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Friday News Dump Files: Old Course Getting Changes To Some Greens And First New Bunkers Since 1949

I know that the last bunker filled or cut on the sacred Old Course was in 1949 because I read it in Scott Macpherson's magnificent book, The Evolution Of The Old Course.

Since it's a Friday news dump extraordinaire, let's start with the details.

For Immediate Release On A Friday:

A number of improvements are being planned to the Old Course to help maintain its challenge for the world’s top golfers ahead of the return of The Open Championship to St Andrews in 2015.

Renowned golf course architect Martin Hawtree was commissioned by St Andrews Links Trust, which manages the Old Course and the other six courses at the Home of Golf, and The R&A Championship Committee, which organises golf’s oldest major championship, to assess potential changes which would enhance the challenge for elite players without unduly affecting club and visiting golfers while remaining true to the special character of the Old Course.

Martin Hawtree’s recommendations have now been agreed by the St Andrews Links Trustees and Links Management Committee and The R&A Championship Committee.

Translation: Peter Dawson. Go on...

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 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.

How about widening the lack of a proper landing area by oh, I don't know, 20 and a half metres?

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.

Oh boy, tinkering with the Eden green after a few hundred years. Is that easier than treating it different agronomically since it's modern green speeds prompting this move?

Euan Loudon, Chief Executive of St Andrews Links Trust, said, “The Old Course is renowned as one of the great Open venues and its continued prominence on the Open roster is crucially important to the economy and reputation of St Andrews. The Old Course has evolved over time and the Links Trust is delighted to be working with the Championship Committee in order to maintain the challenge of the course for elite tournament players and the thousands of golfers who play here each year.”      

Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A, said, “We have considered the challenge presented to the world’s top golfers by each of The Open Championship venues and carried out a programme of improvements over the last ten years. While some holes have been lengthened on the Old Course in recent years it has otherwise remained largely unaltered. 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.”

Translation of premium on accuracy and ball control: even few chances to hit driver.

The full list of changes is as follows:

Phase 1

On the 2nd hole, the two bunkers right and short of the green will be moved closer to the right edge of the green. The ground to the right of the green will also be recontoured to create more undulations and the width of 3rd tee will be reduced to accommodate this. Two bunkers on the right side of the fairway, near the 3rd Championship tee, will be removed.

On the 7th, the large depression in the landing area of the fairway will be filled in and a slight mound created. The area to the right of the green will be remodelled to create more undulations.


On the 11th, the back left portion of the green will be lowered to create more hole location options.

On the 17th, the Road Bunker will be widened by half a metre at the right hand side and a small portion of the front of the green will be recontoured to enable it to gather more approach shots landing in that area.

Phase 2

On the 3rd hole, the first fairway bunker on the right will be removed. A new fairway bunker will be added into the bank on the right hand side about 275 yards from the Championship tee.

On the 4th, the acute spur formation on the left hand side of the fairway will be reduced and the bunker on the right hand side of the green will be moved closer to its edge. The ground to the back right of the green will be recontoured.

What did the fourth hole do wrong to get such a makeover? And what is an acute spur formation? Oh right, a thing that blocks your view if you bail too far left. Can't have those!

On the 6th, the ground to the right of the green will be recontoured.

On the 9th, a fairway bunker will be added short and left of the green, about 25 yards to the left and diagonally towards the green from the last bunker on the right of the fairway.             

On the 15th, the ground to the back right of the green will be recontoured to create more undulations.

Hard to imagine that ending well.

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Reader Comments (31)

11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterIvan Morris
Hawtree ? That name sounds familiar....... I got it - TRUMP. Clearly he is behind this desecration.
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrianS
Shifting and filling in bunkers... whatever, fine. That's been happening on the Old Course for hundreds of years. But lowering a portion of the back of the 11th green?!!! That's of concern to me, personally.
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Mingay
My first reaction was - sacrilege. But, then I referred to Scott Macpherson's definitive treatise on the evolution of the Old Course and I was reassured by his comments that all golf courses are living things that evolve. These 'alts' are being undertaken as an 'evolving' process by arguably the most self-effacing and circumspect golf architect on the Planet (and Lord knows, I have had my private tiffs with Martin) but I am reassured that nothing too dramatic or scary is about to occur and when complete it will all make sense. Small changes can be harder to visualize than big ones - so, for now, I'm curbing my tendency to get over-excited.
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterIvan Morris
Like Jeff Mingay, I'm concerned about any work at all on 11. Next thing they'll be telling us is that the greens will be remodeled to USGA spec.! (You just know that's coining!

