The vast majority of golfers today consider golf as an 18-hole game, but it hasn’t always been that way and, as Bob Dylan said, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Less than 30 years ago, nine-hole courses in America were very common and there was no stigma attached to that number. The nine-hole round of golf was as common as a slice into the woods off the tee.

The History

As golf boomed late in the 20th century and especially when real estate golf course developments started popping up everywhere, the great majority of new courses were 18 holes. Since golf was going through a boom era at the time, the 18-hole round was granted an unofficial status as “real” golf. As courses got bigger and longer, the 5-hour round started to become the norm.

Since golf started its decline, a lot of attitudes are being re-examined. With time and expense being the two biggest complaints about golf, it has finally started to sink in that returning to the 9-hole round might be a better alternative than destroying golf as we know it.

Messages like this come across my desk on a regular basis now from the USGA and from fellow PGA Members:

“Five-hour plus rounds of golf are incompatible with the compressed time that many of us have available for recreational activities,” said USGA President Glen D. Nager. “Time for Nine is a fun and creative start to promoting the nine-hole round of golf as a complete and enjoyable experience that is consistent with the traditions of playing the game.”

“The trend at our 27-hole municipal facility, as with many others, is an increase in the demand for nine-hole rounds. In 2013, the USGA and PGA of America began to support the “Time for Nine” program. Today’s golfers are under all sorts of constraints, such as time, funds and difficulty of the game. So we saw an opportunity to establish our own program: “9 Holes in 90 Minutes.” Using the promotional mantra of “Fast, Affordable and Fun,” we developed a very reasonable rate of $20, which included a golf cart and green fee. Utilizing the program on weekdays only at first, it immediately became apparent that it would be beneficial to offer this platform on weekends as well. By capitalizing on this endeavor and using nine holes that were previously underutilized, we were able to capture a significant amount of new players, as well as revenue. “

The USGA even made a change in the rules governing handicaps making 9-hole handicaps legal. Prior to that, two 9-hole rounds were combined to make an 18-hole score.

Golf Digest is planning to create a list of 9-hole courses that focus on promoting 9-hole rounds for men, women, juniors, and families on layouts that make it easy to do so. The following are quotes and statements made by industry leaders:

“We’re not trying to get everyone who plays 18 holes to play nine holes instead,” Jerry Tarde, Golf Digest’s chairman and editor in chief, said. “We’re after the people who aren’t playing because they think golf is a half-day proposition, which it isn’t. The message is that nine-hole golf is legitimate golf. It is not half golf or kids’ golf.”

“Every other recreation, it seems, takes more or less two hours: movies, dinner, cocktail parties, tennis, bowling, going to the gym. If golf were invented today, it would be a nine-hole game.”

“As an industry, we must work to promote the nine-hole round as a complete and enjoyable golf experience, consistent with the traditions of playing the game,” Glen D. Nager, the president of the United States Golf Association, said.

To be clear, nobody is trying to make the 18-hole round of golf go away. There is just a concerted effort to bring back the 9-hole round as a faster and cheaper alternative. A half but complete round of 9 hole golf may be much more fulfilling than an inadequate 18.

Pros of 9 Holes and 18 Holes

In case you aren’t fortunate enough to use golf to network during business hours, 9 holes can be snuck in after work especially if it is during Daylight Saving Time, the sun sets after 7:00 PM. 9 holes may be a better alternative for older golfers, it allows players to exert their energy over 9 than 18.

An argument for 18 holes is that the round is over way too quickly. The fun is shortened, particularly for those who have only played 18 holes in their experiences. For those who take some time to get into a groove, the longer game may be a better fit. Warming up may take a while for some players. For some, the more golf, the better!

One other thing to keep in mind when it comes to time utilization, a 9-hole practice round will help you learn to play golf better and faster than two hours of pounding balls on the range. Even if you master a technique on the range, how many dead flat lies do you get on the course. The range experience simply can’t duplicate real course conditions. In the end, it is truly dependent on the player. Golf is a game of patience, leisure, skill, fun, frustration and integrity, keep it that way.