ONE of the senior members of Colin Montgomerie’s golf course design team has claimed the Old Course at St Andrews should be designated a “historic landscape” but is confident the R&A and Links Trust will ensure it retains its “essential character”.
Ross McMurray, an architect at European Golf Design whose work includes the 2010 Ryder Cup course at Celtic Manor, also said “outspoken views” on the changes currently being carried out at the iconic venue could have been “softened” if R&A chief executive Peter Dawson had outlined them in detail sooner than this week.
“I have mixed feelings about the changes,” said McMurray, who has worked in the golf course design industry for 20 years. With EGD, which is the golf course design company of the European Tour and IMG, he has been involved in several projects with some of the world’s leading golfers.
“On the one hand, I believe that it is important to preserve the Old Course so that it remains as significant to future generations as it is to ours. On the other, as a golf course architect, I understand the need to renovate and update golf courses so that their challenge is maintained.
“The Old Course has constantly evolved and, over the past 100 years or so, it has largely retained its present character. Obviously the shape and style of the bunkers have changed numerous times and I have never really had a problem with that.
“I certainly wasn’t jumping on the bandwagon before the last St Andrews Open [in 2010] when the Road Hole bunker was altered. It changes every time the greenkeepers rebuild it. I thought the new back tee on 17 was a bit odd but at least that didn’t impact on the actual golf course, and, likewise, most of the course lengthening has had very little visual or physical impact.”
McMurray, who worked with Montgomerie to create Rowallan Castle, in Ayrshire, and was also responsible for the highly acclaimed Marquess Course at Woburn, described the Old Course as being “important in golf’s history” and feels any alterations to it should be “carefully controlled”.
He added: “We must respect its strategy and character. I wonder whether the Old Course needs some kind of official protection as a historic landscape, not to preserve the golf course as a museum piece or prevent any kind of alteration, but to stop its essential character being changed.
“We have seen classic golf courses being radically altered before, in order to make ‘improvements’, and suddenly their historic importance is lost completely. I’m sure the R&A would never let this happen to the Old Course but who knows what might happen in the future.”
The changes, which involve nine holes and will be carried out over two phases, were only announced a fortnight ago, yet the work started straight away.
It has provoked widespread criticism around the world but Dawson has claimed the alterations, which are in preparation for the 2015 Open Championship, will stay true to the Old Course’s original design.
McMurray said he was pleased to see the R&A chief executive outline the changes in detail earlier this week but reckons he could have spared himself some grief if he’d done that earlier.
“I think the way news of the alterations came out didn’t help the situation,” he observed. “For the The Links Trust to claim that they were to help maintain the challenge of the Old Course for the world’s top golfers ahead of the return of the Open Championship to St Andrews in 2015 only added fuel to the fire.
“I think that, if Peter Dawson’s interview, where he carefully outlined the changes and the reasons for them, had been available earlier then it might have softened some of the more outspoken views.
“If the improvements are for the good of the golf course generally and will be for the benefit of all golfers then, as long as it is done sensitively, I would be broadly supportive.
“Of course the elephant in the room with all of this, and it will continue for as long as we want championships to be played on our historic links, is the control of equipment technology!”
McMurray said he found a poll last weekend by the European Institute of Golf Course Architects, of which he is a member, as “interesting”.
He added: “It was not a vote on the planned alterations specifically, but on the whole principle of making revisions to the Old Course. Only a quarter of Europe’s golf course architects felt that the Old Course should never be altered.”