Considering The 2015 Open After Playing The Old Course

Of course I’m rubbing it in by mentioning the great privilege of playing St Andrews the day after The Open. But move past the envy stage! Because there is still plenty to consider from the 2015 Open Championship.

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play after such a fascinating Open also meant getting to play the final round hole locations in far more pleasant conditions than the leaders faced. (Though we did get an opposite wind direction: into the breeze going out, downwind coming in.) The greens were not cut, but there was no shortage of speed.

More on that and some other random observations…

-The hole locations.
I can only recall two pin placements that seemed genuinely accessible. The 9th was so center cut that it was almost deceptive due to the lack of definition. The 5th hole was cut 85 yards deep. I faced a third shot yardage of 73 yards to the front.  Now there’s something you don’t experience everyday. The rest of the holes were tucked, hidden or stuck in places the caddies had rarely seen. I heard the same observation from locals who were pleased to see some new locations used, but who also groused about the inability to come up with a few more creative uses of these amazing greens.

- Were these tucked pins offering risk-reward possibilities?
Not really. The third and seventh holes featured locations that a ball could be funneled to by a player who could recall how to use the contours, but the rest seemed designed to prevent scoring. Which only makes the final round 66’s from Zach Johnson and Marc Leishman that much more extraordinary. They performed in some of the worst weather and managed to take advantage of the limited opportunities.

- The putting were shockingly good. Consider this: no mowing, a full tee sheet from 6:50 am on and play to hole locations that were used the day prior. Our group, that included Australian journalist Ben Everill and Golf World editor Jaime Diaz, teed off at 3:40 (and behind Americans…you know who you are!). Yet I felt like anything inside six feet was going in if you started the ball on the proper line. The greenkeeper and his crew really do work wonders there. But clearly there is also something very special in the St Andrews turf that allows it to withstand the abuse it gets. 

- Jason Day’s 18th hole birdie putt could very easily be left short. On our list of key putts to try was Jason Day’s final effort that would have gotten him into a playoff. Day left it short and many were shocked how well he took it or that a player could leave that putt short. We tried it and sure enough the cup was on a spot where the ball slowed dramatically near the hole. Whether this was an intentional choice or mere coincidence, we won’t know. But we all agreed to appreciate Day’s point of view.

- Jordan Spieth’s first of four putts on No. 8 was, to be fair, pretty terrible. I was pin high of the back left hole and because of the contours, had a nearly impossible two-putt from about 75 feet. I pulled it off but had to make about a 20 footer. Jordan Spieth’s path to the hole had very little contour in the way. It was just long and you couldn’t leave it above the hole (the green rises up and then falls down to the collar area). It was just a very, very bad attempt that could only happen on greens that large and with an immense amount of pressure.

- Jordan Spieth’s par putt on 17 was very good. Many pointed out that his putt for four at the Road hole missed and forced the need for an 18th hole birdie was actually quite difficult from our late evening sampling. It took quite the dive at the hole if you didn’t hit it firm.

- The Road hole plays better and just as tough with light rough. Naturally. Without the pitch-out rough to the left of the 17th fairway like we saw in 2010, the Road played as hard as ever. Many players curiously took an Auber-conservative route to the hole by playing into No. 2.  Yes a new back tee was required, but I can assure you the difficulty is maintained by the difficulty of the green and not the bizarro work down to the area around the Road bunker. Let’s hope they remedy that and then leave the hole alone.

- The course remains a marvel in so many ways. From the way it handles all of the traffic to the magical contours, to way the greens are mere extensions of the fairway, the endearing qualities written about for so many years remain as ever-present today as they did 150 years ago. And while some don’t care for the commercial quality to the place with so much tourist play, the Old Course at St. Andrews is the world’s most important course and the Links Trust ably balances the needs of the local clubs, the town and the university player with the desire of golfers worldwide to experience this historic place.

Video: Old Course Fifteenth And Sixteenth Hole Flyovers

"Cartgate (in)" at the Old Course looks narrower than ever to me and the green is one of the most intricate on the course. Aim at the church steeple, so the locals say, and place your drive through Miss Grainger's Bosoms (named for Miss Agnes Grainger). Still, at 455 yards anything avoiding trouble off the tee sets this up as a birdie opportunity if a player has a good sense of this large green.

The video:

"Corner of the Dyke" is one of the best spectator holes here, as fans lean on the boundary fence and are withing just yards of the players hitting their approaches. The Principal's Nose is just 220 yards or so to carry on this 418-yard hole.  The key bunker to avoid is Deacon Sime, about 290 off the tee.

The video:

Tiger Would Love To Play The Old Course In Reverse

Tiger revealed in his 144th Open Championship press conference he's still "right here in front of you" and insisted he's not done.

But more fun for golf junkies, he revealed that he would love to play the Old Course in reverse, as they do every April 1st.

Ewan Murray of the Guardian with the Tiger news from St. Andrews:

Of St Andrews, Woods added: “Obviously it’s the home of golf, we all know that. But to me it’s brilliant, how you can play it so many different ways. I’ve always wanted to play it backwards, one time before I die. I want to play from 1 to 17, 2 to 16, so forth and so on. I  think that would be just a blast because I can see how certain bunkers – why would they put that there? And then if you play it backwards, you see it. It’s very apparent. That’s totally in play. That one day would be a lot of fun to be able to do.”