Old Course, they hardly knew ye!

Wait! I got an idea! Why not fix the equipment, thus eliminating any need to change the course!?!?!?!?!
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterTommy Naccarato
I'm surprised you aren't more dismayed. This is shocking. Hawtree's renovation work has been widely panned and it's one thing to fill in a bunker here or there, but changing contours on what was thought to be sacred ground seems worthy of venting. Please, don't hold back.
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterOB
I'm deep in thought on this...but first, my dear boy Shackleford is racing one last time at Churchill Downs today and I have to focus on that.

But on a serious note, I want to ponder this. As noted above and on Twitter, Mr. Hawtree's renovation work has not been sensitive, particularly at Royal Melbourne, which I saw a year ago. I'm in shock, frankly, that they are discussing changing green contours. Scott Macpherson does indeed make the case that he course is a living breathing thing, but like certain Supreme Court cases, I think the contours there are pretty much established law of the golfing land and there's not reason to touch them. It takes magnificent hubris to do so, but remember, we are dealing with a governing body that has long viewed the courses as the solution to a distance problem they did not solve. Even our bible, our Sistine Chapel, the Old Course.

The 11th green "problem" is one of modern green speeds, not the green itself, which is Mother Nature at her most masterful (with assists from Allan Robertson or some other maniacal Scot). The notion that they simply do not treat it differently agronomically is unfortunate. No, it's much worse than that actually.

Ok now you have me fired up!
11.23.2012 | Registered CommenterGeoff
"Mr. Hawtree's renovation work has not been sensitive, particularly at Royal Melbourne". Architects do what they are told. Anything that happened at RM happened because RM wanted it to happen. "Sensitive"? Please.
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRyder

In my experience good architects do not do what they are told. They are hired to present a case, argue it, perhaps compromise a little and then implement it.
Royal Melbourne East had boundary problems and they asked Hawtree for a solution - and then implemented his solution. They then hired Tom Doak to fix it.
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike Clayton
I am just apoplectic over this High Hole news. The ONE difference between Eden and all other knockoffs is the severity of Eden's green. All other copiers chicken out when faced with the original. And now Peter Dawson is changing the original to make it more like its washed-out imitators.

Seriously, who the hell degrades the original so it may resemble its copies? To paraphrase Yeats, in disfiguring the Eden, arguably the world's most-copied hole, Peter Dawson has become the first dog to praise his fleas.

It is so upsetting when those to whom a treasure is entrusted violate that trust. Very shameful stewardship, Peter Dawson!

Furthermore, I am so weary of conscious acts of disfigurement being rationalized by the term "evolution." This is NOT evolution! Peter Dawson is a presumably sentient being making decisions of his free will, with an understanding of the consequences. As for I&B the R&A continue to insist on viewing things through the wrong end of the telescope. To wit: they insist on changing the courses rather than the equipment.

No, not evolution at all. Peter Dawson has abnegated his leadership to manufacturers. Both Darwins turn in their graves.
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark Bourgeois
They're levelling out a very small area on the left side of the 11th green, solely for the purpose of allowing another pin position area for elite competitions when modern tournament green speed requirements require that the stimp makes most of the green unpinnable in high winds...witness the Friday of the Open last time. It's actually going to bring Hill bunker much more back into play which you'd think would please the so-called purists.

The bumped areas planned are actually only being done at one hole in the first phase - the second - because the Links seem to be sceptical about whether they're going to work from a practical, maintenance viewpoint. The rest aren't planned until the second phase and it's not certain they'll even be done.

The Links Trust said they "knocked on the head" a number of other ideas proposed. The clubs have approved the changes know, those people who actually play the Old Course every day..

Predictably we get a hysterical overreaction from idiots who have not even properly examined the proposals but with their gargantuan egos and laughable "poetic" language assume to have some sort of protective responsibility for the OC. Trust the people who actually use it 12 months of the year.
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Scott
Actually just changing that portion of Eden makes total sense. I agree with Geoff that widening the driving area on 17th would be the most sensible change, but the course overall can be too easy for today's professionals and many of the other changes are sensible.
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterStord
Us "idiots" have already seen what the people who are there 12 months a year and have five or so epic, textbook examples of what we think "idiots" do to a golf course when they are either trying to inflate scores or offset a golf ball change. But this isn't just any course, it's the Old Course and with all due respect, it warrants the "poetic" language waxed here, elsewhere and I suspect, for the next four years as Mr. Dawson leaves his mark.

But since you seem so passionate for these ideas, besides the lack of pinnable area on 11 during four days ever five years in the Open (a product of modern green speeds), what about these changes is necessary for every day play? Or even the Open? What do they accomplish? How do they make the best course in the better? Quench the idiot's thirst for the sacred knowledge and insights from those who play the Old Course 12 months a year and know better than all what is best for golf's most sacred links.
11.23.2012 | Registered CommenterGeoff
Isn't just about every course (that "updates") reacting to the same 4 day mentality to lengthen and toughen courses?
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterPat Burke
My first thought after the article was that they can't possibly be allowed to make such drastic changes, especially the Eden green.
Can enough people come together and find a way to put to stop to Dawson and Hawtree.
I can start with Twitter and I'd encourage others to honestly stop the changes to Eden at least.
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ Rivando
Precisely, which is why the Old Course should be exempt. It isn't just about every other course. It's The Old Course! And apparently it's in the hands of folks who do not see it as sacred ground.
11.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterOB
I will agree with Mark B on one point at least - changing classic courses rather than the equipment is not my preferred option.
11.24.2012 | Unregistered CommenterIvan Morris
@Steve Scott, your comments regarding 11 green being flattened:

"solely for the purpose of allowing another pin position area for elite competitions when modern tournament green speed requirements require that the stimp makes most of the green unpinnable in high winds"

vastly strengthens the argument to leave the green the hell alone.

Thank you!
11.24.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark Bourgeois
Mark Clayton:
"In my experience good architects do not do what they are told." Surely you know best. Your statement, then, is a pretty searing indictment of the architect profession. You imply that archies cannot be trusted to behave responsibly and also that the guys running clubs are ignorant and have no idea what they want and are inveigled into ludicrous renovations by unscrupulous archies. What a sad state of affairs.

I suspect, however, that Peter Dawson, say what you will, has a pretty good idea what he wants at TOC and Hawtree is doing what he is told. TOC hosts the Open every five years and the Dunhill every year. I am sure it also hosts many am events each year as well. We were there last summer and there was a collegiate event going on.
11.24.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRyder
Hawtree did what he was told with Birkdale's 17th green. That speaks for itself, doesn't it?
11.24.2012 | Unregistered CommenterHawkeye

We have never been employed by a club and been told what to do. They ask our opinion. We make suggestions. They accept them or they reject them. Pretty simple stuff I would have thought and hardly an 'indictment on the profession'
11.24.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike Clayton
They're letting the bloke responsible for Birkdale's 17th loose on the Old Course? Morons.
11.25.2012 | Unregistered CommenterPsycho
Now all it'll need is an additional 500 yards.
11.25.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff
Geoff, sorry busy over the weekend, and sorry also for emotive language, I just get upset when people assume ownership of the OC for "the world of golf". The world of golf does not own or have protective responsibility for the OC. St Andrews people do.

