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Are Golfers Making Time for Nine?

With time and money cited as two of the most common reasons for playing less golf, could encouraging 9-hole rounds make a positive impact on the game?  Some of the more prominent entities in the industry believe it can, and they may be on to something.

To understand if 9-hole play is a viable means to increasing golf consumption, let’s first look at the availability of 9-hole golf and its cost compared to that of 18-hole golf.  By NGF’s count, there are more than 4,230 9-hole golf facilities.  This represents 27% of total facilities.  The average rack rate (peak season weekend greens fee w/golf car if required) for 9-hole facilities (to play 9 holes) is $23 versus $52 for 18-hole facilities (to play 18 holes.)  NGF does not track the 9-hole rate (if offered) by facilities with 18 or more holes.The data tells us that 9-hole golf is readily available and costs about half as much to play…but how many golfers will play an abbreviated round?

Earlier this year NGF collected attitudinal and behavioral information regarding 9-hole golf from a nationally representative sample of golfers.  Overall, roughly three out of four golfers told us they sometimes play 9-hole rounds to shorten the amount of time it takes to play.  Only 5% of golfers tell us they play only 9-hole rounds. 

We also looked into how cost and time affect how often golfers play.  Here’s what we found:

How does the cost of golf affect how often you play?

  • Has little impact – I can find the money to play (46%)
  • I play less than I would because of the cost (37%)
  • I play significantly less because of the cost (17%)

How do time constraints in your life (job/family/other) affect how often you play golf?

  • Has little impact – I can find the time to play (46%)
  • I play less than I would because of my time constraints (35%)
  • I play significantly less because of my time constraints (19%)

We found that just over half of golfers (54%) report that time constraints negatively impact their frequency of play.  Coincidentally, 54% of golfers also reported that money constraints negatively impact frequency of play.  When measured together, 72% of golfers play less frequently due to time constraints, money constraints, or both.Only 28% of golfers tell us their frequency of play is not affected very much by either.

We asked the 27% of golfers who don’t play 9-hole rounds why they do not.  Most mentioned that they just prefer playing 18-hole rounds. Many simply see golf as an 18-hole game, and that 9holes just isn’t enough.

Our research reveals that there is more 9-hole golf being played – at both stand-alone 9-hole courses and larger facilities - than most people think.  But given the large number of golfers whose golf frequency is reduced because of time and/or money, we’re surprised that even more 9-hole golf is not being played.  Old perceptions of golf as an 18-hole game may be partly to blame, but there may be more to it than that. 

Perhaps campaigns by national organizations promoting 9-hole rounds can help overcome some of the aversion golfers have towards shorter rounds.  Golf courses and businesses at the local level can probably make even more of a difference, and reap immediate rewards, by promoting incremental 9-hole play, especially via league play, during late afternoons, and whenever golfers can’t fit in their traditional 18.

Featured Report
Will Baby Boomers Go Bust?

Over the next 10-15 years, about 76 million baby boomers will enter their retirement years.  While hopes are high for a boom in the golf industry, golf courses and golf businesses should curb their expectations because this generation of retirees may not be golfing as much as their predecessors.

Published by VCT