Why Do Golf Courses Have 18 Holes?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Phil Rogers heads out to the links to the very first golf course in America with a full 18 holes to find out the answer.

    Why does golf have 18 holes? Why not a dozen? Or 20? Or 24?

    Truth be known, it used to be all of those.

    Although the basic rules of the game were set up early (even Shakespeare described golf), there was a time when different courses had all kinds of different holes. Of course, that shouldn't come as much of a surprise for a game which dates to the 1500s.

    The big change came in 1764, when the venerable Old Course at St. Andrews cut their 12 holes down to 10, and began playing eight of those holes twice.  Eighteen it was, and in 1857, a full 18 hole course was finally laid out for good.

    As St. Andrews went, so went golf everywhere else.

    And where was the first 18 hole course in America? Downers Grove, Illinois.

    "We know it was an 18 hole course," said Dan Cermak, chief of the Downers Grove Park District. "And we know it was the first 18 hole course in America."

    The course was the brainchild of Chicagoan Charles Blair McDonald. He learned the game at St. Andrews and convinced some friends to help him lay out a course west of town on what had been a sheep farm. The year was 1892.

    "Golf course architecture had yet to be invented, which McDonald went on to do," explained Cermak. "He designed many famous golf courses throughout America."

    After setting up their course in 1892, McDonald said the following year in his autobiography that he laid out an 18 hole course at the Downer's Grove site.  But the course soon became so popular, that he and his colleagues began looking for more room. They chose a 220 acre tract in Wheaton, and marked out what would become the Chicago Golf Club, which to this day is one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the United States.

    Downers Grove Golf Course is still there, still on the same site.  It's nine holes now, but many of those holes are in the exact same layout they were 118 years ago.

    "This is a really important place in golf history in America," Cermak notes. "This is where it all happened. This is where it all started!"

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