MAJOR winner Geoff Ogilvy has launched a furious attack on the R&A for making “disgusting” changes to the Old Course at St Andrews.
Ogilvy, who finished ninth in last year’s Open, launched perhaps the fiercest criticism yet of golf’s governing body and said it was “embarrassing” the sport. The outspoken Australian, who won the 2006 US Open, condemned the R&A for changing the home of golf and compared the changes to desecrating the Sistine Chapel.
He said: “It’s disappointing, in that the whole point of it is to make us shoot a slightly higher score every five years [at The Open], and it’s embarrassing – disgusting – that they’re doing it for that reason. I mean, it’s hard to have the words to describe the arrogance of doing something like that, it’s incredible,” the former world No 3 said. “It’s like, ‘The Mona Lisa is fading a little so let’s put some colour into her face, people will enjoy it more’. Or ‘The Sistine Chapel is a bit small now for the number of people who want to go through it, let’s make it bigger’.
“That’s probably a better analogy really, because that’s what it is. The reason the sport is what it is, is because of St Andrew’s. It didn’t evolve to the point where it’s at because of people doing what they’re doing right now. It evolved – it didn’t get designed. It came because of nature, all the balls finishing in one place, so there were lots of divots and that spot became a bunker. It’s the first place that anyone should ever study when they think about golf course architecture. And the last place anyone should ever touch.”
The 35-year-old, a double winner of this week’s WGC Accenture Matchplay event, also accused the R&A of sneaking in the changes while attention was centred elsewhere. “I think the thing that really affected most people that got emotional about it was the way they went about it – making a sneaky little announcement the same weekend everyone was talking about the long-putter ban,” he added. “The bulldozers were out the next day. Surely the Old Course deserves a round table of the smartest people in golf with the best intentions and to discuss it for two years before you do anything?
“I’m sure they’ll do it seamlessly and do a nice job. I’ve played St Andrew’s 25 times and the Road Hole bunker has been different every time I’ve been there, so it’s not like changes aren’t being made there all the time, changes that a lot of people don’t even know about. But they’re doing a lot of fundamental changes. They’ve done plenty of bunker work for maintenance reasons over time but changing contours that have evolved and adding to the 11th green to provide extra pin placements are pretty fundamental changes. It’s been fine for 400 years. In the form it’s in it’s been fine for a hundred years. It’s fine. I mean, if they get crazy wind and you can’t put a pin up the back left on 11 then, oh well. Or, you just have that green running two feet slower than the others. We’re the best golfers in the world, surely we can work out that the green is slower? We’re not that precious.
“It felt like they’d [the R&A] been sneaking around. They knew there would be a backlash so they made sure they had the bulldozers out there ready before anyone could stop it.
“I think that’s what annoyed everyone the most. I think if the process was right and if the right people in the game sat down and went, ‘You know what? Those bunkers on the second could move five yards,’ or whatever it is, maybe it would sit better with people. The way it happened was pretty frustrating.”
A total of nine holes will be changed in time for the return of the Open to Fife in 2015 and the R&A has already defended the move against criticism. R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said: “We have considered the challenge presented to the world’s top golfers by each of the Open Championship venues and carried out a programme of improvements over the last ten years. The championship committee felt there was an opportunity to stiffen its defences in some places to ensure it remains as challenging as ever to the professionals. The proposals should place more of a premium on accuracy and ball control while retaining the spirit and character of the Old Course.”