ERNIE Els, the Open champion, has claimed the R&A should have expected the backlash to changes that are being made to the Old Course at St Andrews, but is backing the body to get them right as it bids to stiffen up the test of all the courses used for the world’s oldest major.
“It looks like they are changing a lot of things up there in Scotland,” said Els when asked yesterday about alterations that have already been carried out at Muirfield, where the South African will return in July to defend the Claret Jug at the venue where he won his first Open in 2002.
“Most of the courses we’ve played in the past ten or so years have changed, including Troon, Royal Liverpool and Sandwich. In fact, they’re making changes to all of the courses on the rota in a bid to make the challenge as tough as possible.”
A course designer himself, Els added: “The only thing that bothers me a bit about it is that, when the wind changes direction sometimes on these courses, it can be tough to get to the fairway from some of these new tees.
“But I think these courses do need to change. The R&A want to have the same kind of scores winning today as you did back in the 1920s.
“Take Royal Liverpool, for instance, when Tiger Woods won there in 2006. I think he was something like 18 or 19-under on a course that was bone dry and the event was played in perfect conditions.
“I agree that these courses still need to provide a good challenge, though any changes to the Old Course were always going to be controversial. There was always going to be some criticism about what is being done at St Andrews but I hope it works out for them.”
Louis Oosthuizen, the most recent Open winner at St Andrews after his runaway success in 2010, admitted he was unaware of the changes, which were announced jointly by the R&A and St Andrews Links Trust at the end of November.
But, like his fellow Springbok, he is in support of alterations that are aimed at trying to combat the game’s big-hitters, even when it is happening at such an historic venue as the Old Course.
“I think the R&A always try to stay with the game and, even though I don’t know what the changes are at St Andrews, I am sure it won’t be anything too severe,” said Oosthuizen.