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How many golf holes should you play in a round, 9 or 18?

April 14, 2020

In GOLF’s all-new series That’s Debatable, sponsored by Cisco WebEx, we’re settling some of golf’s most heated disputes. Our writers and editors have been seeded 1-16, battling head-to-head to determine whose takes are most on point.

For most people, golf’s grand introduction came on a 9-hole course. Maybe on a pitch-and-putt, an executive course, or a local nine-holer. The reason why so many of us gain exposure to golf in this way is because shorter courses with fewer holes are more palatable.

But just as you wouldn’t send a first-timer out on a 7,000-yard beast, you probably haven’t returned to play on the courses which served as your introduction to the sport. It’s a paradox that raises an interesting question: how many golf holes is the right amount to play in a round? In today’s edition of That’s Debatable, we found the answer. On the side of nine holes, it’s the 6-seed, GOLF senior writer and noted professional golfer Dylan Dethier. On the side of 18 holes, an 11-seed with an affinity for power fades and a power washers, executive editor Alan Bastable. You can watch their battle in the video above or read their arguments below.

9 holes (Dethier)

  1. Affordability — Playing 9 is cheaper than playing 18 holes!
  2. Accessibility — It’s easier to start off by playing 9 than 18! 18 holes takes forever, it’s intimidating if you’re a beginner … play nine!
  3. Flexibility — You can squeeze in a quick nine in the mornings or the evenings and soak up every minute of it. it’s the best way to maximize limited golf time. 18 holes is restrictive.
  4. Freedom — This is America! You wanna play nine holes? Play nine! Keep going if you want! An argument for nine holes is an argument for whichever number of holes you really want to play.

18 holes (Bastable)

  1. You have an invite to play Pebble, Cypress, Shinny, Pine Valley, National, Sand Hills, Cabot, Bandon, Torrey, Bethpage, Fishers Island … Nine holes sounds good, right? Puh-leaze.
  2. There’s this notion that golfers don’t want to spend four or five hours on a golf course. I can assure you, when you get to my advanced age — with kids, life responsibilities, only so much time left on Earth — you want to milk the absolute most out of every round. Nine holes is a mere appetizer.
  3. The challenge of our great game lies in keeping everything together — your swing, your psyche — for 18 holes. What’s next? Four-and-a-half inning baseball games? Thirteen-mile marathons? A bull fight when the bull enters the arena then promptly retreats back down the tunnel?
  4. Middling golfers — sorry, that’s most of us — play decent golf only in five- or six-hole spurts, and those runs rarely come right out of the gate. We need 18 holes to find our best selves.
  5. Think of all you miss if you quit after nine. The turn. The chance to win back all the skins you lost, or double the skins you’ve already won. The hero shot into the 18th green…

Winner (by judge’s decision)

18 holes! History and normalcy hold weight in our judge’s eyes, as does the value of playing ALL the holes on GOLF’s top 100 courses list. Bastable advances to play the winner of the 8-9 matchup in the “Elite Eight.” Keep it locked on GOLF.com and @GOLF_com on social media to follow along as “That’s Debatable” continues every day at noon!

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