Rumor: Golf courses have 18 holes because 18 shots makes up a bottle of scotch.
Why do full-length golf courses have 18 holes, and not 20, or 10 or an even dozen?
How many of you golfers know the answer to this one?
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.
Now you know. I'll drink to that.
Origins: Although this bit of lore about soused Scots limiting themselves to one slurp at the flask per hole has its charm, it does not have history on its side. The number of holes comprising a standard golf course was not determined by the amount of Scotch in a bottle.
Games similar to golf have been around since Roman times, and golf was being played at Scotland's famed Old Course at St. Andrews, the oldest extant golf course in the world, at least as far back at 1552. (Early Scottish versions of the game were called "golf" even though the game itself was not at that time all it would finally become.) However, golf wasn't always as regulated as it is now: Prior to standardization, early courses typically had any number of holes from five to twenty-four, and only over a long period of time did the game evolve to the point that eighteen became the standard number of holes for courses all over the world.
But couldn't that number still be tied to a hip flask, you say? Not unless the bottle shrank. Originally, the Old Course at St. Andrews had only 12 holes,10 of which were played over the same set of fairways both out and back, for a grand total of 22 holes per round. (That is, two of the holes were played once per round, while the other ten holes were each played twice per round, for a total of 22 holes per round.) In 1764, the Old Course's first four holes were combined into two holes, and from then on a round of golf at St. Andrews consisted of playing the now-standard total of 18 holes.
So there you have it — no drunken Scots at all.
The Story continues.........
Many people have asked why golf courses have eighteen holes.
The early golf courses all had different numbers of holes. Leith Links had 5 holes in 1744 when the Honourable Company, as they would come to be known, held the world's first recorded golf competition and they added 2 holes later. Blackheath followed Leith in having 5 holes and expanding to 7 holes. Bruntsfield Links also had 5 holes at this time, but, because of space, could only expand to 6 holes in 1818. Musselburgh Old Course had 7 holes for many years, added an 8th in 1832 and a 9th in 1870. Montose Links had 7 holes by 1810; 14 holes by 1825; 11 holes by 1849; and 25 holes by 1866, though these were reduced sometime shortly after 1874. St Andrews (Old Course) had 12 holes by 1764, and probably much earlier. The holes were laid out in a line and 10 holes were played twice - once 'out' and once back 'in', making a 'round' of 22 holes. However, in 1764, the golfers decided to combine the first four holes into two, which produced a round of 18 holes, though it was really 10 holes of which 8 were played twice. Therefore, when Prestwick was built in 1851 with only 12 holes, it did not look out of place. By 1857 however, St Andrews had put second holes in the 8 double greens of the Old Course, creating a proper round of 18 holes, and in 1858 the St Andrews club laid down a round of 18 holes for matches between its own members.
The double greens explain the origin of the different coloured flags on the first nine holes from the back nine, as you needed these at St Andrews to tell you to which hole you are playing on the double greens (see picture below). However, this did not include the eighteenth hole, which on the Old Course still has the same white flag as the that of the first nine holes. The adoption of different coloured flags by other courses for the front and back nine holes seems to be a misunderstanding of this situation as the double greens is a problem they did not have
Modern Old Course Holes 8 (near) and 10 (far) on double green In 1867, Old Tom Morris advised Carnoustie when they extended their ten holes to eighteen holes, apparently the second course to do so after St Andrews. Montrose also dates to about this time. In 1810 it had at least 7 holes played as a round of 17 holes. By 1825, there were 14 separate holes, which became 11 holes played as a round of 17 holes, as detailed on a scorecard of 1849. However, by 1866 there were 25 holes, played in a recorded competition in 1866. So it would in theory have been possible to play 18 holes at Montrose at this time. Later, in 1871 the Town Council proposed alterations to the land use, which reduced the playing area ,