Weeks: Changes at St. Andrews met with discontent

Bob Weeks
11/27/2012 3:36:16 PM
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Imagine putting some Jockey shorts on Michelangelo's David.

That's essentially what's happening at the world's most famous golf course, the Old Course in St. Andrews. The R&A and the Links Trust decided that the famed links needed some more teeth ahead of the 2015 Open. They announced the changes through a release on Friday and work began on Monday. You can read the release here.

Among the more dramatic alterations in the works are the movement of bunkers, the filling in of some others as well as an expansion of the famous Road Hole bunker on the 17th. Contours on greens will be changed and parts of fairways flattened.

While there have been new tees added over the years – including one on the 17th hole that is in an area that is out of bounds – the course has remained largely untouched since 1920. The last time major bunker changes were made was 1949.

Undaunted, the boys in their blazers pressed on. Here's what the R&A released Friday in terms of specifics of the changes:

The work is planned to take place in two phases over this winter and next. The first phase involves work on the 2nd, 7th, 11th and 17th holes. The second phase will take place in winter of 2013/14 with work on the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 9th and 15th holes.

The work will widen the Road Bunker on the 17th hole by half a metre at the right hand side and recontour 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 3rd fairway and another on the left of the 9th fairway 20 yards short of the green. Bunkers will be repositioned closer to the right edge of the 2nd green and the right of the 4th green. A portion of the back left of the 11th green will be lowered to create more hole location options.

Understandably, these alterations have many in an uproar. It's sacrilegious, believe many serious architects and lovers of design. It's thumbing a nose at history. Martin Hawtree is the main man in charge of the changes and not everyone loves his past work. However, it has already started. In a release, the R& gave its reasoning:

"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."

Others believe the reason behind all the work is to protect a course from a very low number, possibly a 59 - call it the 59 Flu - and the accompanying embarrassment. In the 2010 Open, Rory McIlroy opened with a 63 and at this year's Dunhill Links Championship, the Euro Tour's version of the AT+T Clambake, there were a handful of 62s.

Understandably, there has been a huge voice of discontent, led by many architects. Tom Doak said he was "horrified" at the alterations while Ian Andrew wrote a letter of protest to the American Society of Golf Course Architects. A petition has started online to stop the changes, but it's doubtful to have much effect.

Remember, this is the R&A you're dealing with, the organization that thinks it's still OK to exclude women.

If the 59 is what the organizations are worried about, then none of these changes will matter. You can put the pin on top of the Old Course hotel and guys will find a way to get there. The natural defence of weather is what protects links layouts. Or maybe the R&A should have thought about limits on the golf ball and big-headed drivers before deciding on changes to the golf course.

In any case, this isn't likely to sit well with those who love the game and its history.

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