matches between its own
The double greens
the origin of the different coloured flags on the
first nine holes from the back nine, as you needed these at St Andrews to
tell you to which hole you are playing on the double greens
(see picture below). However, this did not include the eighteenth hole, which
on the Old Course still has the same white flag as the that of the first nine holes.
The adoption of different coloured flags by other courses for the front and
back nine holes seems to be a misunderstanding of this situation as the
double greens is a problem they did not have.
Modern Old Course Holes 8 (near) and 10 (far) on double green
In 1867, Old Tom Morris
advised Carnoustie when they extended their ten holes to eighteen holes,
apparently the second course to do so after St Andrews.
Montrose also dates to about
this time. In 1810 it had at least 7 holes played as a round of 17 holes.
By 1825, there were 14 separate holes, which became 11 holes played as a
round of 17 holes, as detailed on a scorecard of 1849. However, by 1866 there
holes, played in a recorded competition in 1866. So it would in theory have
been possible to play 18 holes at Montrose at this time. Later, in 1871 the Town Council proposed
alterations to the land use, which reduced the playing area , though these
developments were not fully implemented until years later. The recompense
they offered was a new golf course, referred to as the New Circular Course
which was officially opened on Saturday 29th September 1888. There is a map, made in 1903, of the 18 hole
course of 1896. This was after further course developments and with
more being planned.
By about 1875,
Old Tom Morris
had, amongst other improvements to bunkers, greens and
fairways, created separate teeing areas at St Andrews, which
produced the present layout.
Many credit Old Tom with the creation of the manicured golf course that we
However, the Old Course, like most
early courses, has the ninth hole as the furthest away from the clubhouse. The first nine are still the 'out' nine, then you turn to play
back 'in'. It was not until well into the twentieth century
that the convention of two circles of nine holes, beginning and ending near
the clubhouse, became fashionable.
From 1872, the British Open golf
championship was held annually in rotation at Prestwick, St Andrews and
Musselburgh, where the three sponsor clubs were based. The contest was over
36 holes and it was, therefore, three rounds when it was held at Prestwick,
two rounds when at St Andrews and four rounds at Musselburgh. The competition
must have created comparison of the courses and the 18 holes at St Andrews
would have seemed the most appropriate.
Thus, in 1882, Prestwick expanded its course to 18
holes and in 1891 when the Honourable Company built Muirfield they created
18 holes in the first year. As they sponsored the Open, the championship
moved with them from Musselburgh to Muirfield. With the three foremost clubs in the world using 18
holes, this set the norm for a golf round.
The Royal and Ancient
Golf Club of St Andrews were given control of the Rules of Golf
in the UK in 1897, and this would have added further
weight to the 18 hole round, although it does not appear to
have been laid down as a 'stipulated round' in the Rules of Golf until 1950.
(It was however the default round for a golf match
from 1933.) As late as 1919, when the Royal and Ancient
took over sole control of running the Open, half
of all the golf courses in Britain were still built as 9-hole courses.
Other early 18 holes course include Gullane which
extended the seven holes it had in 1840 to 15 holes in 1878 and finally to
18 holes in 1884. It was also the first to follow St Andrews in having
three golf courses. The third course at Gullane (Gullane
completed in 1910, a facility St Andrews had
in 1897 though not all the St Andrews' courses were 18 holes until 1905,
when the Jubilee course was extended from 12 to 18 holes.
Therefore the reason why golf
18 holes is partly at
least an accident of history.
More detail of the
development of the Old Course at St Andrews.
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