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"I do agree that taking it out completely would make the hole more traditional St Andrews – bail out left, tough shot up the right."

John Huggan talks to the R&A's Peter Dawson about the art of making the Road hole relevant again.

What's really nice is that he admits in his own inimitable way that choking the strategy out of the hole with rough is (A) antithetical to what St. Andrews is about, and (B) was a response to the hole having become too short in today's game.

"Here at St Andrews we have a lot of knowledge about how professional golfers play the Old Course," explains Dawson. "The Open is here every five years and the Dunhill Links Championship visits on an annual basis. Over time, we have seen the leading players get to where they want to be off the 17th tee using less than a driver. Then they are hitting their second shots with a much more lofted club than, say, Tom Watson did in 1984, when he found the road with a 2-iron in the last round of the Open.

And then they found the gymnasium...

"The bottom line is that very few people are going through the green on to the road. So what we are trying to do is get players hitting driver and/or much longer second shots.

So I guess he's not banking on that big backdoor rollback the groove rule change is supposed to produce?

If we do either or both, the road will be much more in play than it has been in the recent past."

And here's where he admits they are rigging fairway contours and have been. Not that anyone could look at photos and think it was the work of Mother Nature. It's just nice to have the confirmation...

"We haven't messed with the angle of the tee-shot. We are easing the fairway back on the left, a little bit. It had crept to the right because of the less-challenging tee-shot."

And why did the tee shot become less challenging? And who did the creeping in?

Huggan than suggests that opening up the left side of the hole might tempt players to bail out more. Given a decent lie, they're likely to take unwise cracks at the green instead of laying up out of rough as they do now.

"I know of only one person who remembers a time when there was no rough on the left," counters Dawson. "And he is very old. But these days the length of the rough varies year to year; we don't do anything to it.

They don't do anything to the rough? Wait, didn't he just say they let it creep in because they decided to not curb distance gains? And this on opening up the left:

I do agree that taking it out completely would make the hole more traditional St Andrews – bail out left, tough shot up the right. And it is the most challenging drive on the course.

"We did talk about eliminating the rough, but it won't happen this year.

And why not?

We couldn't get the fairway into the right condition in time. You have to talk about these things at least three years in advance. Besides, post-war at least, the norm has been for rough to be in play up the left side."

I think that's a challenge for some of us to get out the old photos, no?

Here's a current Google shot. Love that left-hand line. It just exudes naturalness.

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Reader Comments (11)

This is still crazy. The hole average in pro events is above 4.0 isn't it, Geoff? Yet he seems to want the road in play more. Why?

And yes that lithe 'come hither' curve along the left side is such a turn on. It's a good photo as it shows that the tee has not changed at all (not moved back). It's been right in that corner of the course for a long, long time. Hasn't it?

I still can't see a reason for jumping the fence.
01.16.2010 | Unregistered CommenterPickworth
First of all, perhaps Tom Watson *should* have hit a more lofted club into the green in 1984.

What rankles me is that not only are we talking about one of the two or three most famous and difficult holes in the world, but one that has more strategic components along its 461 yards than many "championship" courses have within there entire 4 1/2 mile lengths. Every shot, from drive to approach to greenside play requires the highest level of both mental and physical golf skill (I can remember taking the "safe" route from the left rough to the front right apron, then taking a putter and "safely" knocking my third shot into the road bunker), and yet, with all of the genius of the hole, the only thing the R&A can think to do to make it more "challenging" is add length. How provincial.

Instead of putting the tee out of bounds, that's what they should have done with the green. Now that would have been hard!
01.17.2010 | Unregistered CommenterFo Shiz
Cut the rough on the left!!!!!!!

01.17.2010 | Unregistered CommenterJay Townsend
Yes, the hole continues to average well over par and play among the toughest in golf. And yes, the tee hasn't moved much, however, as the photo shows above, they couldn't really continue to eliminate fairway. There wouldn't be any left!
01.17.2010 | Registered CommenterGeoff
Let's call the hole thing off.
01.17.2010 | Unregistered CommenterTXQ
I haven't played the Old Course, and wouldn't bet on ever doing so, but I have looked at the same google satellite picture several times recently. Why not cut the grass down the left side and entice players to bail left? And then have to fly their second shots directly over the Road Hole Bunker, with the road awaiting along the back right? The average score will still be above 4, while excellent shots will still be rewarded. And we will get to see really interesting shots from the bunker and the road.

OT, but an Old Course question for you veterans. Having studied the Old Course from the distance of books and photographs, how is it possible to play it safely while not wearing a lacrosse helmet given the number of American hackers with vanity handicaps who show up to play there? Maybe you remain out of harm's way for the slices (oops, power fades) of said golfers?
The angle's pretty bad from far left, the green is shallow and steeply banked in back, shave the bank and cut the rough.

Nah, too simple. Go over the wall.
01.17.2010 | Unregistered CommenterGolfFan
Dawson has been a meddler ever since he took office. It's time for him to go away.
01.17.2010 | Unregistered CommenterHarland

God thought of that! If you slice it all day long around the Old Course, you'll actually be playing the New Course on the front nine and the Eden Course on the way home. Only hookers of the ball (about 0.1% of American Golfers) are a hazard to their fellow pilgrims.

As to the redesign of the Road Hole, can I nominate Geoff and Gil Hanse to design the windmill for Scholar's Bunker? I'd hate for it to look unnatural.
01.17.2010 | Unregistered CommenterFo Shiz
This is ridiculous ! Even with a lob wedge in hand, the road and the road hole bunker protect the green from the left. (I'm not even factoring in wind) . From that photo there is no margin for error, especially under tournament conditions.
Leave the hole as it is, show it some respect. This great hole has tested the greatest players and should be given the opportunity to test this latest bunch. This hole has also dealt with some significant advances in the ball, as well, from the current tee.
And, if on the off chance the Road Hole is butchered in this years Open, then we will see an absolute example of how the ball goes too far. But maybe the R&A doesn't want that shown ?????
01.17.2010 | Unregistered CommenterLongy
A simple question, Why has the Road Hole become too short – would it have anything to do with The R&A having failed their duty to protect the game of golf. Had their head stuck deep in the Road Hole Bunker when technology needs to be controlled perhaps. A much easier solution would be to allow our great courses to remain intact.

The R&A have already shown their position re history of St Andrews by what they have done to Old Tom’s house at Pilmour Links. History, to them in this day and age just means keeping women out of their clubhouse.

Their performance (just about nonexistent) over the last 100year should warrant them being stripped of their status as the Governing Body of Golf.

Melvyn Hunter Morrow

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