Nine hole courses. Half the fun or double the enjoyment?

Bernie McGuire

Cruit Island's stunning 6th hole, captured by Kevin Markham

Bernie McGuire

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Nine-hole golf courses. Some will argue they’re only half the fun as it’s all about testing your game over the full 18.

True but some of the best experiences I’ve had in golf have been teeing-up on nine-hole layouts. I learnt how to play the game on a 9-holer in Sydney, and in all my years reporting on this ancient club-and-ball game, I’ve had the pleasure of playing some memorable nine holes.

Though the first nine holes, I wish to feature is not one I’ve played and for reasons that will become obvious.

It is the 9-hole Kabul golf course in war-torn Afghanistan, and probably the most dangerous golf course in the world.  Not only was there the treat of rocket attacks but also coming across unexploded mines while there was a fear of being kidnapped in crossing a road to play three holes, hence the need for a body guard.

The golf club is located about 10 kilometres from the centre of Kabul. It’s not your lush-green tree-lined lay-out but a harsh-looking rudimentary hilly course of nine holes, laid out on desert sand with oil-impregnated greens.

The clubhouse is also not the opulent surrounds we’ve all come to expect.  It’s a ramshackle old building looking much the worse for wear following numerous rocket attacks. Local rules permit the use of a tee or a strip of artificial turf on the fairway that states:  “Pick, dust and place within two-club lengths but not nearer the hole”   There’s a free lift also out of tree holes, ant holes and trenches.

There’s a free drop if your ball comes to rest in a crater.  And we’re not talking a natural crater but those holes left by rockets or tank fire.

However there’s another local rule you won’t find on the scorecard, and has to be also unique to the Kabul Club, and that’s guns of any kind are not allowed on the golf course.

It was at the 2012 organisers of the Dubai Desert Classic arranged for a handful of Kabul Golf Club members to travel to Dubai, so you can imagine their delight in being photographed and proudly wearing their Kabul GC red caps, with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.

Among my favourite nine holes, and in no particular order, is the Old Musselburgh Links course that hosted the Open Championship on six occasions between 1874 and 1889 and produced five Open Champions, who between them captured 11 Open Championships.  The Guinness Book of Records lists Old Musselburgh as the ‘Oldest Golf Course in the World”.

No other golf club including the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews, nor nearby Muirfield or Prestwick or for that matter Royal Troon or Carnoustie can lay claim to having produced so many Major Championship winners.

There’s also a third item of note and that is the famed ‘brassie’ club was invented at Musselburgh.

What a distinction for a nine-hole golf course!

Not only given its history but the course is extra special being laid out in the middle of the Musselburgh racehorse track to the east of Edinburgh.

To the north of the Scottish capital is the very familiar Anstruther course just a handful of miles from my club course at Crail, and with Anstruther boasting, and what I have long said, one of the hardest par-3s in the UK – the fifth hole known as ‘The Rockies’.

In contrast to many 18-holes, every hole is a different challenge at Anstruther and with the 5th a real brute of a par-3, measuring some 237-yards offf the yellow tees.  But that’s not the concern.  It’s having the Firth of Forth to the left, a fairway no wider than the road leading into Anstruther and the green slightly hidden, tucked into the high slope that supports the main body of the golf course. As for the green?  Well, it’s slightly raised, circular-shaped but no wider than about 20-feet.

Staying in Scotland, I’ve headed west to the Outer Hebrides on three or four occasions to play two stunning nine-hole courses in the Isle of Harris course and the ‘it’s hard to find the fairways’ at the Isle of Barra course, and the most westerly course in the UK.

The Isle of Harris overlooks a stunning-looking, golden sand bay that you would find if playing in the Caribbean.  A few years back the club introduced a Harris Open and where the prize is, naturally a Harris Tweet jacket worth around £400. There’s a jacket for men’s stroke and handicap winner and the same for the ladies and with Harris Knitwear taking measurements of each so that in a week or two after the Open champions will be able to show off a made-to-measure Harris Tweed Jacket.

