Ivan Morris Column - Why nine holes can be better than 18

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Ivan Morris reckons that nine-hole golf courses are the way forward.

In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Ivan Morris reckons that nine-hole golf courses are the way forward.

If they can find the energy most working people have no more than two hours per day for leisure. To ensure keeping the wolf from the door, working people are averaging 500-1500 hours per annum more at their employment.

When young parents add the extra 450 hours they spend on their kids’ endless activities, not much is left over for golf. The former US President, Bill Clinton, is firmly in the minority when he says: “I like golf for the very reason the most other people don’t. It takes a long time!”

Almost every recreation under the sun takes two hours or less: movies, going out for dinner, cocktail parties, tennis, football, hurling, rugby, soccer and going to the gym. The ability to get around in two hours, or less, makes playing nine holes extremely attractive. It’s a reasonable amount of time to devote to a pastime during the course of a busy day whereas spending four, or even, five hours might cost you your job or your marriage. The 18-hole round as currently constituted takes up too much time for many people. As lifestyles become more complex there will be an accelerating demand for ‘the two-hour round.’

Some golfers regard playing nine-hole courses as a limited challenge but I’ve spent the last 24 months travelling around Ireland (and New Zealand) enjoying some fantastic nine-hole golf courses. Playing nine holes is less tiring; takes up less time and is less expensive. Less land is required, less maintenance, less fertilizer, less water and the sustainably makes economic and environmental sense.

Some former nine hole jewels that were expanded became less satisfying to play and, more costly to maintain as 18. Annual fees ‘doubled’ without the enjoyment moving in the same ratio. Somewhere along the line, the mistaken notion took off that playing nine holes of golf was not legitimate. Even if you remain a steadfast devotee of 18 holes, surely you will agree half a loaf is better than no bread? As time moves on, I am convinced that the demands for nine-hole golf will be re-kindled. For those who remained as ‘nine,’ it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Even where the game is part of a leisurely, holiday atmosphere the nine-hole green fee will grow in popularity and there is already plenty of evidence.

Of the total of 85 GUI-registered nine-hole courses in Ireland currently, only 34 were in existence prior to 1971. That was when there were 123 nine hole courses and ‘only’ 87 18 holes. It is not that nine-hole courses closed willy-nilly but so many of them were upgraded to 18s. Soon, we may see the trend going in the other direction. Turning an 18-hole course into nine may sound daft - but it is one road to survival, if surviving is the priority. To be more attractive to non-golfers, families, women and schoolchildren, a nine-hole facility with a ‘decent’ practice area will increasingly be seen as ‘viable.’

If golf were invented today it would take account of a two-hour limit. If playing nine holes feels more leisurely and less pressurized why not play nine more often? If golfers played nine holes midweek, they’d be better players when they undertook 18 at the weekend. Playing nine holes is better for your game and confidence than going to the practice ground or the driving range. And, while you are playing a ‘quick nine,’ throw a slim bag over your shoulder with 7 or 8 clubs - it will improve your play and help you to become fitter. With all of those thoughts buzzing around in my mind, I decided to search out and play a selection of the best nine-hole golf courses in Ireland. Two of the biggest surprises to emerge were how good some nine-holes really are and the uneven, geographical breakdown. Some counties have as many as five or six, nine-holes courses but County Limerick has none.

My oddyssey meant I saw parts of Ireland that I had never seen before and played on delightful courses that only a minority of golfers know anything about. Helen’s Bay, just south of Belfast, is the equal of any of the best 18-holers for conditioning. Connemara Isles is situated in the most spectacular setting for golf imaginable. Rush, in north County Dublin, is a pure links that rivals nearby Portmarnock and Baltray. Ross in Killarney has an Amen Corner to match Augusta. Ashford Castle has a highly intricate routing in exquisite surroundings. Castlegregory, 15 miles west of Tralee, was adjudged the best links and Blessington Lakes near Naas the best parkland.

At the conclusion of my travels I was convinced that the time will come when more people will be perfectly satisfied to embrace the nine-hole concept. I feel so strongly about the subject that I wrote a book about it - Ireland’s Best 9-HoleS Golf Courses - it’s full of lively, golf yarns and observations. For the time-being the book may only be purchased from the publisher’s website for the bargain price of €14.95 plus P&P, i.e.: - http://www.bookhubpublishing.com/shop/

Words of the Wise: Too many who play golf are not really interested in it; not interested enough to play any course except where they are a member; not interested enough read a book or magazine. They don’t take lessons or appreciate good play. One wonders why they play the game at all?