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"Leaving those things untouched in the ground is a powerful and sobering reminder that the bigger and more important than any one of us."

I appreciate Brad Klein's sentiment in this follow up story on the Old Course changes debacle, but I just can't get past something in the story.

It’s one thing to add back tees – an odd-enough exercise where some new platforms technically are beyond course boundaries. And a case can be made for reducing the slope of a section of the 11th green from 4 percent to 6 percent slope to a more manageable pitch of 2 percent to 3 percent to accommodate modern green speeds and recapture historic hole locations, such as the one Bobby Jones used in 1921. But moving bunkers, shifting the terrain and filling in hollows like the legendary one on the seventh hole – widely regarded to be a maintenance nuisance, but one that probably traces itself back to sheep taking shelter from the wind a half-millennium ago – all need to be undertaken at a slower pace than these edits have been through.

There’s a worrisome precedent here, namely that the same body responsible for protecting the game is out there changing the world’s most closely watched layout. There’s no doubt that Dawson, Hawtree and the Links Trust are going about this with historical sensitivity and technical skill.

Uh, no there is plenty of doubt, actually.

The seventh hole, as Klein notes, did okay a certain way for several hundred years.

Also, if there was real skill and sensitivity, (A) why was there something to hide in not announcing the work, and (B) why is Dawson now second-guessing these suggested changes on the fourth hole because they were nominated by the course superintendent?

Maybe because they are ignorant ideas put forth by greenkeepers instead of architects?

Anyway, he concludes accurately:

But the threshold of change needs to be exceedingly high when we’re dealing with a historic treasure as St. Andrews.

The latest changes to the Old Course all are individually defensible as improvements. But what’s wrong with the occasional flaw and blemish? Leaving those things untouched in the ground is a powerful and sobering reminder that the game, like a very few of its historic layouts, is bigger and more important than any one of us.

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Reader Comments (12)

It should also be noted that Scott McPerson's credible opinion has to be questioned here, where he has been critical, Mr. McPherson has been paid by the Links Trust for his mapping of the course. Honestly, I'm starting to feel that McPherson's book was nothing more then a primer for the work (destruction) Dawson (Napolean) wanted to have done.
12.13.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Strangelove
I just read in the paper that Notre Dame Catherdral in Paris is set to celebrate its 850th anniversary. The article mentioned that they added bells to the tower. Seems to me that the other bells worked quite well for 849 years. I guess Notre Dame is not sacred ground, because there has been no uproar.
12.13.2012 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
@tlavin. Actually, there has been some objection. But the current bells only date to 1856 and they replaced earlier bells that were lost in the French revolution. The current bells are considered by experts to be poor, out of tune, replacements for the lost bells. Still, it took over 150 years to decide to replace them with a proper set. I think things are moving a little quicker than that at TOC.
12.13.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJJ
@tlavin, I have to thank you for that reference. There WAS a ruckus according to the New York Times of 18 October 2011. And the article strengthens the contrast to the work being carried out at St Andrews Old:

* The replacement bells are intended to 'restore' the sound the bells made in the 17th century -- they are not 'modernising' the bells so they produce a '21st century' sound. They are not 'softening' the sound. The new bells will have the same weight and diameter as the current bells.

* The most-significant bell, the 'Bourdon Emmanuel' -- the '11th green' of the bells if you will -- will be untouched.

* The bell experts quoted are in agreement with Notre Dame's decision and methodology.

This does not sound like most of the changes at St Andrews, in fact quite the opposite in cases like 11 green, which most certainly is not being rebuilt to its 17th century, 18th century, 19th century, or even 20th century contours. Perhaps the rebuild of the Road Hole bunker on 17, but despite Peter Dawson's continued claims to the contrary there's been very little concern expressed. (The concerns about changes to the contours around 17 green are a different issue.)
12.13.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark Bourgeois
I'm reminded last night of what the R&A and Links Trust did ... to the Eden course. There's clearly a problem for them with anything that has the word Eden in it.

But at least, I don't see a range going into TOC's 17th hole. Ouf!

Eden = crime of the century...
12.13.2012 | Unregistered CommenterPHK
Ah, my negligence in not reseaching a newspaper article has done nothing but fuel the already too-fueled up. Have at it, boys.
12.13.2012 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
Au contraire mon frere, please continue! It is not negligence but assistance, for which we are most grateful. Merci beaucoup et a bien tot,
12.13.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark Bourgeois

A self-inflicted wound if ever I caused one. And I've caused many!
12.13.2012 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
@tlavin, you think we are well-fueled online, that's nothing...come to our Christmas party, we issue you a standing invite!

To be serious for a moment, I don't think historic preservation is ever cut and dried, unless I suppose we are dealing with something like a literal monument, like an obelisk.

The Notre Dame fracas shows as well as anything the tension between form and function. Is it the bells themselves, their physical fact as they exist today, that should be preserved or, if their sound has 'degraded' over the centuries, is it their original qualities -- namely sound -- that should be restored? What are we preserving, the object or its function?

In the most-general, off-the-top-of-the-head way, then, there does seem a parallel between the bells and the 11th green -- BUT the HUGE distinction, the crusher really, is that at St Andrews the form of the 11th is being changed to something it never has been. To serve a function that owes a nod to the past, yes, BUT that function could have been restored simply by slowing the green speeds. It is as though the bells of Notre Dame were changed in response to the small memory capacity and tinny sound of .mp3 files.

Yes...that's it...'the bells need to lose their bass sound so they will sound better on earbuds.'
12.13.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark Bourgeois
Seeing pictures of the changes, I can only conclude that Dawson elected not to vet them ex ante becasue he feared the disclosure of what is now clear. They fail to carry the "threshold" for changes to the world's most historic and important golf course..
12.13.2012 | Unregistered Commenterotey
completely agree that moving bunkers and filling in holes at the old course sets an unbelievably slippery and sickening precedent from here on out. what are they possibly thinking
12.13.2012 | Unregistered Commentercameron
If I put together a bit of Brad's article with Mark B's post here, I get a clearer picture. Brad says that, given its unique and historic stature, the bar for proposed changes to the Old Course should be exceedingly high. Mark's post sets that bar correctly, I think: i.e. to changes that maintain/restore the traditional, unique and historic "function" of any given feature/element of the course. I think that asking -- and then taking the time to understand and answer -- the question: "what 'purpose' did feature X serve for a couple of hundred years" would've been a great and proper place to start. It seems to me that if we're going to argue against changes based on history and uniqueness, the concept of purpose/function -- what the course and its features has "meant" to golfers, how it has historically been "experienced" -- is the real measuring stick.
12.13.2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

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