The modern game of golf is generally considered to be a Scottish invention. A spokesman for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, one of the oldest Scottish golf organisations, said “Stick and ball games have been around for many centuries, but golf as we know it today, played over 18 holes, clearly originated in Scotland. Why do full-length golf courses have 18 holes, and not 20, or 10 or an even dozen. How many of you Villages 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. 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.
Golf courses have not always had eighteen holes. The St Andrews Links occupy a narrow strip of land along the sea. As early as the 15th century, golfers at St Andrews established a trench through the undulating terrain, playing to holes whose locations were dictated by topography. The course that emerged featured eleven holes, laid out end to end from the clubhouse to the far end of the property. One played the holes out, turned around, and played the holes in, for a total of 22 holes. In 1764, several of the holes were deemed too short, and were therefore combined. The number was thereby reduced from 11 to nine, so that a complete round of the links comprised 18 holes. Due to the status of St Andrews as the golfing capital, all other courses followed suit and the 18 hole course remains the standard to the present day.
The World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida also presents a history of the sport, as does the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in Oakville, Ontario.