Through the years I’ve had the privilege to play many of world’s best golf courses, and it is indeed a spectacular experience. It is exciting to compare famous courses with your home course and with other courses you’ve played. There are even those who travel the world with the sole purpose of collecting green fee tickets or souvenirs from as many “trophy courses” as possible – something to show off hanging from your golf bag or display on your trophy wall at home.
Over time I have become more interested in the golf world that for hundreds of years has lived on in the shadow of the “new” 18-hole standard. The standard was set when the Old Course at St Andrews was shortened from 22 to 18 holes. This happened in 1764, simply due to the fact that it’s easier to maintain four fewer holes. There is no specific date when 18 holes became standard, but in 1858, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews issued new rules for its members. Rule 1 stated: “one round of the Links or 18 holes is reckoned a match unless otherwise stipulated”. That ruling led to a number of courses adapting to 18-hole matches by the 1870s.
However, in spite of the 18-hole rule, nine-hole courses were more common, simply because it was a lot easier to fit in nine holes next to your home town when founding a new club.
Many times during my travels I have played courses with nine or ten good holes that have then been expanded to 18, with the new holes being of a different character and at the same time less interesting. Good examples are Pwllheli and Porthmadog in Wales, both outstanding for nine holes, and then quite mediocre on the other nine.
Scotland and Ireland are teeming with excellent nine-hole courses that tourists never visit. Why is that? Simply because we have been taught that a golf course should have 18 holes, or even 27 or 36.
I live and play most of my rounds in southern Sweden. We only have three “true” links courses that have made it into “The 246 True Links Courses of the World”, the bible of every links golf enthusiast. Two of these, Viken and Ljunghusen Old Course, are nine-hole courses.
Personally, I will always choose a good nine-hole course over a mediocre 18-hole course. This is especially true when traveling to a new course. The pleasure of playing the same course twice, as you do on a nine-hole course to get a full round in, is that you already know the course on the “second” nine. You have a chance to enjoy the game much more.