They may not have been household names in golf, but Denis Gaffney and John Prendergast became a part of golf history on Saturday as they emerged victorious in The R&A’s first 9-hole championship, held at Royal Troon just days before The Open Championship brings the world’s best players to the course. Come Sunday, each of these hopes to emulate what the two gentlemen from Island Golf Club in Dublin did on Troon’s home green on 9th July.
By staging a 9-hole championship in advance of the Open, The R&A aims to encourage golfers with limited time to spare to consider playing nine holes instead of the conventional eighteen. The event is a welcomed, timely response to last year’s place-of-play survey, conducted by The R&A, which revealed that 60% of those surveyed believed they would enjoy golf more if it took less time.
When announcing the 9-hole championship earlier this year, Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, summarized what could be viewed as golf biggest problem or opportunity. “One of the messages that came through clearly from our survey and Time for Golf conference is that people would play more golf if they could do so in significantly less time.”
Interestingly, the 18-hole round has only been golf’s prevalent form for around 140 years, which is not very long considering golf’s six centuries of recorded history. The Open Championship started on Prestwick’s 12-hole course in 1860, in an era when the idea of a game of golf had no hole count attached to it. Courses throughout Scotland varied in length and number of holes. For example, Leith had five holes, Musselburgh had seven, and Montrose had as many as 25.
The minutes from what may be golf's most significant decision ever made. The 1764 meeting where The R&A decided to shorten The Old Course from 22 holes to 18. Source: Why18holes with kind permission from The R&A
A series of events, which mostly took place in the late 1800s, ultimately lead to the universal standardization of the round of golf. Had these not occurred, golf might still be played on courses with far greater variety in hole counts. This only changed as The R&A, based on The Old Course in St. Andrews, grew more influential and other clubs, new and old, grew interested in copying changes that The R&A believed to be sensible in the case of The Old Course.
The shortening of the course from 22 holes to 18 in 1764, an update of its local rules in 1858, and increased interest among other clubs, new and old, to emulate St. Andrews is the reason why we still strive and struggle to play eighteen holes today. Now, after golf has been introduced to places with far fewer daylight hours and finds itself in an era with vastly different lifestyles, including greater pressures on time and other resources, it is only logical to question golf’s loyalty to the 18-hole round.
The Old Course is the reason why we strive and struggle to play 18 holes today
Now, The R&A has done just that, and has announced that the Troon 9-hole event is to spark a series of similar events to be held in co-operation with the national golf associations in Great Britain and Ireland in 2017. “Nine-hole golf is not new but we feel it is often overlooked as a perfectly valid way to play the sport either with your family and friends or competitively. We will be promoting this format as a way of playing golf in less time which can have wider appeal among people who lead increasingly busy lives today,” said Slumbers.
Remarkably, Saturday’s Troon event was Gaffney and Prendergast’s first 9-hole tournament. The victorious Gaffney remarked: “People will find nine hole golf handy in the evenings and the weekends. Not everybody can play eighteen holes at the weekend with family commitments. It’s great for the game."
Hopefully, this landmark move by The R&A will prove to be an eye-opener for both participants and authorities in golf to develop a product more relevant to the way we live today. The R&A is right. Nine is fine, but a closer study of our game’s history may reveals that golf’s best times may be ahead of us if we seek inspiration deeper into the very roots of the game, from the time when the first Open Championship was played on Prestwick’s twelve.
As explained on why18holes.com, a simple return to golf’s age-old but lost tradition, accepting that each course has its own unique number of holes based entirely on local conditions, would address almost all of golf’s main, current challenges and emerge as the paradigm shift required to unlock golf’s true potential to entertain and contribute, and ultimately change how people think about golf.
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