And unlike the restrictions placed on the winner each year of the Masters, the new Isle of Harris Open winners are allowed to wear the jacket anywhere and anytime.  The competition is held in August but given the course is nine-holes, entries are limited to just 80.

Crossing the Irish Sea to Ireland, I really enjoyed teeing-up at Bushfoot, the 9-hole course close to the famed Giants Causeway, and only a short drive from Royal Portrush, and where Darren Clarke has his own parking spot. It’s a really enjoyable but also testing nine-holer.

Then there was the enormous pleasure in also teeing-up at the super Cruit Island GC , a stunning 9-holer in Donegal.

And a course my father was a long-time golf member at the 9-hole Castlecove course, a short drive from the former family home in nothern Sydney.  Though so sadly no longer with us, he and I share a rare golfing achievement as he aced the par-3 second hole at Castlecove the Saturday morning  after his retired from work while I aced the next, the par-3 third early one morning with my brother and two other good friends for company.

There’s a great 9-holer well north of Sydney, and the Palm Beach Golf Club, I will always try to play when home in Sydney as it’s laid out on a sand peninsula between two stunning bodies of water – the Pacific Ocean and Broken Bay.

In talking of the Pacific Ocean there’s a great 9-holer on the opposite side of the Pacific named Pismo Beach Golf Clbu and made famous by Bugs Bunny.  Yes, Bugs Bunny, the legendary rabbit.  Pismo Beach, for anyone who’s watched Bugs Bunny, is where he used to go for this summer holidays. It’s fun 9-holes located north of Los Angeles.

And closer to L.A. is another great 9-holes in suburban Santa Monica, and was put on the map a few years back when Indiana Jones ala Harrison Ford, crash-landed his light plane just over eight years ago in March 2015 onto the Penmar Golf Course.

Ford was flying his bright-yellow vintage 1942 Ryan Aeornautical single-engine plane when it developed engine trouble on his way back to closeby Santa Monica Airport, and honestly just a good drive away. Despite some under-carriage damage, he safely landed the plane that came to rest between two tees boxes at the par three 8th hole.  The plane did clip a tree and with Ford widely praised in not only saving his own life but it could have crashed into houses or roadways.

Luckily for Ford, there was a doctor playing the course who attended to the then 72-year-old famed movie star.

What I did find somewhat disappointing, there is no reference at the club to the accident, no marker or plaque at the spot though, I guess, you really don’t wish to be promoting what could have been a far worst plane crash.

Keeping the 9-hole golf course theme going and can you name a nine-hole golf course played by a golfer who has won 15 majors?  Well, the answer to that question can only be two people and one of them is not Jack Nicklaus.

Our latest 9-hole course feature highlights Jebel Ali or to refer to it by it’s proper name: JA The Resort Golf Course and Tiger Woods played the course on three occasions during his visits to the Hero Dubai Desert Classic. It’s a super nine-holes just on the outskirts of Dubai, in the direction of Abu Dhabi.

Other nine holes I’ve delighted in playing include Bulahdelah GC to the north of Sydney, and where there’s more kangaroos than golfers, the Isle of Skye course and then in crossing over to the Outer Hebrides there’s also Benbecula course while jetting back to the Middle East, I also enjoyed the fun of playing the 9-hole Academy course during those weeks the Qatar Masters was being held at the Doha CC.

I’ve always enjoyed playing 9-hole courses and desire to play more, and feature them here at

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2 responses to “Nine hole courses. Half the fun or double the enjoyment?”

  1. Ivan Morris avatar
    Ivan Morris

    Who you tellin’, Bernie? The Ozzie 9s are fine! I played a privately-designed and built 9-holer in the bush at Ballarat that has only five greens. Brilliantly conceived it was. New Zealand is the best place for 9-holes golf courses but there are ‘dozens’ of good ones in Ireland too.

    1. Bruce Selcraig avatar
      Bruce Selcraig

      Ivan, please tell me your favorite 9-holers in Ireland and any other truly overlooked and completely-unknown-to-Americans courses (9 or 18) that need some journalistic attention. In the West and Northwest would be preferred.
      Cheers, Bruce

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