Why is golf played over 18 holes and not a even number like twenty?
#119808. Asked by lardeda. (Jan 06 11 7:16 PM)
Seems like it was an accident of history:|
The early golf courses all had different numbers of holes. 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. Musselburgh Old Course had 7 holes for many years, added an 8th in 1832 and a 9th in 1870. Montose Links 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, though it was really 10 holes of which 8 were played twice. Therefore, 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 members. The double greens explain 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.
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 were 25 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 see today. 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 3) was 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 courses are 18 holes is partly at least an accident of history.
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