The 18 hole layout of golf courses in the modern era evolved from an interesting history, and not all courses back then had 18 holes; some had more, and some had less! Through a series of events and discussions, the existing configuration was established
How Many Holes Does A Regulation Golf Course Have?
The regulation golf course has 18 holes, and usually, this is configured to have four par three or short holes, four par-five or long holes, and ten par-four holes of average distance. Some courses have variations but still have the standard 18 hole layout.
We will take a look at how this typical golf course 18 hole layout for a full round of golf came to be standard and some of the variations that you find in some courses around the world.
Why Are Golf Courses 18 Holes?
Considered the home of golf, the ancient golf club St Andrews (The Old Course) can be accredited with standardizing the existing 18 hole layout of the current golf course for early golf courses. Before 1764, St Andrews had 22 holes for a single round of golf!
With these early golf course there was no standard length, with some having as few as 12 holes and others 20! Comparing your round of golf scores was also impossible as well, especially when considering things like executive golf courses.
If you thought 18 holes was a day out, imagine playing 22 holes! After four of their short holes were combined into two and played in opposite directions and this resulted in the 18 hole layout as we know it today.
The 18 hole format wasn’t immediately adopted as The Prestwick Club that opened in 1851 had 12 holes and was still able to host the first 12 Open Championships in 1860. Perhaps more wives and girlfriends would be less grumpy if the round of golf was only twelve holes!
The switch to the standard 18 hole layout occurred around 1881 when most of the courses sought to copy The Old Course layout, and even the Prestwick Club switched the 18 hole standard round format at that time with longer holes.
Not Every Golf Course Has 18 Holes
Some of the best courses globally, like Royal Worlington & Newfolk in Suffolk, England, and Whitinsville GC in Massachusetts, are fine examples of existing courses with nine holes.
9 hole courses are usually more intimate, less grand, and offer the golfer a unique challenge and a less-is-more approach to the game and the course. Nine-hole courses make golf more of an adventure and offer some creative layouts not seen on regular courses.
The Regular 18 Hole Golf Course Layout
The 18 hole golf course combines holes that offer the player scoring opportunities mixed with holes where the player needs to play with some respect. You will often hear pros talking about the holes they can score on and those that need to be played with less aggression to achieve par, even on the PGA Tour.
The Par Three Holes
Outside of any hazards, the distances from tee to green are often the determining factor and the distances an average player can hit the ball. For example, most par 3’s are accessible in one shot from the tee, offering the player a chance to make birdies.
These shorter holes can, of course, be set up to make the birdie opportunity more difficult. Still, many courses will change the hole positions from round to round to offer some scoring opportunity even at the top level.
With most golf courses having four par-3 holes, the player has two opportunities on each round of 9 holes to shoot par or birdie and, depending on their handicap, improve their scores on both the outbound and inbound sides of the course.
The Par Five Holes
Most golf courses have four par-5 holes as well, and these are longer holes that offer the average player a chance to make the green in three and another opportunity for a birdie. By giving the players a little more distance, the par 5’s bring the scoring opportunity into play.
Watching the long hitters on the PGA hit 500+ yard par 5’s in just two shots is impressive, but in the overall game, this is rare, and most courses for the average member are designed to give them a chance to hit the green in three shots and leave them a look at a birdie.
Most golfers on a standard golf course stand on the tee box of a par 5 and feel excited about that first shot. Hoping to go low and birdie that hole!
The Par Four Holes
These constitute most holes on a regular 18 hole course and vary in difficulty according to their stroke. Some are easier, some are harder, and the player must determine the realistic scoring opportunities offered by the hole design and water hazards, and sand traps.
Number Of Holes VS Course Par
All golf courses have 18 holes or 9 holes, and where the course has nine holes, the player would play the course twice to achieve the same score as an 18 hole course.
There is a difference between the number of holes and the golf course par as some courses have the standard par 72 configurations while others may have par 71, 70, or even 69 depending on the travel distance of each hole and the number of long and short holes in play.
For example, a par 70 course may only have a single par five on each 9, while the standard par 72 course has two par 5’s on each nine-hole section. More often than not, the lesser number of par 5’s is due to space restrictions.
Some courses have five par 3’s as well, which can lead to the course par being less than 70 in some cases, and not only that but there are still some courses that don’t have 18 holes!
Not All Golf Courses Have 18 Holes!
While golf bodies have tried to regulate the 18 hole layout or at least course built in multiples of three, not everyone in the world agrees as in the USA and around the world, there are still courses (some of them high-profile ones) that have 11, 12 or 13 holes or less!
There are four-hole golf courses in France and Austria ( and Vermont at Okemo Valley), while Iceland has a five-hole golf course! There is a ten-hole course in Kukio Golf Club in Hawaii, Gilroy Golf Club in California as 11 holes.
Shiskine Golf Club in Scotland and the Challenge Course at Monarch Dunes in California has 12 holes, and Jack Nicklaus’s private course in Muirfield in Ohio also has 12 holes, and Country Meadows Course near Lake George in NY has 14 holes!
The regular golf course has 18 holes and is usually laid out in the standard par 72 formats, with two 9 hole sections allowing you to have two separate 9 holes to play. But if you travel a lot or are keen to play a few courses with less than 18 holes, it would be a great experience and a challenge like the local nine hole standard course.
And remember that while 18 holes can be tough on a bad day, you can always be thankful that there are only 18 holes and not 22 holes or more to make those bad rounds that much less torturous!