The ‘Time for Nine’ Campaign: To Save Golf, Cut the Game in Half

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Some of the golf world’s strongest supporters are doing the unthinkable: They’re encouraging people to play less golf. Well, sort of.

In the June issue of Golf Digest, the editors announce that they are promoting a version of the game that diehard golfers everywhere scoff at: nine holes, rather than the standard 18. Sacrilege? Perhaps. The publication admits that nine holes might normally be viewed as little more than “the unsatisfying consequence of an afternoon thunderstorm.” Nonetheless, Golf Digest is teaming up with U.S. Golf Association and the PGA in endorsing the idea of playing nine holes, via a new “Time for Nine” initiative.

The campaign, which will include a list of nine hole-friendly courses in the U.S. at the Golf Digest website, is basically an acknowledgment that the traditional 18-hole game of golf is a poor fit for the typical American lifestyle today. The movement’s sponsors cite data indicating that modern-day workers spend an average of 500 to 1,400 more hours annually at the office than their parents did. Today’s parents spend over 400 additional hours per year with their kids as well. These realities don’t leave much time for brushing your teeth, let alone a weekly five-hour session of swearing at a tiny white ball that refuses to cooperate.

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As we work more, as social media and other digital distractions take up more of what little free time is left over, and as disposable income has dried up for millions during the Great Recession era, there’s understandably been a falloff in golf. Some numbers provided in an Orlando Sentinel article quantify the trend:

Before the 2007-09 recession, an estimated 30 million Americans over age 6 played golf, according to the National Golf Foundation. But by 2011, that figure had fallen to 25.7 million, and the number of rounds played shrank as well, from about 500 million a year to 463 million.

What really has the golf industry in a panic is the idea that millions of kids who aren’t picking up golf today won’t one day turn into paying golf customers as adults. To save golf, then, the sport’s biggest proponents have issued a King Solomon-like order: Chop the game in half.

For most people, nine holes is less intimidating, more fun, and just plain more doable than 18. “People are used to doing things in smaller packages of time than the old, five-hour golf round,” Golf Digest contributing editor Bob Carney told the Orlando Sentinel. “Everyone has places to go, meetings to go to, places to take their kids to. We’re booked.”

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At most courses, the nine-hole rate is significantly cheaper as well. This wasn’t always the case. “Twenty-five years ago or so, as golf got more popular, golf management thought, Why did we need nine-hole rates?” Joe Goodrich, executive vice president of Billy Casper Golf, which operates 140 golf facilities in the U.S., told Golf Digest. “We’d lost some of that flexibility. We’re getting it back.”

It’s amazing what years of declining business will do for one’s flexibility—and for one’s perspective about how a very traditional game should be played. “We’re trying to help,” the June issue of Golf Digest explains. “We think you’ll play a whole lot more golf if you get with a growing number of golfers who have come to love ‘partial’ rounds. Eighteen is great. But nine is fine.”