St. Andrews Old CourseNEWS

Changing the Old
Course!? Fear not,
says St. Andrews
Links Trust head

By Alan Katz,
Contributor

(March 20, 2006) - Travelers who journey to Scotland to play the medal format at the Old Course at St. Andrews will face a new challenge this year. Changes to several holes will bring some additional natural hazards into play, and new tees will add another 112 yards to the course. The Standard Scratch Score will be 73 instead of 72.

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Paradoxically, although Nos. 3, 9, 10 and 13 all will be longer, the course is expected to play quicker and more efficiently.

"We continually monitor the pace of play on the Old Course, and it has become apparent that delays can take place on some holes, such as the ninth," said Alan McGregor, general manager of the St. Andrews Links Trust, which oversees and maintains the course.

"The extra yardage on these holes will enable golfers to hit their drives before the green is clear and so speed up play," he said. "It will also bring some features back into play off the tee, such as the Kruger bunkers and the heather on the ninth. This can only add to the enjoyment of playing here."

By today's standards, the medal format at the Old Course still isn't unusually long. The par-4 10th hole, formerly 318 yards, will now be 340. The 13th hole, which played as the second toughest during last year's British Open, is now the third longest par 4 on the course, at 418 yards. With nine new tees, the course will now measure 6,721 yards from the plaques.

"The course has evolved and changed over the years. It's a natural process," said Mike Woodcock, communications director for St. Andrews. He doesn't expect anyone to get upset over these latest revisions.

"We get 42,000 people a year playing the Old Course," Woodcock said. "About 40 percent are visitors. They have an expectation of the views and the overall experience but not of the length of the course. They want to be able to say they played the same fairways as the great players in history."

Howard Morris, founder of Executive Golf Tours, a company which conducts tours all over the United Kingdom, agrees - sort of.

St. Andrews Old Course"Most of them won't even know the difference. They just want to play the golf course," Morris said. "They want to see the landmark towers of St. Salvators and the ancient St. Andrews Cathedral and the golf museum. They know as soon as they enter that they're in a very special place. It's a golfing shrine.

"About the distance, I don't think people are terribly concerned - although I must say that when it comes to making these golf courses longer, the average player feels they're long enough already."

The medal course is now only 212 yards shorter than the course set-up for the Opens of 1984, 1990 and 1995, won by Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and John Daly. However, alterations to the course before the 2005 Open lengthened the distance from the back tees to 7,275 yards.

Gradual change has occurred throughout the entire history of St. Andrews. The original course was 22 holes - 11 holes played out and back. The two shortest in each half were eliminated so the course became nine holes out and back. Enormous double greens were designed to alleviate crowding, and seven of these remain today.

Regardless of the changes, each hole has always been a test in course management and patience. Deep bunkers with names such as Students and College, Coffin, Cats Trap and Lion's Mouth have intimidated many a competent player. The greens have always been a formidable challenge, too. Fans of a certain age will remember the 1970 Open when the leader Doug Sanders missed a 30-inch putt on the 18th hole of the final round, forcing him into a playoff with Jack Nicklaus, a playoff he lost.

For those who love golf, the experience of playing at St. Andrews is spiritual, as if one is communing with history - especially the approach to the 18th green over the Swilken bridge past the "other" clubhouses, Old Tom Morris' shop and the famous Rusack's Hotel, through the Valley of Sin swale on the left front of the green and on to the vast putting area. None of that has changed.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management. The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication.