While many of you were away enjoying the Thanksgiving, the Links Trust of St. Andrews issued a Friday afternoon press release announcing that nine of the Old Course's holes would see the first genuine man-made changes to the most sacred ground on the golfing planet that countless architects have tried to replicate with little success: the Old Course green contours and surrounds.
Several of the areas in question were last moved by the ocean centuries ago. Major changes to bunkers have only been for maintenance or evolutionary reasons, with the last recorded alteration of a bunker location dating to 1949. The plan, by architect Martin Hawtree in coordination with the R&A and approved by the Links Trust, makes the recent tees built for the Open Championship outside the Old Course boundaries look sensitive and endearing.
Especially when they finally figured out whether they were in bounds or not.
Yet while you were away, news of this Mona Lisa-nose job crystallized the issue before us that many of you have been well aware of: the governing bodies, and in this case the R&A, will go to stunning lengths to mask regulatory malfeasance by rigging a course to get a higher winning score so that no one notices how badly they've done their job. Or as Stephen Gallacher put it, they're scared of a 59 over the Old Course that is now very possible due to modern equipment.
Making the Old Course situation all the more fascinating is the tension surrounding by this week's possible announcement of a USGA/R&A ban on anchoring putters against the torso, and the overall realization that the game is led by people willing to go such lengths to not address the primary issue that they would risk defacing the most sacred grounds in the game.
So to recap the wacky holiday weekend and the perilous state of the game...
Gary Player kept his verbal assault on the governing bodies, more specifically the R&A, and this was before he had heard what they had planned for St. Andrews. Bifurcation was definitely on his mind.
Jim Achenbach used the belly putter ban we're likely to get this week or next to again raise the question of what good the governing bodies are doing for the everyday game. Another bifurcation supporter.
Bifurcation already exists, and they simply won’t admit it.
Touring pros play longer courses with firmer fairways and faster greens. Tees and bunkers are perfect. These pros adhere to the one-ball rule. Amateurs generally do not play under these conditions. Touring pros use equipment that is hand-selected and hand-checked. It is individually customized and modified. Pros have golf balls delivered each week to their lockers. Most amateurs do not have access to this equipment.
This is bifurcation. It reflects different conditions and different parameters for pros and amateurs.
John Huggan uses his visit to Australia to chat with leading players like Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter to point out there is more to the game than we are getting with the distance chase that has sadly prompted the R&A to subject St. Andrews to changes (and this was filed before that news broke).
Media coverage of the Old Course press release was paltry due to the Friday afternoon timing, the American holiday and the limited understanding of what the Old Course stands for within the architecture and history communities. Disappointingly, the SI Confidential passed even with Old Course observers Bamberger, Shipnuck and Van Sickle all in.
However, architect Tom Doak has been leading an early campaign to get the Old Course work reconsidered by the Links Trust, issuing letters to the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the European Institute of Golf Course Architects, the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects and the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association.
I propose to make a petition to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club expressing that as a golf course architect, I feel that The Old Course is sacred ground, and that architectural changes should not be made to it unless necessary for the maintenance and health of the course. I would like to know from each of you individually, whether you are interested in participating in this movement, and whether your organizations might be interested in participating as well.
He received a reply from ASGCA president Bob Cupp who likened the Old Course changes to "redesigning Chartres" and said of the ground features under siege: "The historic significance of those forms is immense, something that should be preserved at all cost, even if it is some low scores."
And historian Mark Bourgeois posted this on his website:
On 23 November 2012 Peter Dawson and Martin Hawtree selected themselves as the first humans in recorded history to change St Andrews' 11th green ("Eden"). Dawson and Hawtree decided they will change eight holes, in all, on The Old Course. This site is dedicated to the previous generations of architects, greenkeepers, and R&A officials who preserved and protected the 11th green and other architectural features original to The Old Course.
Please email the Links Trust and request a delay in these changes.
**Architect Ian Andrew, a restoration expert and historian, has written to his ASGCA peers asking the organization to take a stand:
While I may not personally like what some architects choose to do with historical courses, I had never seen a proposal so egregious that I thought we as an organization needed to take a stand. Until now. The latest proposal for renovations to the Old Course in my opinion crosses that line. While I’d prefer they let well alone, it is not the entire proposal that compels me to write this letter. It is the desire to alter the contours of the land. Any change to the undulations or green contours shows a complete disregard for St. Andrew’s hallowed ground.
I’m not foolish enough to believe any course should be locked in time or not allowed to make change, but recommending changes to the ground contours and green contours of The Old Course is a travesty.
**Adam Lawrence sums up the "furious reaction" of architects in a Golf Course Architecture post.