Why Is Golf 18 Holes? The History Of The Game Explained!

One of the reasons we love the game of golf is its unique history and how it has evolved over the last 500+ years!

How did we get here? It started with sticks & rocks and is now played on TV for millions of dollars.

Why is there 18 holes in golf? Why can you only use a golf tee from the tee box? Why is the legal limit 14 clubs? Who came up with the out-of-bounds rule?

These topics have interesting stories, but today we will focus on “Why is golf 18 holes?”. It seems like a random number, right?

Read on to find out!

why is golf 18 holes? Golf ball in hole and 18th flag

Why Is Golf 18 Holes?

There is a romantic golf legend that answers this question. When golf was being created, a bottle of scotch contained 18 shots of liquor.

Why is golf 18 holes? You can play with one bottle of scotch and take one shot of liquor on each hole. An incredible story, but not the truth!

The real question is less fun but still quite enjoyable.

The truth is that they were all different when golf courses were first built. Some were constructed with less than 18 holes, and others with more.

For example, St. Andrews (“the hole of golf”) originally had 22 holes. It was later cut to 18, and this slowly became the template for new courses.

golf course birds eye view on a sunny day

In the 1800s, it wasn’t unusual for the Open Championship to be played on 12-hole courses. It would take three rounds to hold a 36-hole tournament.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s that all golf courses became 18 holes. There are still exceptions, but this is when it became the standard.

Why Is Golf 18 Holes? Can You Play A Different Number?

The answer is “Yes.” You may play more or less during your trip to the golf course for several reasons.

#1: Executive Or Par 3 Courses

Executive and par three courses are designed to be more casual and play quicker than a full-length course.

golfer putting into hole

Quite often, they are less than 18 holes. The two most famous par 3 courses in the world are “The Cradle” at Pinehurst and “The Preserve” at Bandon Dunes.

The Cradle is a 9-hole par 3 course, and The Preserve has 13 holes.

#2: You Only Have Time For Nine

Most golf courses will allow you to pay for and only play 9 holes, typically the “front 9” of an 18-hole course.

This is perfect when you only have a few hours of free time but still want to play.

The USGA (United States Golf Association) has even kicked off a “Play 9” program to grow the game of golf.

The idea is to make golf accessible for more people by providing resources to help them enjoy the game in less time.

golfer swinging wood club

#3: You Need An “Emergency 9”

Golfers love slang terms; “emergency 9” is a great example. It describes a day when you play 27 holes instead of 18.

Here is how it typically works. You play your round of golf (18 holes) and head to the 19th hole (club bar) to discuss how you played with your buddies.

At some point, one of your buddies says, “I don’t want to go home. Let’s play an emergency 9”. You put your clubs back on the golf carts and return to the course.

Yes, you are still playing an 18-hole golf course, but you end up playing 27!

golfer swinging iron with golf ball flying into the distance

Can You Use A 9-hole Score For Your Golf Handicap?

We have answered the original question, Why is golf 18 holes? But we haven’t discussed using a 9-hole score on your golf handicap.

A golf handicap measures your playing ability and allows you to reasonably complete against players more or less experienced than you.

The USGA (United States Golf Association) recommends you leverage the GHIN system to establish your golf handicap.

It uses the last 20 18-hole scores you shot to determine your playing ability. For example, if you have a 6-handicap, it predicts that you can shoot a 78 on a par 72 golf course.

beautiful golf course on a sunny day

If a 6-handicap wants to play a match versus a 10-handicap, they will have to “give them “4 strokes to make it fair.

Back to the question at the top of this section. Can you use a 9-hole score for your golf handicap?

Yes, here is how it works. You post your 9-hole score, and the GHIN system will save that score until you post another 9-hole score.

It will then combine them to create an 18-hole round.

If you play 9 on Monday and shoot a 42 and then play another nine on Friday, firing a 43, the GHIN system will post an 85.

This 85 will be treated like any other score you post. Did you play the 9-hole rounds on different courses?

golf lady lining up her putt

That’s ok. GHIN will use the course rating and slope of the courses to ensure that the combined 18-hole score has the correct level of difficulty recorded.

We don’t care how many holes you play; we want you to enjoy the game!

Why is golf 18 holes? There is no crazy reason; it simply became the standard over time!

Up Next: Let’s Take A Closer Look At The Golf Handicap System

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Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +2 handicap.

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