How many holes are there on a golf course?

This is a common question, so don’t be ashamed if you don’t know the answer.

There are typically 18 holes on a golf course.

So, for all practical purposes:

  • if you’re visiting a full size golf course, you should expect it to have 18 holes.
  • If a friend, relative, or significant other is quizzing you, the answer is 18.
  • If the number 18 appears on Jeopardy, the question is “How many holes are there on a golf course?”
  • Etc, etc.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Some smaller golf courses may only have 9 holes, but they may offer multiple sets of tees to play from in order to create an 18 hole experience.




Why 18 holes?

This is where I consult a bit of golf history, so feel free to close this page is history isn’t really your thing (I was a history teacher for six years, so I know that history isn’t for everyone).

According to ScottishGolfHistory.org, the 18 hole course didn’t come into play until about 1764. Before that, there were golf courses that consisted of 5, 7, or even 12 holes.

At some point, the golfers at St. Andrews Course in Scotland combined the first four shorter holes of their course to form two longer holes. Though there are some complicated details I won’t confuse you with, this decision was the precedent for the future standard of 18 holes.

It is worth noting that this standard wasn’t fully adopted until much later. In fact, some courses were still playing with 12 or 22 holes as late as the 1900s.

Misconceptions About the 18 Hole Golf Course

As always, there are rumors and old golfer tales that distort reality, even with a simple question like “How many holes are there on a golf course?”

One of the more common stories is highlighted over at Snopes.com. It goes something like this.

“During a discussion among the club’s membership board at St. Andrews in 1858, one of the members pointed out that it takes exactly 18 shots to polish off a fifth of Scotch. By limiting himself to only one shot of Scotch per hole, the Scot figured a round of golf was finished when the Scotch ran out.”

Although golf and alcohol often go together, the story simply isn’t true.

As referenced above, the original format at St. Andrews was 22 holes of golf per round, so unless the measurements for a fifth of Scotch changed, it’s safe to conclude this is just a cute story.

Do you have other insights to share on this question?

Please post them in the comments below.



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