Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

British Open — the Granddaddy of them all

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 07/02/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

The British Open is coming up next week. The Open, as the Brit’s and most everyone other than Americans call it, returns to the Old Course at St. Andrews for the twenty-eighth time, going back to 1873. The first Open was contested at Prestwick in 1860 where past and future green keeper of St. Andrews, Old Tom Morris had developed “one of the shrewdest tests of golf anywhere.” Old Tom is credited with starting and promoting the original Open Championship – then known as the “Challenge Belt”. WWF fans don’t get too excited, now. Anyway, Scotsman Willie Park won that first Open.

Old Tom Morris rejoined the Royal and Ancient (St. Andrews) in 1864 with the specific objective of making the St. Andrews the best in Scotland. Most people think that the Old Course (known only as St. Andrews then since there was only one course) has hardly been touched, but over the next 40 years (1864 – 1904) the course was changed dramatically at the hand of Morris. When Old Tom arrived, the layout essentially played out and back on one fairway to small greens with two holes (outward and inward nines). The playing corridor was so narrow that many of the original bunkers had to be carried as the gorse and whin that lined the fairways left no option for playing around them. Allan Robertson, who preceded Morris, was credited with instituting two holes in each of the still rather small greens as well as with building the Road Bunker that fronts the treacherous 17th green. Gradually Morris reclaimed land to the east (toward the North Sea) and expanded the fairways and greens to allow enough room for players to pass when meeting on the inward and outward nines without a disruption in play. Whether by design or accident this expansion led to the “Strategic” design philosophy and the demise of the “Penal” style.

These changes to the course must have taken incredible intestinal fortitude as Old Tom was under continual criticism by the old guard members as they observed the course played 10 strokes easier in 1890 than it did in 1860. Still, Old Tom’s adjustments have stood the test of time and his green keeping skills were the basis for many a course’s maintenance practices over the years. If you have played the Old Course, I suggest you get a copy of “The Golf Courses of Old Tom Morris” by Robert Kroeger, which is the basis for much of my writing above.

I was fortunate enough to have made a pilgrimage to Scotland to play the links courses in 1999. At that time the bunkers on the Old Course were being completely rebuilt in anticipation of the 2000 Open and I was fortunate to see various stages of the construction. While the Old Course wasn’t my favorite, it certainly was interesting and a privilege to play such an historic layout. There are many stories about that trip I would like to share with my readers, but there isn’t the space for all that was fun and interesting.

The controversial Ryder Cup win at The Country Club the month before my visit seemed to have an effect on the ordinarily warm Scottish hospitality. In 1998 I had met a member of the St. Andrews Links Management Trust, and a former President of the Scottish PGA at Pinehurst. They encouraged my friends and I to come and experience Scottish golf as they would “set us up” at the local facilities. Despite having had correspondence with them (prior to the Ryder Cup) when we arrived we were left to fend for ourselves. There was never an explanation, but at that time, Justin Leonard’s prancing “all over the green” before his opponent could putt was still fresh in the Brit’s minds.

Fortunately, I was in one of my “diary” states of mind and I have some terrific notes on my experiences. I thought I’d share a few from the Old Course: the caddy was essential for the first seven tee shots and he immediately picked up that my normal shot was slight draw. “Aim over the edge of the gorse and with you draw that will be good” – Stuart would say in his Scottish brogue. Stuart was well educated and originally from Glasgow. He had retired as a civil engineer from a construction company and was currently attending one of the St. Andrews colleges to get a Masters in Theology. His schooling was apparent in his speech and unlike the other caddies, I had no problem understanding him. He filled me in on some history: Cheap bunker, Hill bunker, Hell bunker, the Principals Nose, etc. and even suggested my family was probably from the south of Scotland or the north of England and that they regularly raided both sides of the border! I said, “so we were bandits!” His reply – “it serves no purpose to label at this point, besides it was all a matter of survival back then and most people probably did that sort of thing”. (I note now that his observation has sent me off to some very interesting investigations of my marauder ancestry). He seemed not really a part of the caddy clique and the others were much more difficult to understand and seemed bored with their loops. Stuart however was very attentive, legitimately excited about my many good shots, and appropriately subdued about my few bad ones.

As we approached the crossover holes (7 and 11 cross each other) I found my emotions high with anticipation. After a good drive on 7, I had to wait for the tee shots from 11 because I had nearly reached the line between the 11th tee and the 11th side of the double green.Negotiating the crossover was a very interesting and social experience. As an Architect, a crossover hole is a definite no-no, but with the caddies’ direction it was absolutely no problem. In fact, if you can imagine 16 people involved with a round of golf all within 100 yards of each other, you might get just a hint of the camaraderie and fun that ensued. The caddies, probably fired up from the betting on their loops, were a large part of the amusement as they bantered back and forth in their local accents.

If you ever get to visit or can even just examine a detailed map of the Old Course, you’ll see that every bunker and even some other features have names. When I was preparing for my trip, I was particularly interested in the area named the Elysian Fields.  They lie on the 14th, called Long, and as it happened, it was my worst hole. I pushed my drive out of bounds across the old right of way onto the Eden Course. My second drive was a low driving ball that pierced the wind and split the fairway. One of the caddy’s remarked “same gal” (a comment I’ve since adopted). I knew that against the wind, the 14th would prove to be a great challenge and would involve the most strategy. As I walked down the Elysian Fields, which is a plateau for the first half of 14th, I was stricken by the desolation of the links land. From the Elysian Fields the course seemed so flat except for the protruding dunes. Occasionally you can just make out the ocean at the horizon line. I found myself feeling alone. Perhaps the origin of caddies was as much for mental comfort rather than physical relief. It’s easy to see the advantage of a knowledgeable caddy: to guide and comfort, bolster and prod onward. As I walked on, “Golf in the Kingdom”, the mystical book by Michael Murphy came to mind. In the book the character Agatha had an interesting observation about golf and it’s catalyst for relationships: “Men (people) lovin’ men (people), that’s what golf is”.

According to Webster’s, “Elysian Field” is a place of ideal happiness. As I continued to stroll to my second drive, corny as it sounds, the Beatles tune of Strawberry Fields began to run through my mind with the words Elysian Fields substituted.

As my caddie located my first ball I returned to the present. I knew Hell bunker was going to be a consideration. Stuart indicated three possible routes. The first, left of Hell, toward the 4th flag, was preferred followed by a very short lay up directly ahead at the end of Elysian fields. Stuart prefaced the last route with “Can you carry a shot 200 yards into the wind?” I said, “yes,” and he replied, “if you can, you could carry Hell and have an easy pitch from there.” Needless to say, I over swung and half topped the shot with the ball rolling to the left toward Hell. Instead of going into the cavernous bunker it rolled up between Hell and the Pot bunker to the right. Stuart remarked, “You must be living a clean life”. My next shot found the small pot bunker near the left front of the green, the result of a decided uphill lie. From the bunker, I blasted to a three footer, which I missed giving me an eight. Thank God I missed Hell.

It was a trip of a lifetime – only I’m eager to go back. I hope I’m entitled to two trips of a lifetime and this time it will have to include Royal Dornoch, Cruden Bay, Turnberry and Ballybunion.

Parting shots: Get those City Golf Tournament entries completed. Women’s event begins on the 17th and men on the 24th.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.

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