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Changing St. Andrews: “Like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa”

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It’s a common occurrence: a golf course is cosmetically and strategically altered in preparation for a major championship.

The problem?

The course in question is The Old Course at St. Andrews, and the modifications—ahead of the 2015 Open Championship—will be the first changes to the “home of golf” in more than 70 years.

Further, the R&A’s simultaneous approval of architect Martin Hawtree’s proposed changes to the course and opposition to putter anchoring is strange, to say the least.

Matt Ginella from Golf Digest and Geoff Shackelford had an interesting back-and-forth on Twitter last week about the proposed modifications to the Old Course.

Ginella, the Senior Travel Editor at Golf Digest, took a “wait-and-see” attitude towards the changes. Additionally, he felt that both the “dramatic resistance” to the course alterations and the advent of the #savetheoldcourse hashtag on Twitter were unwarranted and overly-dramatic.

In the other corner: golf writer Geoff Shackelford, a hardline opponent of changes to the course.

Shackelford called Ginella out, assuming that any changes to the Old Course would be tantamount to butchery. He said the proposed changes are a “travesty” and likened the construction zone to a “crime scene,” on his website.

Shackelford may be acting primarily out of some theoretical opposition to any change to St. Andrews, but his nuanced breakdown of and objection to the changes is spot on. Additionally, Ginella is wrong to suggest that we ought to withhold judgment until the completion of the project because the public details of the specific changes Hawtree seeks to implement prove them to be overwhelmingly unnecessary.

As Golfweek’s Bradley Klein wrote, “I don’t know if these changes are all needed. What I do know is the reasons given for making them are unconvincing and not enough basis for tinkering with sacred ground.”

In judging Hawtree’s master plan for the Fife, Scotland treasure, it’s appropriate to look at what’s being proposed.

From Doug Ferguson’s AP piece:

Three bunkers will be moved closer to the putting surface – two on the second hole, one on the fourth hole. Two bunkers well to the right of the second hole – close to the third tee – will be removed. On the third hole, one fairway bunker will be removed, and one will be added about 275 yards off the tee. Another bunker will be added on the short par-4 ninth hole, about 25 yards short and to the left of the green.

The corners of six greens will be recontoured, which includes lowering the back of the green on the par-3 11th hole. A large depression in the landing area of the seventh fairway will be filled and a slight mound created.

As a variety of people indicate, the most egregious alterations to St. Andrews are those at the exceptional 11th hole and the Road Hole—St. Andrew’s iconic 17th.

The 17th green in front of the Road Bunker will be reshaped, and the bunker itself will be fiddled with. This act alone is comparable to a novice, with chisel in hand, attempting to alter the musculature of Michelangelo’s David.

The 11th green will be reshaped to accommodate a hole location on the left portion of the green. The left side of the green is, apparently, presently too quick in championship play to have such a hole location, according to Dawson. Of course, as a few people have suggested in the Twittersphere, the R&A could set an example and slow the greens down in line with the way they have rolled for the majority of the Old Course’s existence…or even the green speeds of the 1980s.

Of course, all of this was put into motion well before the R&A and USGA’s joint announcement of Rule 14-1b earlier this week.

Regardless, altering the most historic golf course in the world for flimsy reasons while complaining that a minority approach to putting is altering the game and offering little empirical data to support the conclusion seems like attacking tradition and then turning around and using it as a shield.

With the vagaries of Scottish weather in mind, the winning scores of the Open Championships contested at St. Andrew’s since 1984 have been 12-under, 18-under, 6-under, 19-under, 14-under and 16-under. True, recent winners are scoring better than the gents who were swinging persimmons, but there has not been a dramatic change in the past 30 years. Additionally, the R&A does not share the USGA’s belief in the sanctity of par and the scores are not alarming by tour standards.

Even if changes in golf club and ball technology enabled pros to routinely shoot 59s on the Old Course, alterations would have to be considered very, very carefully. As this is not the case (the 2010 Open winner, Louis Oosthuizen shot 65, 67, 69, 71) there is absolutely no need for any changes to the course based on how the pros have played it. Further, the assertion that the game’s best players have been manhandling the masterpiece in recent years is absurd.

As it is, there is no need to change the Old Course in order to make it competitive. With this in mind, I’m reminded of what someone once said regarding cosmetic changes to St. Andrew’s: “It’s a bit like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa,” said…Peter Dawson, the current head of the R&A in a 2002 Golf World interview.

Apparently, some ten years later, Dawson is ready to draw the mustache.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

image c/o livingasalinksgolfer.blogspot.co.uk

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  1. 03trdblack

    Dec 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    These new changes are obviously a direct result of the massive negative impact the belly putter has had on the game. They have nothing to do with the titanium drivers, graphite shafts, or modern golf balls….

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Legend Rees Jones speaks on designing Danzante Bay in Mexico

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Hall-of-Fame golf course architect Rees Jones talks about his newest course design, Danzante Bay at Villa Del Palmar in Mexico. Also, Jeff Herold of TRS Luggage has an exclusive holiday discount offer for GolfWRX listeners!

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