The most famous hole in golf is to be modified for the first time in over a century.
The Road Hole, the seventeenth on the Old Course at St Andrews, is being lengthened by 35 yards in advance of next year’s Open Championship. Through its history feared for the intimidating drive over the railway sheds – now the Old Course Hotel – and for its narrow plateau green with the Road bunker in front, and the road itself behind, the 455 yard hole had become, for the best golfers at least, no longer the terrifying prospect of old. The increased length of professional players, courtesy of technological advances in clubs and balls, induced the St Andrews authorities to grow a collar of rough across the fairway, taking the driver out of play, in an attempt to avoid the humiliating scenario of golfers hitting wedge approach shots to golf’s supposedly most difficult hole. “Players have been hitting a four iron off the tee in recent years,” says golf architect Scott Macpherson, who last year published a major book on the evolution of the Old Course.
The new tee, stretching the hole to 490 yards, will be constructed on the Links Trust’s practice range – itself created from the Eden course only a few years ago – on the other side of the dividing wall and the old railway track bed.
It has long been suggested that the hole would benefit from additional length. In advance of the 1964 St Andrews Open, three-time champion Henry Cotton said: “I would make a tee just beyond the railway line. It would restore this drive to its former value.” Flow of spectators around the sixteenth green, though, will be made increasingly difficult, a problem at St Andrews, which is already a difficult course for viewing, with its double fairways and elevated greens.
The St Andrews authorities reckon the new tee will encourage players to take their driver off the tee, and plan to extend the fairway to the left in the landing zone – although, as a shot played from this side will have to content directly with the Road bunker, it will not be the ideal position. Macpherson, though, isn’t so sure. “I think most players will hit a three wood or a rescue club,” he told GCA.
“The seventeenth was played at the same yardage in 1900 as in 2005 and this fuelled our belief that the formidable challenge of this iconic hole should be returned for the Open Championship,” said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson. The changes to the Road Hole are, the authorities say, the only significant alterations planned in advance of the 2010 Open.