A little over 250 years ago, one of the founding concepts of golf was set in stone – the 18 hole round.
In October 1764, the Society of St Andrews Golfers (today known as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club) decided that the 22 hole Old Course should be reduced to 18 holes. Thus defining what constitutes a round of golf (for better or worse), and for the rest of the world to follow.
But in summary, The Old Course was originally laid out as 22 holes with the same green being used twice (much like the double greens are used today), once on the way out and once on the way in. The course could be played clockwise or anti-clockwise as it is traditionally played today.
In 1764, the members deemed that the first four holes were too short and decided to combine them – effectively eliminating two greens (which were each used twice in a round) and reducing the course to 18 holes.
The influence of the members of the Society was thought to be the reason that other courses began to follow suit and it was enshrined into the rules of golf at some time afterwards as Rule One:
‘One round of the Links, or 18 holes, is reckoned a match, unless otherwise stipulated’
The history of The Old Course is fascinating read and I encourage anyone with any sort of interest in golf to take a peak into the emergence of the game at St Andrews, especially Peter N Lewis’ article “The Lost Holes of St Andrews“.
If you want more, Edwin Roald’s ruminations on the effect the 18-hole decision has had on golf is also a worthy read.