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The answer to golf’s time troubles? Make it 12 holes

We're constantly told golf takes too long, so if we’re all time starved then reduce the number of holes. But is it really as simple as that?
 

Getting a tee time over the winter has been a pained experience at the links club I’ve just joined. Competition days are packed – 47 teams played a recent four-player team event (do the maths) – and it’s a struggle at this time of year to get everyone round.

One of the ideas floated to find a way through that roadblock was to trial 12-hole competitions for 4BBB and four-player teams for a couple of months at the end of this year.

The logic is simple enough. If you reduce the number of holes in a competition, you free up more daylight and can accommodate more players. The club estimated a further 32 would be able to line up.

No one was proposing to stop anyone from carrying on and getting right round the course. But, if such a scheme ever came into being, only the opening dozen would count for competition purposes.

That set me to thinking, as we sail into this new era of the World Handicap System, why not just make 12 the standard?

If you invented golf today, there’s not a chance you’d devise a format that took as long as five hours to complete – that’s before you even consider the drive to and from the course or any other social aspects.

That golf is even 18 holes at all is pretty arbitrary if you think about the history of the game. Leith Links was a five hole course played twice, Musselburgh Old was originally seven and Prestwick was the perfect dozen.

Think about it. There could be so many advantages if we switched. Yes, we have nine-hole competitions already but don’t you just find them a bit unsatisfactory?

You get into a flow and it’s over before you know it. With 12, if you get off to a bad start there is still time to recover. Golf would take a couple of hours instead of half the day.

Could it open up land for new courses that are too cramped for a full size design?

Could it free up space for existing clubs to diversify and bring in new income streams that could secure their financial status?

Sustainability is the new buzzword in golf. There’s not going to be enough water to go around in the future – ironic given the recent storms, I know – and pesticides will be non-existent.

It’s easier and much more cost effective to maintain 12 than it is to tend to another half dozen.

This will never happen, of course. Given the strop some of us get into at the mention of long socks, can you imagine the noise if the sport seriously moved to ditch 18 holes?

How many of you wouldn’t even countenance the prospect, claiming it wasn’t ‘proper golf’?

Instead, we’ll carry on looking at our watches and worrying whether we can fit a round into our ever hectic schedules.

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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