I'd guess the very first rounds most golfers ever played have one thing in common:
They were nine holes.
It's true in my case, many of my colleagues...and probably yours, too.
Though more is usually better where golf is concerned, there is considerable charm to the "half round," be it a leisurely extended stroll-and-swing or a daylight-racing "emergency nine."
Good news: there are a few thousand nine-hole courses out there, and most of them are publicly accessible.
And though 18-hole snobbery can sometimes be easy to cave to, I prefer to see these courses as half-full, rather than half-empty.
These shorter loops are all well worth your time to experience should you find yourself in the area.
In fact, you may find these nines so nice, you'll want to play them twice (or more):
Les Cheneaux Golf Course - Cedarville, Mich.
Ever wondered what golf courses were like a century ago? You'll get a pretty good idea if you visit Les Cheneaux on the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula. The course is the longest in continuous operation in Michigan, dating to 1898. Bunkering on the course is minimal, with buried and overgrown piles of rocks left over from the construction of the course serving as the main tee-to-green obstacles.
Northport Creek Golf Club - Northport, Mich.
On the other side of the age coin, Northport Creek, located at the northern end of the Leelanau Peninsula, opened in 2014. It has gained fame both for its solid Jerry Matthews-designed layout and its efforts to derive 100% of its electricity from the solar panel arrays stationed on the property. These structures contribute enough electricity to the local grid to offset those needed for the golf course's operations including the irrigation system and the golf carts.
Fenwick Golf Course - Old Saybrook, Conn.
Katherine Hepburn used to live just to the right of the second tee and log dozens of summer rounds on this cozy seaside nine that winds through a charming New England village. Local legend has it that while courting Hepburn, Howard Hughes once made a grand entrance by landing his plane on the ninth fairway.
Hotchkiss School Golf Course - Lakeville, Conn.
New England prep schools are well-known for their opulent amenities, and Hotchkiss' very own nine-hole course fits that bill. Not only that, the course was laid out by C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor collaborator Charles Banks, who taught English at the school in the early 1900s. The course is characterized by a smattering of deep, flat-bottomed bunkers and decidedly Golden-Age green contours.
Sweetens Cove Golf Club - Pittsburg, Tenn.
Few golf courses, much less nine-holers, get written up in the New York Times, but this Tad King/Rob Collins renovation of a long-neglected course has vaulted up top-100 lists and gained a cult following who love its no-frills presentation: just nine fun, strategically fraught holes with heaving green contours, scruffy bunkers and a trailer for a clubhouse.
The Course at Sewanee - Sewanee, Tenn.
University golf courses are common at large institutions, but with fewer than 1,700 undergrads, Sewanee is a rare liberal arts university with its own links, much less one recently redesigned by Olympic Golf Course architect Gil Hanse. It should be noted that Sewanee is just a half hour from Sweetens Cove, and many golfers will play a couple loops at both on the same day.
Castine Golf Club - Castine, Maine
Maine is home to an unexpectedly plentiful roster of old-school golf experiences, many of which can be found in the form of ancient nine-holers along its rocky coast. Castine is a Willie Park, Jr. course that dates to 1921, with a passionate group of members who welcome visitors throughout the summer season.
Thousand Acres Golf Club - Swanton, Mary.
Tucked away in the Cumberland Mountains of far Western Maryland, the name "Thousand Acres" would seem to indicate more than nine holes of golf. But that's all there is: a semi-private little routing by Craig Schreiner that opened in 2010. Not that there needs to be more than that; the course may have just nine holes, but at more than 3,500 yards from the back tees, it gives players all they can handle.
Rising Sun Golf at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch - Emigrant, Mont.
Mountain Sky might fairly be called the Pinehurst of American guest ranches, as it's regarded as one of the best of its kind in the country since it opened in 1929. In 2011, Johnny Miller designed a nine-hole course on the property that enjoys the long-range views and "Big Sky" scenery that draws people to Montana for golf and myriad other outdoor pursuits. Because the course is open only to guests at the ranch, yours will likely be the only group on the course when you play it.
Winter Park Country Club - Winter Park, Fla.
One of the most prominent members of the #munaissance, Winter Park was a sleepy, benignly neglected course in the center of one of Orlando's oldest districts. One Keith Rhebb/Riley Johns renovation later, the 2,400 yard layout is a tough-to-match community amenity for locals that is finding its way onto more and more Orlando visitors' golf itineraries as the good word spreads.
Aetna Springs Golf Course - Pope Valley, Calif.
Tom Doak has earned worldwide acclaim for golf course designs and renovations that evoke the most classic and timeless elements of the game. Aetna Springs is an example of the latter, where Doak gave a historic (it claims to be the oldest course west of the Mississippi) but tired nine-hole golf gem deep in Wine Country some renewed rustic charm. The memorable, short par-3 fourth hole creeps up the base of a canyon to a green perched above a stream.
Wild Wings Golf Club - Woodland, Calif.
You may not be entirely familiar with golf course architect Todd Eckenrode yet, but he is an up-and-coming figure whose credits include the excellent Barona Creek Golf Club outside San Diego and the successful renovation of the course at Quail Lodge near Pebble Beach. He also designed Wild Wings, which is regarded as one of the Sacramento area's best courses - private or public, nine or 18 holes.
Pottawatomie Golf Course - St. Charles, Ill.
This gem west of Chicago is perched on the east bank of the Fox River, which provides both scenery and a hazard on four holes. A Robert Trent Jones, Sr. layout that dates to 1939, Pottawatomie's well-bunkered greens make up for its modest length (3,000 yards, par 35 from the tips). Green fees top out at $20.
Are there any nine-hole golf courses you love? Please tell us about them in the comments below!