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Nine hole competitions

Why aren’t we playing more nine-hole competitions at weekends?

It's no secret that time constraints are a factor in the growing popularity of shorter games. Now, writes Steve Carroll, our clubs' main competitions should reflect that
 

I have a daughter who is six. The days of playing every Saturday and Sunday are over. I used to pootle off down to the club first thing each morning and return several hours later – 18-holes in the legs and a pint and a pie in the stomach.

Now golf is becoming a squeeze. I’ll still play a weekend competition, but it requires will and some careful diary planning.

Most of the time I get out in snippets. I’m very lucky my club has a series of accessible loops. It’s easy to play in stretches of either five, nine, or 13 holes and this is mostly how I see my relationship with golf continuing for the foreseeable.

But I’m still competitive and when the busy season gets under way, I’ll look at the calendar and pang if there are events going on and I’m not in them.

I can’t be alone in this. If I can speak selfishly for a moment, if every and now and then a weekend competition was held over a shorter format – say nine holes – I’d have fewer problems dealing with the biggest issue.

Time.

I’d get the best of all worlds. The thrill of a round that still matters, the social company, the exercise, and the bulk of the day for those all-important family commitments.

Yet do many clubs offer a short option on a weekend? If yours is one, please feel free to let me know.

At a former venue, they held a midweek nine-holer once every few weeks, which was fine if you could get down after work. But at peak times? It seems that nothing except a full 18 is acceptable.

Now let me be very clear about this. I am not suggesting we replace 18 holes. It’s still the standard for club golf and always should be. It’s no one else’s fault – certainly not any golf club’s or the rest of the members – that I decided to become a parent.

But it is an undisputed fact that nine-hole golf, and competitive play too, is inexorably on the rise. In England, the number of nine-hole rounds played for handicap purposes more than doubled from 175,000 in 2019 to 407,000 last year.

In Scotland it nearly trebled, with 113,592 rounds that mattered played last year. Impressive increases have also been recorded in Wales and Ireland.

Remember, these were for rounds that counted towards a player’s World Handicap System index. God knows how many golfers nipped out for a quick social nine in the same time span.

Last week, the R&A launched their annual nine-hole challenge, with qualifiers getting the chance to tee it up over the first four and final five holes of the Old Course in St Andrews on the eve of the 150th Open Championship.

I can’t think of a better reason than to hit the course for nine than to try and have a crack at some of the best holes on the Old. But I can’t shake the feeling that, competitively at least, short form golf is largely treated as an afterthought.

Could clubs offer a nine-hole comp on a weekend? One a month, say, wouldn’t have to impact the main calendar but might offer something different from the grind of full course Medal and Stableford every single week.

For those clubs suffering from fastest finger first syndrome, it may also ease some of the pressures around competition booking as shorter games mean more tee slots – particularly as the longer days start to arrive.

I understand players like to get a full round in but must all weekend competitions be over 18? Does there really need to be a load of grumbling if, occasionally, we do something that’s out of the routine?

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of you out there that disagree with me. That’s fine. You can tell me if you see me but, obviously, that won’t be nearly as often as I’d like.

Do you agree? Are more nine-hole competitions the way to go or should we stick with 18 for weekend events? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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