The Joys of 9 Hole Golf
For most people, a conventional round of golf will consist of 18 holes, it's perceived to be the norm, but that certainly isn't a universal standard and variety can easily be found on your doorstep. Across the UK & Ireland, approximately 25% of courses offer nine holes, while there are some eccentric outliers beyond those, such as the celebrated 12-hole Shiskine on the Isle of Arran, and the lesser-known 13 holes of Port Bannatyne on the nearby Isle of Bute.
Historically, it has perennially been an evolving tale. By 1764, the Old Course at St Andrews showcased 22 holes, where golfers would play the same holes going out and back in, but the first four and last four holes were then combined into four longer holes, making for a total of 18. However, spanning generations, that was somewhat unique. When the Open Championship was first played at Prestwick in 1860, the Ayrshire links presented 12 holes, while future venue Musselburgh was (and remains) a nine-holer. Only later would the desire to offer a full 18 become commonplace.
Nonetheless, the shorter form of the game has endured. And it's more popular than ever. BRS Golf by GolfNow reported a stunning rise of nine-hole rounds during 2020, with 3.47 million being booked in the UK & Ireland, up from 1.55 million in 2019 and 1.4 million in 2018, representing a 123% increase year-on-year from 2019 to 2020.
This was attributed to the large number of clubs providing the option to play nine holes, something that was introduced to help accommodate demand throughout the ongoing boom that the game has experienced between lockdowns. Despite those unique circumstances, there could be something visionary about adding this flexibility longer term.
(Bute Golf Club in Scotland)
Before the pandemic, much had been said about busy lifestyles and the time pressures that make it challenging for many to justify four hours (and sometimes more) for a round of golf, a theme that was captured by a previous Golfshake Survey. Perhaps nine holes (or 12 and 13!) are the future.
A spokeswoman from BRS Golf said: “What’s clear from these numbers is that the appetite for a shorter form of golf is growing and clubs not yet offering a nine-hole rate on their courses should consider changing their policy, making golf more accessible for players short on time or looking to squeeze in an evening round as daylight hours lengthen."
Previously, in 2018, The R&A revealed a significant increase in competitive nine hole scores being submitted and launched a campaign featuring the likes of Pádraig Harrington, So-yeon Ryu, Jon Rahm, Charley Hull, Mel Reid, and Richie Ramsay, all sharing their memories of playing nine hole golf.
Although it's a shorter form, nine holes can offer a complete experience, as your correspondent can attest to. Around one fifth of courses in Scotland are nine-holes, and two of them provided an early foundation for this keen golfer.
The wonderfully scenic Bute Golf Club - covered in this feature article - was the perfect environment to develop an early love for the sport. Rugged, quirky, sheer fun. Likewise, Muthill Golf Club near Crieff was a home away from home for several teenage years, offering a test that was refreshingly adaptable courtesy of 18 different tees for the nine holes.
Including the likes of St Fillans and Comrie, Perthshire might be among the finest regions where to embrace nine-hole golf, making the county a magical part of the world to grow up in. Picturesque, enjoyable, and there is always the option to go round again, these layouts have and continue to be an integral part of the ancient game.
In this contemporary era of hectic schedules, it could be their time to shine, but while the question of nine holes becoming even more prominent in the future remains to be answered, they are very much a cherished part of the present.
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