I'm not particularly passionate for these ideas, but I took the time at the Links Trust on Friday morning to speak with people and look at the plans in detail, and also a few then and now photos. Whether we like it or not the ball is where it is, the distances being hit are where they are, and while they may be restricted in future it's utterly unlikely they'll be reigned back. I agree this is a scandal and an appalling indictment of those who run our game, but it can't and won't be uninvented.

I understand visitors to the OC get all romantic and inspired by it, but it's not golf's Mona Lisa, or Rosetta Stone, or an artefact enclosed in glass. And nobody has any wish for it to be, surely. The OC is the most played competition golf course in Europe, maybe the world. It has a quinnennial Open, plus the Dunhill every year, plus the Links and St Rule Trophies as well as Spring and Autumn Meetings and any number of club championships. That will not change and for all the elite competitions the retention of relevance of the course has to be examined. While we're happy for the course and conditions on links courses to set the par - and the Opens in recent times show the R&A are reasonably good at that - nobody wants a shower of 58s and 59s, surely.

Your specific point about the 11th (I've never heard anybody in St A's refer to it as the Eden hole btw, or for that matter any OC hole referred to by anything but the number bar, obviously, the 17th) - that area on the left is already pinnable for regular play, just not for the green speeds required for elite play. They are very conscious of the subtleties of what they are doing, John Grant, the links trust manager, said they were going to be very delicate about the entire process. It started on Sunday, by the way, so any "campaign" is already too late.

The Trust are also sceptical about the mounding areas. The R&A has consdierable clout about what happens on the OC, obviously, but not unfettered authority. I'd rather they hadn't used Hawtree either but, as you might gather, he's the chef du jour right now. I don't think any of his changes are unsolvable if they turn out to be dire, and St A's players won't be slow in telling us if they are.

Any inference by you or others that you know better than St A's people about the OC, I would suggest, is breathtakingly arrogant. They are not brainless Scottish hicks, they understand the game as much as you do, better from a practical standpoint on their territory, I would suggest. Regarding your assumption they approved the previous changes, the back tees are essentially irrelevant to most St A's players, it's only the visitors who insist in playing off the back tips. Play from the regular tees and you still get the proper OC experience.

St A's people (I'm not one of them btw, I just cover it for a local paper) are the real custodians of the OC, not Dawson, and not you and other so-called OC "scholars". Trust them.
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Scott
Thanks Steve for apologizing for the emotive language and then calling me breathtakingly arrogant.

My breathtaking arrogance tells me that the people who came up with the Castle course and several other dreadful homages to the game in the area may just not be equipped mentally to understand what they have. And I'm sorry, but the Old Course is not a private club in the hands of a few. It's the Home of Golf, the people's course and in essence the most important course in the world.

You need to get out more if you've never heard of St. Andrews holes called by anything other than their number.
11.26.2012 | Registered CommenterGeoff
I've been the golf writer for the local morning paper for 18 years, and I've covered every Open at St A's since 1984 in some way. I'd say that gives me a bit better grounding in the OC than most. I certainly don't think I need to get out there anymore than I do.

The Old Course is a public-owned course, but that "publlic" is the people of St Andrews. Not the worldwide community of golf. And if you don't believe it arrogant that people with a relatively limited exposure to the OC and the links think they have a greater understanding, a greater level of care and attention over it than the people that play it every day - I'm referring to the ordinary St A's folk that are members of the St Andrews club, the New Club, St Rule and St Regulus as well as the local resident R&A members - then there's no really point in continuing this debate.
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Scott
As someone brought up in St Andrews, who lives here 12 months a year and is also fortunate enough to make a living from looking after golfing pilgrims, my initial instinct on hearing about the changes was "Tom Morris will be spinning in his grave". However, on reflection, I realised he was probably more responsible for changes to the course than anybody.

I'm not sure how much "consultation" there was with the local clubs but it wouldn't surprise me if most local players are fairly relaxed about some bunkers being replaced, moved or added. But, people will definitely be keeping a close eye on the 11th hole - High (In) btw - as it certainly appears to be a much more radical step, and one much less easy to "make right" if necessary.

