The R&A has announced that the Old Course will be receiving a makeover before the 2015 Open Championship. Martin Hawtree has designed the changes, which will take place over this winter and the next. The work will take place in two phases. The first phase involves work on the 2nd, 7th, 11th and 17th holes. The second phase will deal with the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 9th and 15th holes. The changes include adding bunkers to landing areas, enlarging and moving greenside bunkers, and increasing undulations.
The course changes have, in general, received negative public reactions. An entire Twitter movement began under the hash tag of “save the Old Course.” But one has to ask, why have the countless changes to the Old Course in the past not been met with similar negativity? The first part to this answer most likely lies in the lack of publicity surrounding the changes. Work seemed to start suddenly, and then was followed with a press release once the ground had been broken.
The second part to this answer lies in the changes themselves. This was not merely lengthening the odd hole by adding a tee or rebuilding a bunker, these changes are integral to the course. The two bunkers moving greenside on the 2nd hole and the flattening of the back left portion of the 11th green being the most extreme examples in this first phase of the makeover.
After playing the course a number of times after these changes have been made, I have started to see the method behind Martin Hawtree’s changes. What he is doing to the course makes golfing design sense in most cases, but why would anyone make these changes to the Old Course? Its oddities and quirks are a major part of the Old Course’s uniqueness.
The R&A have undoubtedly decided to change the course to keep up with new technology and modern changes to the game. After all, the Old Course has had a considerably lower scoring average than other Open rota courses in the last 30 years… It will be interesting to see if these changes will keep the pros from shooting the low scores to which the governing bodies seem to be so opposed.
The St Andrews Links Trustees, Links Management Committee both approved the changes. These two bodies undoubtedly have the best interest of the Old Course in mind, making it easier to stomach some of changes to the course.
In another fifty years we may look back on Hawtree’s changes as a blip on the St Andrews radar, just as many of the past adjustments to the course are now observed. After all, the Old Course technically had no designer. What we play today is merely a collection of all the changes to the rolling dunes land since play began in the 16th century. Will these changes be seen as the detrimental to the natural land or a successful attempt to add modernity to the ancient links? Time will tell, but for the present, nothing is left but to keep playing the great course and to learn to love the changes.
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