Martin Dempster: Sad to see Old Course brought to its knees

Ross Fisher had a putt on the 18th green of the Old Course for a 59 during the final round of the 2017 Alfred Dunhill Championship. He ended up with a 61, a new course record.  Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Ross Fisher had a putt on the 18th green of the Old Course for a 59 during the final round of the 2017 Alfred Dunhill Championship. He ended up with a 61, a new course record. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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He’s always quick off the mark on social media to congratulate players, both male and female, on victories. It was telling, therefore, that Gary Player seemed more interested
on this particular occasion in the scoring than the actual winner in this year’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

“Whilst delighted for all the players, it’s quite sad to see the Old Course of St Andrews brought to her knees by today’s ball and equipment,” wrote the nine-time major winner on Twitter within minutes of the final round concluding.

It had seen Englishman Ross Fisher fire 11 birdies in a bogey-free effort of 61 to set a new course record on a day when, taking full advantage of benign conditions and friendly
pin positions, the most famous course in the world was absolutely destroyed.

Led by Fisher and Frenchman Victor Dubuisson with his 63, the 68 players were a combined 229-under-par for the final circuit, so just imagine how frustrating it was for Rory McIlroy, for example, to be among just eight that failed to break the par of 72.

Fisher’s effort, of course, came just a couple of days after Tommy Fleetwood became the first player to card a 63 at Carnoustie, where the Englishman also made the most of the Angus course being rendered virtually toothless on a calm day.

The weather was certainly a big factor in both record-breaking performances and, if Mother Nature continues to make it easy in years to come in this event, then those two scores might not actually stand for nearly as long as you might think.

We’ve already seen a couple of players have a chance of shooting 59 at Kingsbarns, the third venue for the pro-am event, and it would be no real surprise if it was the scene of the first such score in the history of the European Tour. Having said that, it seemed to provide a tougher test on this occasion than in the past.

That 59 definitely won’t be happening at Carnoustie and, of course, it will be a different beast entirely when the Open Championship is staged there next July for the first time since Padraig Harrington claimed the Claret Jug in 2007. You can almost guarantee the weather will be more of a factor then, too, even though it should really be more favourable in Scotland in the height of summer than early autumn.

As Player’s tweet reflected, though, there’s now a distinct possibility of someone breaking 60 at 
St Andrews – Fisher had a putt for a 59 from the Valley of Sin before having to settle for a 61 as he then missed a three-foot birdie putt – and do we really want to see that on the Old Course of all places? No! No! No!

The problem, unfortunately, is that nothing can probably be done now to protect her, especially on days like Sunday, because, as Player pointed out, it’s the ball and equipment that are behind the sort of low scoring we saw last week more than anything else.

Sure, both Fisher and, in particular, Fleetwood produced brilliant performances in which they executed shot after shot in exactly the way they would have pictured them in their minds. Hats off to them for that and Tyrrell Hatton, too, for playing superbly on all three courses to become the first player to record back-to-back victories in the event.

It really is a crying shame, though, to see the Old Course being brought to its knees on a far too frequent basis these days and there really is no doubt whatsoever that stricter control was required when equipment manufacturers decided to turn this great game into being more about length than all-round skill.

Just imagine the damage someone like Dustin Johnson could have done on a day like Sunday round there, though McIlroy, admittedly, is another of the game’s long-hitters and that didn’t seem to do him any good on this occasion.

As Lee Westwood, the tournament host, pointed out during the recent British Masters, it’s better for the sport as a spectacle for players to be making birdies and eagles than grinding out pars. At the same time, though, we surely don’t want to see great courses being constantly overpowered and that, I’m afraid, is exactly what is happening on the Old Course in particular these days.