Why are there 18 holes on a regulation golf course? Because on Oct. 4, 1764, the Old Course at St. Andrews was shortened from playing a total of 22 holes to 18, and all courses since have followed that dictum.
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So the players in this year's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship are playing under rules set 250 years ago today.
Here's the explanation from the St. Andrews website:
The decision to reduce the world’s most famous Links from 22 to 18 holes was made by the Society of St Andrews Golfers – more commonly known today as the R&A – on October 4, 1764, and would become the standard bearer for courses around the world and championship golf to the present day.
On October 4, 1764, following the Challenge for the Silver Club a meeting took place of the Society, whose minute reads: “The Captain and Gentlemen Golfers present are of the opinion that it would be for the improvement of the Links that the four first holes should be converted into two. -- Wm. St. Clair"
The removal of two holes (four in total going out and back) in subsequent years meant the Old Course would become, around that period, 10 holes, of which eight were played twice
In the decades that followed the Old Course continued to evolve as the Links and surrounding areas developed, from playing the course backwards through to new greens being built and holes so familiar today became mapped out. By the mid-19th Century, the 18-hole format at St Andrews had become the blueprint for golf with new and existing courses across the world all following its 18-hole layout.
Euan Loudon, Chief Executive of St Andrews Links, said: “This important date marks another milestone in the game of golf’s rich history and the special place St Andrews, the Home of Golf, holds for this great game.
“The Society of St Andrews Golfers may not have appreciated the ramifications of the decision they made on October 4 1764 but those individuals and the resultant changes to the Old Course had a huge impact on the way the game would be played forever.
“The records show they took the decision because they sought to improve the Links and that commitment to improving this magical place resonates with everyone here at the Links today.
“Staff across the Links work tirelessly to honour and respect the history of St Andrews and to improve the experience of every golfer coming here, be it the world number one competing this weekend or those securing a cherished tee time in the ballot next week.”
Golf Course architect and historian Edwin Roald is making the trip to St Andrews to celebrate the special anniversary. He said: “It‘s the Old Lady‘s 250th birthday, so to speak, and it is very fitting that many of the world‘s best golfers are gathered to honour her on the big day. I myself am delighted to be one of so many great guests.”
According to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club website, the idea of having two holes on the same green wasn't explored until 1832. Along with separate teeing grounds and wider fairways, the idea of playing in a "loop" was created -- although the course was played both clockwise and counter-clockwise until the 1870s.
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To give you some reference to the time frame involved in the 1764 decision, it would be another 12 years before the United States declared independence from England. But since "golf" had been played on the Links in some form or fashion since sometime in the 1200s, according to St. Andrews' records, it was almost 500 years before the Society settled on an official "regulation" course.