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Golf: Old Course changes are to ‘protect’ it from 59

Colin Montgomerie plays out of the Road Hole bunker. Picture: Robert Perry

Colin Montgomerie plays out of the Road Hole bunker. Picture: Robert Perry

  • by MARTIN DEMPSTER
 

FEARS about the Old Course becoming the scene of a first 59 in one of golf’s majors are behind the changes set to be made to the iconic St Andrews layout for the 2015 Open Championship, it was claimed last night.

The alterations, which will be carried out by Martin Hawtree, who has been involved in the tweaks made at most of the Open venues in recent years, were unveiled yesterday in a joint-announcement made by the R&A and St Andrews Links Trust.

They include another makeover for the Road Hole Bunker – it is set to be widened again after being reduced in size before the 2005 Open – and a combination of some other sand traps either being filled in or created.

Work is also planned to flatten out an area of the 11th green, one of the main problem areas when balls started to oscillate and caused play to be suspended in the second round when Louis Oosthuizen claimed his Claret Jug success in the Auld Grey Toun two years ago.

“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,” said Peter Dawson, the R&A chief executive.

“While some holes have been lengthened on the Old Course in recent years, it has otherwise 
remained largely unaltered.

“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 from 
Martin Hawtree should place more of a premium on accuracy and ball control while retaining the spirit and character of the Old Course.”

Stephen Gallacher, who won the Dunhill Links Championship over the Old Course in 2004, said he believed the changes are partly aimed at trying to stop a 59 from being shot there in the world’s oldest major.

Playing in this year’s Dunhill Links event, Frenchman Victor Dubuisson and South

African George Coetzee joined a handful of players to score a 62, ten-under-par there. World No 1 Rory McIlroy is among the group who have signed for a 63 on it, his effort in the opening round of the 2010 Open having equalled the lowest-ever round in a major.

“I take it they don’t want a

59 shot on it,” Gallacher told

The Scotsman when told about the changes in Dubai, where he is competing in the European Tour’s season-ending event. “I’m open to a few new bunkers,

depending on where they are, of course. But the Old Course

is such a weather dependent venue now and when there is no wind the scoring can be very low. As for the existing bunkers, they’ve got to keep the iconic ones.”

In a bid to combat technology, a number of new tees have been created in recent years on what is arguably the most

famous course in the world. The most recent was at the 17th, which, after remaining the same length for more than 100 years, had around 35 yards added to it ahead of the 2010 Open.

With no further scope to add extra yardage anywhere on the course, however, attention has now turned to some of the bunkering, with the Road Hole one, where Tommy Nakajima of Japan infamously took five shots to get out in 1978 and many

others have come to grief as well, set for more surgery as part of a programme that will be carried out in two phases over this

winter and next.

The first phase involves work on the second, seventh, 11th and 17th holes, while phase two will focus on the third, fourth, sixth, ninth and 15th holes. The work on the Road Hole Bunker will involve it being widened by half a metre at the right-hand side and re-contour a small portion of the front of the green to enable it to gather more approach shots landing in that area.

A new bunker will be created on the right of the third fairway and another on the left of the ninth fairway 20 yards short

of the green. Bunkers will be repositioned closer to the right edge of the second green and the right of the fourth green while a portion of the back left of

the 11th green will be lowered to create more hole location

options.

“The Old Course is renowned as one of the great Open venues and its continued prominence on the Open roster is crucially important to the economy and reputation of St Andrews,” said Euan Loudon, chief executive of St Andrews Links Trust.

“The Old Course has evolved over time and the Links Trust is delighted to be working with the Championship Committee in order to maintain the challenge of the course for elite tournament players and the thousands of golfers who play here each year.”

It is believed the need for the changes was mooted by

the R&A’s Championship Committee in line with a policy it has been implementing at the other courses on the Open rota in recent years. Changes made by Hawtree at Royal Lytham,

for instance, were tested out

for the first time in July and

it will be the same when the event returns to Muirfield next summer for the first time in

11 years.

In the summer, a delegation that included Hawtree, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson, championship convenor Jim McArthur and Links Trust representatives walked the Old Course together to talk over

possible alterations.

What has been agreed is

understood to be only part of what was proposed initially as the Links Trust management committee is keen that the heritage of the course and its character is not tampered with.

Having been approved by that committee, the changes were revealed to representatives of the various golf clubs in St Andrews prior to the announcement being made public and it is believed they were met without any strong objections.

The rationale behind a number of the changes is to try and free up more positions.

At the moment, for instance, it is almost impossible to place any pins on the right side of the

second, the left side of the 11th and at the back of the 15th.

 

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