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Why Won’t Golfers Make Time for Nine?

Oct 31, 2013

As with many of today’s leisure activities and expenses, people have begun saying no to golf for two main reasons: takes too long and costs too much. But unlike other sports, golf is equipped to instantly adapt to a shorter, cheaper version of itself.

In fact, according to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), more than 4,230 nine-hole golf facilities currently exist. That’s 27 percent of all U.S. golfing facilities. A good start. But can mainstream golfers regularly embrace nine-hole games or will they balk at this obvious solution to today’s societal changes?

The rising activity at nine-hole facilities proves that many golfers just want to play. According to the June issue of Golf Digest, Leigh Bader, who runs Pine Oaks, a nine-hole course in South Easton, Massachusetts, 70 percent of their rounds in 2011 were nine holes compared to just 30 percent in 1998.

The magazine article was part of the new “Time for Nine” campaign launched this summer by Golf Digest in conjunction with the USGA and the PGA of America to motivate golfers — new and old — to not hesitate to play shorter games. With the average leisure activity, from gym workouts to movies, taking two hours, a four-hour round of eighteen holes simply usurps too much of a day to be regularly scheduled. But a two-hour, nine-hole round fits right in.

Most golfers have no qualms about an occasional abbreviated game. According to an NGF poll earlier this year of a nationally representative sample of golfers, three-fourths have already played nine-hole rounds because of the more reasonable time allotment.

Not surprisingly, it’s the older players who hang onto the preference for 18 holes most strongly. But not by much. In golfers 18 to 49 years old, about 77 percent had played nine holes to shorten the time. For golfers 50 and over, the percent drops to around 68 percent. But that could be because they simply have more leisure time.

Yet almost half (46 percent) of golfers surveyed said time constraints from other areas in their life, such as job and family, reduced how often they played golf. And more than half (54 percent) admitted that time was a primary reason they didn’t play more. The same percent (54 percent) reported money as a factor in their decreased tee-offs, meaning there are many golfers holding back from hitting the links when a nine-hole round could be their answer.

When NGF asked the 27 percent of golfers who reported never playing shorter rounds why they hung onto the need for 18 holes, most said that they simply prefer playing longer games. Many also stated that it’s not a golf game unless it’s 18 holes, period.

The surprise to the NGF was how low the percent of nine-round games has risen considering the large percentage of golfers who have reduced their play due to time or money restrictions. The question missing was why these golfers weren’t choosing to play nine when eighteen seemed too much.

The NGF research did reveal that more nine-hole games are being played than most people think — at both stand-alone nine-hole courses and larger facilities. They’re hoping that with the advent of more publicity about the availability of nine-hole rounds as a valid and equally enjoyable option, more courses will jump on the bandwagon to promote incremental nine-hole play, especially via league play, during late afternoons, and whenever golfers can’t fit in their traditional 18. What we know won’t change for golfers is their elation and frustration at the most exacting game out there, no matter the number of greens.