Why Does a Golf Course Have 18 Holes

18-hole Golf Course

Have you ever wondered why a golf course has 18 holes? This is the universal format played today at golf courses across the world. But 18 holes wasn’t always the standard. Sometimes golf courses had 12, 23, 15 or any number of holes. So when did 18 become the rule of thumb?

It all started with The Old Course at St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland. The Old Course was made up of 22 holes until 1764, when golfers came to the¬†unanimous decision to combine the first 4 short holes into 2. Thus, they created an 18-hole round. Also, it’s easier to take care of 18 holes than 22!

There is some debate how the decision of 18 holes came about at St. Andrews. By 1754, St. Andrews had 12 holes, 10 of which were played twice. This made for a round of 22 holes in all. William St. Clair of Roslin, who was Captain then, recommended that the layout change. He was the last winner of this configuration so he had some say in the matter.

St. Andrews, October 4, 1764

The Captain and Gentlemen Golfers present are of the opinion that it would be for the improvement of the Links that the four first holes should be converted into two.

William St. Clair

The ‘Captain and Gentlemen Golfers present’ were also known as the Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews. They decided that the first 4 holes, which were also the last 4 holes, should be converted into 2 holes to be played “in the same way as presently marked out,” thus creating an 18-hole golf course. Actually, it was 10 holes, 8 of which were played twice.

By the 1900s, 18 holes had become the standard in golf course design. More and more courses copied the St. Andrews model and then in 1958, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews issued new rules. Rule 1 stated:

One round of the Links, or 18 holes is reckoned a match, unless otherwise stipulated.

Now the 18-hole golf course is central to the game of golf.

There is a lore that a golf course is made up of 18 holes because it takes exactly 18 shots to polish off a fifth of Scotch. Drinking only one shot per hole meant a round of golf was finished when the Scotch ran out. Although this story is amusing, it’s simply not true. The 18-hole course was determined by the members of St. Andrews.

Now you can drink to that.


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