Hands off the
Old Course

I’m worried about two old courses — in the case of one of them I’m positively alarmed. The Old Course at St Andrews, where golf has been played for 600 years, is about to be attacked by re-designers intent on making it more difficult.

The other course, not so old at a mere 122 years, is The Glamorganshire which has been saturated by incessant rain and faces a major drainage problem. But we can do something about that. We can’t do anything about the defacing of the Old Course.

The St Andrews Trust, who own and manage the course, have agreed with the R & A, of all people, that the most revered course in the world needs to be altered to ‘stiffen its defences’ and ‘enhance the challenge for elite players’.

In other words, they are terrified that when The Open is held in 2015 the pros will murder it and that record scores of 59 or even 58 will be returned. So what? Justin Rose scored 62 at a much longer and fiercer course in Dubai on Sunday and we marvelled; and no-one cut their throat,

Of all the major courses, the Old has long been regarded as the most vulnerable, the most defenceless. But the wind usually comes to her aid and even when it doesn’t records show that the old girl has never been violated.

I’ve been fortunate to play there many times and she always gets the better of me. For the past 13 years I’ve led a party of 16 up there to play the Old as part of the Trust’s winter package. We regard it as a pilgrimage. I’m sure there are a lot warmer places we could go but we’ll be back as usual next March to experience the special aura of the place.

I doubt if the changes will affect us much but the tinkering with Road Hole bunker, for instance, and making the first changes to the fabled 11th green for 250 years and recontouring nine holes in all is a sacrilege. And we know it won’t stop there.

The authorities have meekly allowed golf ball technology to race on unchecked so that balls are now flying further than ever. That’s why they feel the need to adapt courses to contain this advance. You can’t redeem one error by committing another..

The outcry against the changes is very strong in America where it has been compared to painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa. You mustn’t tamper with a work of art. Objections can be lodged on the twitter account #savetheoldcourse.

Meanwhile, with people dying and thousands of homes flooded, it doesn’t seem appropriate to moan about not being able to play golf but since this is a column about playing golf it is difficult to keep off the subject.

There will be those who say that golf is a summer game and we hackers shouldn’t go flouncing about in the bad weather. What do they know about the game? For a start, it began in Scotland where it is winter most of the time.

Cricketers, bowls and tennis players may flee at the first raindrop but golfers take on whatever the elements fling at us. However, there are limits even for us. We can’t play in snow, for instance, because we wouldn’t be able to find our balls.

But rain is the more frequent menace. If there is too much of it the ground becomes waterlogged and the greens flooded.

We lost our first Winter League matches to the weather on Sunday and we’re worried it’s not going to be the last. And to think I spent a tenner having metal spikes put in my golf shoes — I should have invested in frogman’s flippers.

And that’s not the end of the adjustments we are going to have to make. The Glamorganshire course is in such a waterlogged state the club has banned electric trolleys fitted with solid wheels. They tend to skid on the soggy grass and the place is in danger of getting churned up.

Trolleys with pump-up tyres and those fitted with ‘hedgehog’ rubber spikes are acceptable because they don’t skid and hand-pulled trolleys are also kosher.

We, of the solid tyre fraternity, have the alternative of acquiring a small carry bag so we can cart a few clubs around on our backs. I don’t mind that but I have to carry more balls than most and there’s a lot of protective clothing that needs to go on and off so it’ll be too much of a burden.

The pro will fit a hedgehog over our present tyres for £29.99 so that’ll be the solution. As long as we get out on Sunday, I don’t care.

Our course, is founded on clay and we’ve lost 50 days to the rain this year. That’s serious when local clubs are open most of the time That’s how you lose members and why we are determined to tackle to tackle the problem.
There are some clubs who never close the course and proprietary clubs are amongst them. I once asked a proprietor at what stage he closes his course and he said: ‘When the water comes over the till’.
Members’ clubs tend to be a little more protective of their course. We have members who would play in waders while hitting floating balls.

Don’t drive
Hacker’s away

A question has been hanging around uncomfortably among the less gifted at our club since we witnessed the US Open at the Olympic Club, San Francisco, two weeks ago — if we had to play our golf on a course as brutally difficult as that, would we bother with the game?
As much as we love our forlorn jousts with club and ball, I suspect even the hardiest spirits amongst us would regretfully call it a day.
Hackers being, by and large, honest people — and let’s face it, no set of golfers are ever confronted with the stark truth as often as we are — we would throw up our hands and say we were unequal to such a challenge.
Thankfully for us — and even more so for the game — the vast majority of golf courses are not set up with such malicious intent. The United States Golf Association, the body responsible for preparing the US Open every year, consider it their duty to present the world’s best players with the cruellest possible task.
Apparently, they weren’t pleased that Rory McIlroy had won the previous year’s US Open with a score of 16 under par at the Congressional Country Club in Maryland — where Tiger Woods won last weekend — and were determined to toughen up this year’s test.
They were probably delighted that Webb Simpson won it with one over par but did it do any favours to the game of golf as an attractive sport to play?
Obviously, they don’t require players like us to play off the same tees as the pros but even off the forward tees the Olympic course would have been a killer with its sloping fairways and wicked greens surrounded by run-offs into bunkers and hollows. There was not a lot of fun to be had no matter how good you were.
Just to prove that great courses needn’t be heartbreakers we have just witnessed a brilliant tournament at Royal Portrush. The Irish Open was eminently more watchable, and just as dramatic, as the US Open even though no-one lost a ball up a tree.
Portrush is one of the world’s best courses and if the continual rain hadn’t softened it up we wouldn’t have seen as many birdies and eagles. Nevertheless, the place shone through the extreme conditions as a place you’d love to visit.
I’ve been fortunate enough to play it two or three times and although I found it very difficult the sheer joy of playing such a magnificent course made up for the many problems it inflicted on my game.
I’m sure I wouldn’t say the same thing about the Olympic club or a few other places I’ve been to that were tricked up just for effect.
The oldest and most revered major tournament course in the world is the Old Course at St Andrews which can be as timid as not to embarrass the humblest hacker and yet has produced some of the most memorable golfing dramas.
Padraig Harrington has recently spoken about the dangers of doctoring courses by lengthening holes and narrowing fairways. It’s OK to do it for the professionals, he says, but not for the amateurs and club members who have not gained from technology like the pros.
Hackers don’t always have the choice, of course. Roy Gardner writes:
‘I am a member of The Royal Golf Club in Bahrain, a course designed by Monty when he was in a very bad mood. They make us play the medals off a tee that gives us 6,800 yards of forced carries, undulating fairways, desert run off areas ten feet below the fairway, hundreds of horrible bunkers and hilly greens that Ian Poulter could not putt.
The SS is 74 and as often as not the CSS is 77. Add that to 40 degree heat in summer and either high humidity or 20 knot winds and you can see it is a hacker’s nightmare.
Having said that if your travels take you through the Middle East you have a standing invitation to give it a try……..’
Thank you Roy, but I might not take you up on that