Postage costs are high at Troon

No one in British Open welcomes sight of No. 8

Golf

July 14, 2004|By Thomas Bonk | Thomas Bonk,LOS ANGELES TIMES

TROON, Scotland -- Almost since John Highet, a local doctor, and James Dickie, a builder from Glasgow, came up with the idea of creating a small golf course in 1878 on the Ayrshire shore, the Postage Stamp -- the infamous, 123-yard eighth hole at Royal Troon -- has been delivering beatings to golfers.

The best in the world will try again at Royal Troon when the British Open begins tomorrow.

Royal Troon is where Arnold Palmer won his second straight British Open in 1962, though he never had better than a par-3 at the eighth. Still, Palmer's was a success story, as it was with 71-year-old Gene Sarazen, who aced the hole at the 1973 Open and followed that up with a birdie the next day.

On the other hand, there is the case of Herman Tissies of Germany, who had quite the opposite experience in the 1950 British Open here. It took Tissies 15 minutes to play the Postage Stamp, not a single second of which was the least bit of fun.

Tissies put his tee shot into a bunker to the left of the green. His first shot from there rolled across the green and into another bunker. So did his next shot.

When they finally added it all up, Tissies had toured three bunkers -- the first one twice -- and hit five shots in one of them before finally getting onto the green with his 12th shot. He then three-putted for a 15.

The No. 8 hole can be played only one way: carefully.

From an elevated tee, the shot is over a gully to a 30-yard-long green that is about 10 yards wide. The green is nestled snugly into the side of a hill of sand.

Then there are the bunkers; two are on the left side and another crater is in front. On the right are two more bunkers, both steep enough to bring grappling hooks to mind.

Tiger Woods didn't much like the Postage Stamp in 1997, playing in his first British Open as a professional. On the last day, he made a triple bogey when his tee shot hit the far bunker on the right side. He needed two shots to get out and then three-putted.

Woods, who had already won four times in his rookie year by the time he arrived at Troon, wound up tied for 24th, 12 shots behind winner Justin Leonard.

In the 1989 Open, Greg Norman wound up losing to Mark Calcavecchia in a playoff that he could have avoided if, on the last day, he hadn't made bogey at No. 8 when his short tee shot found one of the bunkers.

Many believe the Troon insignia is a tribute to Highet because it features a snake, the emblem of medicine, wrapped around five clubs that represent the original five holes of the course.

Others consider the snake to represent the eighth hole.

The Postage Stamp earned its nickname when the course underwent a series of changes in 1910. Before that, the hole had been much longer, required a blind tee shot and played over a large sand hill to the left of the present green.

Certainly, the golf correspondent for the Glasgow Herald didn't think much of the changes to the hole:

"The green is shaped like a dining room table, it is ridiculously small, and, even though there are no bunkers in the vicinity, it would be extremely difficult to make the ball remain on the surface after it had stopped."

The bunkers were added and so was a nickname when Willie Park, whose victory in the first British Open in 1860 was one of his four Open championships, described the hole as "a pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp."

Royal Troon did not host its first British Open until 1923, when Arthur Havers defeated Walter Hagen by one shot.

Sarazen was there, too, but he shot an 85 in qualifying and didn't make the field. He came back for the 1973 Open, to give it one last go. This time, he left happily, and wrote about it later.

All it took was a hole in one and a birdie at the Postage Stamp to erase a half-century of pain.

"For many years, the Postage Stamp hole had haunted me," he wrote. "I feared it, so when I walked onto the tee and faced the wind, I must admit I was somewhat nervous. I selected my 5-iron, as I was determined not to be short.

"When the crowd roared and I realized the ball was in the hole, I felt there was no better way to close the books on my tournament play than to make a hole in one on the Postage Stamp and call it quits."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

British Open

When: Tomorrow-Sunday

Where: Royal Troon Golf Course; Troon, Scotland

Course: Par 71, 7,175 yards

TV: Tomorrow-Friday, 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m., TNT; Saturday, 7-9 a.m., TNT; 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m., chs. 2, 7; Sunday 6-8 a.m., TNT; 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m., chs. 2, 7.

Defending champion: Ben Curtis

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