The 'Front Nine' and 'Back Nine' on Golf Courses

Explaining these common (and basic) golf terms

Back Nine of Kapalua Plantation Golf Course in Hawaii
This aerial view shows several holes on the back nine of the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii. Tony Roberts/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

"Front nine" (or "front 9") and "back nine" (or back 9) are two of the most common and basic terms in the golf lexicon, and their meaning is very easy to grasp:

  • Front nine refers to the first nine holes on an 18-hole golf course, or the first nine holes played during a round;
  • back nine refers to the second nine holes of an 18-hole course, or to the final nine holes playing in a round of golf.

As you see, the terms can can be applied to golf courses and to rounds of golf, with very slightly different meanings depending on the usage.

Let's go over both usages.

Front Nine/Back Nine of a Golf Course

A standard golf course has 18 holes, numbered 1 through 18. The first nine holes are referred to as the "front nine," and the last nine holes - holes 10 through 18 - are called the "back nine."

Golfers tend to think of a regulation, 18-hole golf course as two sets of nines. We tally up scores for the front nine and for the back nine, then add those together for the final, 18-hole score. Almost all golf scorecards are arranged that way, with spaces for the front nine total and back nine total.

Many golf courses also acknowledge this "two sets of nines" nature of golf by putting snack shacks and/or restrooms between the ninth green and 10th tee, or by routing the holes of their course so that the ninth hole leads golfers back to the clubhouse (for a between-the-nines stop, if necessary).

The front nine of an 18-hole course is also called the "front side," "first nine" or "outward nine."

The back nine of an 18-hole golf course is also called the "back side," "second nine" or "inward nine."

Front Nine/Back Nine of a Round

A regulation round of golf is 18 holes in length. The golfer's front nine consists of the first nine holes she plays, and her back nine is the last nine holes she plays.

But sometimes the back nine of a round and the back nine of a golf course are different. Same with front nine. How can that happen?

Not every round of golf begins at the No. 1 tee; some tournaments, for example, might require golfers begin certain rounds on the No. 10 tee. If you play holes 10 through 18 first, then those holes are the front nine of that specific round of golf, even though holes 10-18 are the back nine of the golf course. Get it? Likewise, in an 18-hole round that golfer begins on the No. 10 tee, holes 1-9 will be the last nine holes played, and, therefore, the back nine of that round - even though holes 1-9 are, obviously, the front nine of the golf course.

Typically, however, when golfers talk about the "front nine" we mean holes 1-9; and "back nine," holes 10-18. For example, a TV announcer who says, "The back nine at Augusta National often produces thrilling finishes to The Masters," is always referring to holes 10-18.

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