For the Winter 2013 issue:
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What the heck, I might as well chime in on the recent/ongoing changes to The Old Course in St, Andrews, Scotland.
There has been quite an outcry from the golf course architecture community, both amateur and professional regarding revisions on several features that is supposed to maintain The Old Course’s challenge for the best players in the world. Rather than deal with the specific plans and construction I will address the situation in a conceptional way, with one exception. It has been interesting watching the fallout and the politics generated by this news. In this day and age it is quite difficult to get a honest opinion since so many fear power and want to maintain their access and status. To some people’s credit, at least they were willing to put themselves on the line.
At this point the idea that any golf course needs to be changed to accommodate lower scoring by the world’s best players is ludicrous. The PGA Tour et al has never been more irrelevant to the health of the game of golf in my lifetime. The ability of the players to exploit golf courses with today’s equipment makes what they do essentially foreign to most golfers. The equipment has been out of control for so long that to continue to change golf courses is an exercise in futility. No longer is it possible to firm up the greens, grow the rough and set the tees up so the Tour player has one foot in the tall grass to generate a championship layout. The skill gap and the golf courses required between the public (and club) golfer and the Tour player have never been greater.
With regard to golf’s contemporary equipment, for example, this year I was not able to play golf until very late into the season thanks to foot problems. But when I finally did get out and was able to hit balls and get a couple of rounds in I was able to easily drive my year old golf ball over 300 yards, and straight, with a Ping G5 (yes, I’m a few G’s behind). Sure, I have some skills thanks to hitting thousands and thousands of golf balls and having a couple of great teachers, Tommy Vaughn and Don Padgett II, but I’ve got a perpetually stiff back and could be in better shape. The point I’m making is that if I can do that with an off the shelf, unfitted, driver the best players in the world can make mincemeat out of any golf course with their perfectly computer fitted sets of clubs and their select brand new golf balls. So why bother to spend money on butchering golf courses just for a few days of play from these guys that, if they get a hot putter, can shoot almost nothing.
Most likely the powers that there is fear that The Old Course will yield a way low number during the Open Championship so they figure they better try to figure out a way to tinker with the course to ensure the scores don’t get too low. In my mind this is all about money. The championship committee, or whatever their proper name is, wants to make sure the general public doesn’t tune out if the course is seen to be a patsy. Funny, that’s the USGA and the R and A’s fault, thanks to turning their backs on the equipment issue for all of these years. Yes, these governing bodies are, and have been, their own worst enemies.
So, why stop with the “little” changes that are being implemented for the 2015 Open Championship? There must be countless additional changes that could yield a truly difficult test. Some of them could be radical, but if maintaining a challenge for a few players for four days every so many years is such a priority why not just go all out and really get the job done? I don’t believe that radical changes will never be made to The Old Course as that would cause an even greater outcry. It is The Old Course, after all. Hmmm, that being the case, if the powers that be aren’t willing to step up and make The Old Course the challenge that it needs to be, then they might should just leave it alone, with the exception of maintaining bunkers, gorse, heather, et al. They’ve added tees to the point where it plays 7,200 yards for The Open Champiosnhip. That’s enough already.
With regard to one particular change, lessening the slope at the back of the eleventh, High, the famous Eden par 3 (arguably the greatest par 3 in golf), I’ve read that Jack Nicklaus made the statement that the back left of the green needed to be altered for the last 400 years. Now, he might be right, but if that’s the case, since they haven’t gotten around to it until now, what’s the rush? We could have waited another 200 hundred years and then evaluate how it plays. Maybe by then it would be clear that a change to such a famous part of golf history would be required, and maybe not.
My bottom line? Either make The Old Course into the test that the powers that be deem necessary or leave the place alone and let it remind us, and future generations, of the greatness, richness and the history of the game of golf. A choice really should be made.
Scotsman article on the changes – click here.
For 2012 Golf Magazine has chosen Purgatory Golf Club in Noblesville, Indiana as the fourth best public golf course in Indiana. Find the entire list for Indiana at this link.
On the fourteenth at the AT&T National Tiger Woods hit an uphill 191 yard eight iron and on eighteen he hit a180 yard knock down nine iron – just a reminder how irrelevant the game that the professional tour plays is to the game of golf.
From time to time I will post my thoughts about the game of golf on this page. I look forward to this exercise.
This is the website/blog for Ron Kern, Golf Course Architect.