9 Hole Challenge

Old Course Joy for New Zealand and Australian Pairs

Golfers from New Zealand and Australia travelled across the world to experience the magic of the Old Course and the joy of nine-hole golf on the eve of The 150th Open.

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The R&A
29 Jul 22
3 mins
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Ann Campbell and Shane Ritchie from Golf Australia and New Zealand Golf pair Judy Toovey and Peter Tremain were among 40 qualifiers to seal their place in the R&A 9 Hole Challenge in St Andrews.

A record 91,000 golfers entered nine-hole qualifying events held at courses throughout Great Britain and Ireland, Australia and New Zealand for the chance to reach the showpiece final of the popular annual championship, first played in 2016. Twenty team pairings enjoyed the experience of a lifetime by competing in Stableford format over holes 1–4 and 14–18 of the famed links and savouring the atmosphere in front of The 150th Open grandstands.

Amazing experience

While the husband and wife duo Robert and Elizabeth Culley from English club Ivinghoe in Buckinghamshire claimed success, it was also a day to savour for those who travelled from the other side of the world. New Zealand duo Toovey and Tremain visited St Andrews for the first time yet quickly acclimatized to finish third on 35 points, just a point behind the winning team. Having come through qualifying at Millbrook in their homeland, the pair formed a formidable team. “It was amazing, just unbelievable,” said Toovey. “To think that I was at St Andrews playing golf it was a really wonderful experience. The nerves for me were teeing off on the 18th as there were a lot of people clapping, it was quite surreal really. It was just the most amazing thing to play St Andrews and I know everyone is going to be envious when we I get home.” Toovey, 72, brought her husband Dennis on the trip, while Tremain, 25, was supported by brother, Tom. “It was a pretty incredible experience, especially flying all the way from New Zealand,” added Tremain. “I was nervous on the first tee. It was pretty awesome walking up, seeing the grandstands, as it was pretty imposing even without the crowds.  “It was incredible at the Road Hole, driving it past the (Old Course) Hotel. It was such a good prize.”
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Ann Campbell and Shane Ritchie from Golf Australia hit the opening tee shot of the 9 Hole Challenge Final at the Old Course.

Nine-hole growth

Nine-hole golf has seen a surge in popularity in the last two years, aided by the Covid-19 pandemic when golf could be safely played in some countries for mental and physical health benefits, plus the ease of the new World Handicap System to submit scores. In New Zealand, nine-hole rounds played increased from 252,412 in 2018-19 to 341,534 in 2020-21 as part of a ‘Make Time Play 9’ initiative. “I love playing nine-hole golf,” added Toovey, the 28-handicapper who was continuing her visit with a trip to Ireland too. “At our club, we have 120 nine-hole ladies who play. “We made it to St Andrews – just because I played nine-golf. It’s unbelievable. I enjoyed the whole course. It was just incredible to look around and be at a venue people talk about all the time.” Tremain, who plays off 20, said, “Nine-hole golf has exploded in New Zealand, especially in the last few years. It’s great for playing with your mates after work, nipping out at night especially in the summer and having a good time.”

Oz-some trip

For Campbell and Ritchie from Australia, they also came through a national final to reach St Andrews – and found their countryman Adam Scott practicing near to them as he prepared for The Open. They also had to control their nerves, being the first group to tee off in the 9 Hole Challenge Final. Ritchie, who was also making his first trip to St Andrews and said, “It was nerve wracking being the first group to tee off. I had to keep my composure but luckily enough I got a good drive off – both of us did! Coming over, I said ‘I just don’t want to tee off first’ and then the draw came out! “It was awesome visiting St Andrews for the first time. Even before the golf, walking around the town and seeing the history was fantastic. It’s been mind-blowing to have this experience after qualifying.” The prize also included two nights’ accommodation in the Rusacks St Andrews Hotel, dinner in The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and a tour of The R&A World Golf Museum.  Campbell, making her second trip to Scotland after previously attending the Military Tattoo in Edinburgh, added, “I was blown away by the history and the detail at the Museum. Overall, it was a great experience.” In Australia, the shorter form of the sport is also on the rise with nine-hole round data experiencing 20% growth with more than 517,000 rounds played in 2020-21. Campbell continued, “I do enjoy nine-hole golf. It’s a great opportunity to get out there and have hit. I know in my community we are trying to get more women into golf and if they can pull themselves away from family for two hours it’s less of an impact out of the day than four hours for 18 holes. It’s a great concept.”