Jeremy Glenn filed this excellent look at the reverse Old Course for

Peter Dawson Explains His Changes To The Old Course

Glad we got one thing cleared up before the start of The Open Championship: it was a Peter Dawson operation all along!

While Martin Hawtree was the architect of record for altering the Old Course to offset regulatory hesitancy, R&A Chief Inspector Peter Dawson lays out for Scotland on Sunday's John Huggan the details behind his changes to what is apparently his course.

No one needs to rehash the Friday news dump approach to the project or the matter of tinkering with greens and bunkers after over fifty years of no architectural tinkering on golf's most sacred grounds. Instead, just take in the totality of the remarks, which do not include a "we" reference that might indicate contributions from architect Hawtree or the manager's of the Old Course, the Links Trust. I, I, I, I...oh and many were envisioned while out walking the dog!  Take that, Old Tom!

There was also this curious remark...

“All of the changes are the result of much observation at the Open and the Dunhill Links Championship – and a few hundred Sunday morning dog walks of course. And yes, shortening the ball would be the equivalent of lengthening the course. But we, unfortunately, don’t have the luxury of being a single-issue organisation.”

Even if it's the single biggest issue binding all of the other vital issues the organization is trying to address with sustainability, growth and the future?

Tiger Shocked To Find Old Course Soft And Slow

Bob Harig of on Tiger's first practice round at the 2015 Open Championship, his first appearance there since 2010.

From Harig's story:

"I was shocked," Woods said. "I had seen photos of it a month ago. It was bone dry. It looked like it was going to be one of those dust bowls again; hard, fast, like the years I've played St. Andrews. It's changed. They got big rain and a lot of sun. It's totally changed.

"I'm going to have to do a little bit of feel around the greens, my putting. I wasn't expecting the firmness to be that soft. We made ball marks on the greens. I don't ever remember making ball marks around this place."

Video: Old Course Eleventh And Twelfth Hole Flyovers

One of the most emulated par-3s in the way of greenside bunkering schemes has otherwise not been very well replicated by architect who have been inspired by the Eden. (Unlike the Redan, which has been improved on and which this golfer posted a nice five on today.)

The 11th features a softened green to make a portion over the sand more pinnable during The Open. Next week we'll find out if the effort succeeded.

The flyover:

Outside of the finishing holes, this stretch

The short 12th is one of the lesser known influences on the modern driveable par-4 movement and probably continues to live in a form of architectural anonymity due to its location in the round and the lack of spectating options during The Open. Nonetheless, it's a fascinating hole and one when, played with a helping wind, may be best approach from over the green.

The flyover:

St. Andrews Videos: Bobby Jones Wins In 1927

The Open's official highlights from Bobby Jones winning in 1927 includes some great shots on the course and era-approprirate music. What a time and place!

The weather wasn't so hot in 1927, so if you're going this year this ought to be a reminder to pack that umbrella:

Check out this Critical Past footage and note the crowd stampeding over the Road green.

Finally, and my favorite of the clips, the footage of the crowd rushing the Home green after Jones clinches. If you watch carefully at the 0:49 mark you can see the epic moment when the crowd lifts Jones and carries him away. That moment produced quite possibly the greatest golf image ever, and it leads off this slideshow.

The AP game story from the time (unbylined) makes for fun reading because it describes the reaction to Jones finishing his round and says he was in the ninth of 27 pairs to go out (yikes playing behind that stampede). The story that ran in papers across America includes this epic description of the R&A clubhouse when pointing out how Jones was leaving the Claret Jug behind for safe keeping. Someone had WiFi issues! Excuse me, typewriter ribbon problems...

The announcement was made before a crowd of several thousand persons jamming the spacious St. Andrews eighteenth green and terraces around the drab old stone pile which houses the potentates of the royal and ancient game, awaiting the presentation ceremony.

Jones posted a 285 total to beat Aubrey Boomer and Fred Robson by six strokes.

"All are welcome at the home of golf on Sundays. Except golfers."

I haven't a clue why, on the eve of the U.S. Open with St. Andrews hosting The Open in a month, the New York Times felt compelled to run Sam Borden's piece on Sundays at The Old Course. Even ill-timed, it's an enjoyable read.

Borden writes:

Sunday activities on the Old Course over the years have run the gamut. A local woman named Marie-Noel, who declined to give her surname, said she recalled members of her family laying out their laundry on the course some weeks and added, with a mixture of sheepishness and pride, that she and her friends used to participate in an on-course drinking game known as Port Golf when she was attending a university nearby.
Matheson, one of four guides handling the daily tours, recalled seeing fishermen spread their nets on the fairways so they could mend them. He shook his head when relating a story about a woman in high heels trying to walk across one of the greens.

“That happens more than you would think,” he said. “Then you sometimes see some of the boys out with a football trying to have a proper game before they get chased away.”

Matheson said he had never heard of any serious discussion about changing the Sunday rule. He noted that Old Tom Morris, the legendary player and greenskeeper who revitalized the Old Course in the mid-1800s, was said to have preached, “Even if the golfers don’t need a rest, the course does.”