The proof of the pudding will be in the playing I suppose and, despite the grief the hole has caused over the years, we can only hope it retains its reputation as one of the shortest par 5s in golf!
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamie Gardner
Steve Scott,

And were those "ordinary St. Andreans" consulted on this slate of alterations? Please correct me if I'm mistaken, but the impression I get is that this was a decision made by no more than half a dozen individuals. Were there public hearings within the community?
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom Dunne
Clearly the majority of these posts are from Americans - Jamie and Steve accepted. Why is there such a feeling and fascination that the Americans have in making comment about changes to the Old Course and other courses for that matter. They are 99% the reason why courses have to evolve and adapt and change due to the massive commercialism and advances in technology in golf equipment which has changed the game so dramatically in the past 20 years.

I have many American golfing friends who I debate such matters regularly. All I say is 'Don't knock it until you've tried it.' And for the ignorant comments of who is Hawtree - he has done a tremendous amount of work on other Open venues (you'll see some great adjustments at Muirfield for next year)

So, those of you who criticize now - I wonder when you get invited or get the opportunity to play the Old Course in a few years time, that you will grumble at the opportunity and have a moan about the changes. Just remember, these guys at the R&A know what they are doing - face facts - they are the owners and standard barers of golf, so are they really going to screw it up...?????

Embrace change - that is life, and get on with it. You sound like a bunch of whingers.
11.27.2012 | Unregistered CommenterKwikCaddy
I thought hard why I was so against the changes to the Old Course when I am so determined my own golf club moves with the times and changes!

I can only put it down to the history, tradition, why change a master-piece, nostalgia and my advancing age. Sorry - I wish I felt better about it, but I don't. But I will try and take advice and accept the R & A know what they are doing.

The course record will start again and I will need to play it again to have my "personal" best score on the new layout - and my framed drawing of the layout will have to come off the wall soon!

To finish on a high - I am now quite excited at the prospect of now having to playing it again,

John H
12.2.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn H
First, I should maybe own up to being a local from St Andrews and perhaps “not be equipped mentally to understand”.

That aside, I thought I would drop into the conversation and add my 2 cents (I figured I would use US currency as most of Y’all seem to be American).

I too was skeptical about the changes, much like Jamie Gardeners comments above, I don’t really want anyone tinkering with the course that I love and play on a regular basis. However, I have now played and walked the course several times since and have come to the conclusion that the changes are good. Very good to be honest, subtle too. I would challenge most visitors to name the changes after completing a round. Actually, no I wouldn’t, there has been too much hoopla from the blogger expert fraternity, it’s a bet I would never win.

The 11th Hole or High ‘in’ as its called (NOT the Eden, ‘the Eden’ is another St Andrews course and has 18 greens & holes all of its own to the west of the Old Course, perhaps some of you should play other courses the town has to offer instead for checking a name from a list) has been modified as per the press release. And in my opinion, the horizon hasn’t changed from the tee, which was my major concern when they mentioned flattening out the back left hand side. The change is extremely subtle, even to someone that has played the course in excess of 20/30 rounds a year for the past 20 years. I am very much looking forward to playing to the left side of the green once it’s bedded in come May. Yes, there are more pins, and for us locals it’s a great thing offering more variety to a great hole. It also gives 4 certain areas a chance to recover from over use. So, in my opinion, a very good change indeed.

For those of you that don’t boycott the Old Course completely will notice the biggest difference on the 2nd hole. Although from 165yds out you don’t notice any change to the environment, once you get to around the 150yds mark you will notice two (new/moved) bunkers appear into view guarding the right hand side of the green, and hide some subtle undulations from what was the forward part of the 3rd tee thus making for a slightly more tricky 2 putt. These bunkers have been moved closer to the green, from a rather redundant position, and they have added subtle undulations to what was a fairly bland and disappointing fringe. And, again, in my opinion, have enhanced the hole.

As for 17, Blah, happens every year.

I could actually go on, and on but I feel I have had my rant. So to quote from KwikCaddy “Embrace change - that is life, and get on with it. You sound like a bunch of whingers.”
01.7.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames Bunch

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