I’ll admit, there was a time I was always an 18-or-nothing guy when it came to golf.
I’ve discovered, or maybe rediscovered, the joy of 9-hole rounds—and I’m not alone. The National Golf Foundation recently shared data that showed the percentage of 9-hole rounds is up 15 percent over last year.
The pandemic has reshaped behaviors and led people to rethink where they go and how they spend their free time. This has proven to be good news for golf, which has experienced record-setting surges in play as avid golfers, former golfers, and new golfers opt for a safe, healthy, outdoor activity. Amid uncertain and unprecedented times, golf has provided a valuable mental and physical escape—when you can find a tee time, that is.
My local public course seemingly had a full tee sheet all summer, which meant getting a little creative. I’d occasionally ask to play the back nine first thing in the morning, ahead of the grounds crew and before returning to my home office for work. Most of the greens would still be untouched and covered in dew, but that just meant you could satisfyingly see the putting line if a ball tracked into the hole. I’d slip out in the evening when the summer days were long, squeezing in nine holes after (occasionally instead of) dinner. Sometimes I’d bring my kids and not even get in a full nine. And that was fine.
I joined a friend from college to play in a 9-hole evening league. We had time to get in the second nine after league play, but instead sat on chairs (that we would typically use at our kids’ games) in the parking lot and caught up over a beer or two. And that was also just fine, even if a part of me wondered if I’d have fared better on the back nine.
I looked at my handicap scoring recently and realized that among the 20 most recent scores, eight of them were combo rounds. Which means that my recent 9-hole play had outpaced my 18-hole play by a count of 16 to 12. Indeed, I realized there were weeks that I’d get out for three crack-of-dawn rounds—walking, breathing in the fresh air, clearing the mind, and even mixing in a few good shots here and there.
The NGF noted that core golfers like me (8+ rounds a year) report that 33 percent of their 2020 rounds are of the 9-hole variety. Meanwhile, occasional golfers said almost half (48 percent) of the rounds they’ve been playing recently are nine. It makes sense as those 9-hole twilight rounds are often the perfect opportunity for families to get out to the golf course before or after dinner, or for newcomers to get more comfortable with the game.
The USGA notes that approximately 15 percent of all scores posted for handicap purposes this year are of the 9-hole variety, with the number of posted rounds up about 20 percent year-over-year.
With 18 holes the accepted number for most golfers, it surprises some to learn that wasn’t always the norm. Up until 1974, there were actually more 9-hole golf facilities in the U.S. than those with 18 or more holes. Today, they account for just over a quarter of total U.S. supply, with more than 3,700 9-hole-only courses in total.
Don’t get me wrong, 18 holes is still my preferred option. Heck, if time permits, I’d rather play as many holes as I possibly can.
But what I’ve rediscovered—as have many others—is that nine can be just fine.
Where do you stand on playing nine holes?