R&A Design, LLC

Mike Aitken reports on the R&A's not so stellar start in the design business.

You may recall that most links have only seen minor tinkering in preparation for Open Championships, but now that the pesky ball is going so bloody far and scores might go lower if something isn't done, why, driver must be taken out of the players hands.

Therefore, the R&A has begun to inflict assorted design atrocities on the rota links that pale when compared to anything the USGA has ever...well I just had an Oak Hill flashback.

Anyhow, Aitken reports:

...after embarking this winter on the first phase of a programme of improvements which will cost around £250,000 and increase the number of bunkers on the Ayrshire links to nearly 100, Turnberry has been advised by the Royal and Ancient to remove a number of traps and soften others because the test was in danger of becoming too severe.

Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, believed alterations to the first, 12th and 14th on the Ailsa now demanded too much of the golfer and needed to be revised.

You know how much I hate to be sarcastic, but you may recall this post about Dawson's planned February visit to help supervise these changes.

You see Mr. Dawson, there are people called golf architects who do this for a living and...oh I know, they would tell you to do something about the ball instead of littering Turnberry with rabbit-dropping inspired bunkers. Silly me!

Aitken provides the crime report:

On the first, for example, two new bunkers were introduced down the left and a third, large pot bunker was also added on the right at around the 280- yard mark. Dawson's reaction to this hazard was that it might take the driver out of the long hitters' hands and persuade them to err on the side of caution with an iron or utility club.

"Sometimes you can't fully appreciate the impact of an alteration until it's been built and you have another look at them in reality rather than on a drawing," said Dawson yesterday. "What happened on the first was that when we saw the new bunkering, we were concerned the element of risk and reward in going for the green might be taken away and the players would use an iron off the tee. But we haven't gone back to the way the hole was before. The hazard is just less severe than it was going to be."

On the back nine, though, the R&A did ask for new bunkers to be removed on the 12th and 14th holes. On the 12th, a new bunker was built on the left of the fairway beyond the existing traps. From what will be the new tee, however, the landing area was miniscule.

That bunker has been filled in as was one of the new traps on the 14th, where there were concerns the hazard couldn't be seen from the tee.

Stewart Selbie, the manager of Turnberry Hotel, was happy to comply with the R&A's wishes, though perhaps not displeased with the notion that the Ailsa had become so challenging.

The original plan was to add 30 traps before the Senior British Open is staged in Ayrshire in the summer and as many as 100 by 2009. Before work began, Turnberry had just 66 bunkers, the fewest of any links on the Open rota.

The second phase of upgrading will take place after the Seniors when Turnberry's finishing stretch will also be toughened up. Although plans for the closing holes have not yet been made public, it's thought the 16th could become more of a dogleg to create enough space to build a new tee which would extend the par-5 17th.

With an Amateur Championship also on the horizon, both Turnberry and the R&A are keen to retain a balance between heightening the challenge and retaining the character of a scenic links regularly ranked in the world's top 20. "What we don't want is to end up making the links unplayable for the regular golfer," said Selbie.

Aitken also outlines changes to Carnoustie to deal with "new technology and improved fitness," and the boondogglery continues...

And, on the treacherous 17th, there was concern a bail-out area now existed on the "island" rather than players having to think about laying up short of the burn or going for broke. This will be remedied by the introduction of rough mounding.

"We did feel that a bit of a bail-out area had emerged since the re-turfing of the 17th and so we've done something about that," acknowledged Dawson.

Rough mounding?