Despite new twists, Old Course remains dangerous as ever

Road Hole leads the list of peril for British Open


July 13, 2005|By Thomas Bonk | Thomas Bonk,LOS ANGELES TIMES

For the 27th time, the British Open will be played today on the Old Course at St. Andrews, which is considered the home of golf. To celebrate the occasion, they've made some changes.

You simply must know your way around, because to do well on the Old Course, a player must be on a first-name basis with the, well, landmarks. Their names may sound funny, but everyone knows they're not nice at all.

The tee at the second hole has been moved back 40 yards and to the right into an unused area of the Himalayas putting green, thus bringing Cheape's Bunker into play. The fourth and 12th holes are longer and, at the 13th, the carry over The Coffins, a series of pot bunkers, has been extended from 250 yards to 285.

Also, the 14th has picked up an extra 37 yards to make it 618 yards long - the longest hole in British Open history - which brings The Beardies bunkers and Hell Bunker back into play.

Add it all up, and the changes have increased the length of the Old Course by 164 yards to 7,279, which should please all the fans of the Himalayas, Cheape's, Beardies and Hell.

The most famous hole on the course got tweaked, too, only it didn't get longer, it got tougher. That would be the 455-yard 17th, the Road Hole, known far and wide as one of the most difficult par-4s in golf.

Most players and golf fans are familiar with the Road Hole, so named because there's an asphalt road that runs along the back of the green and a stone wall along the road.

Long ago, it used to be the main road to nearby Cupar, but now it's often the road to ruin.

This being golf and, in particular, golf in Scotland, things are not always as they appear. The most-famed feature of the Road Hole is not the road, it's the bunker that protects the front of the green.

Roughly the size of a quarry and nearly as deep as Loch Ness, the bunker was the object of a study by the Links Trust, which came to the conclusion that the bunker had generally shifted away from the green over the years. The trust decided to alter the bunker for this year's tournament and extend the sandy grave about four feet to the right.

What these new dimensions will mean is anybody's guess, but here's one: pain, suffering, double bogeys. Actually, none of that stuff is new at the Road Hole.

The last time the Open was played at the Old Course was 2000, when Tiger Woods won by eight shots, but he had a battle on his hands on the last day when David Duval closed to within three shots after seven holes. Duval, playing in the same group as Woods, was still within striking distance until he had to play the Road Hole.

It might as well have been the Black Hole for Duval because his chances disappeared in the bunker. One, two, three, that's how many shots Duval needed to get out of the bunker. He recorded a quadruple-bogey 8 on the hole.

That wasn't a record. That honor belongs to Tommy Nakajima, who actually was putting for birdie at the 17th in 1978, but his ball veered left and dropped into the bunker. He took four shots to get out again and wound up with a 9.

He also gave the bunker a new name - the "Sands of Nakajima."

Often, it's not always the bunker's fault when bad things happen at the Road Hole. To begin with, to play the hole correctly, a tee shot must be hit over an old, black railway shed at one end of the Old Course Hotel (the players aim to send it over the "o" in "Course").

Sometimes, they misfire and their balls find a window of the hotel and rattle around inside somebody's room.

And if it's not the blind tee shot over the shed or the ball-devouring bunker or the asphalt road, then it's the five-foot stone wall. This is what Tom Watson found out when he was on the verge of victory in 1984, but hit his second shot against the wall.

While Seve Ballesteros was busy making birdie at the 18th, all Watson could do was punch a 7-iron to 30 feet, then two-putt for a bogey.

Arnold Palmer was 48 when he made a charge at the 1978 title, but he found disaster had a wreck at the Road Hole. He knocked his tee shot out of bounds and eventually wound up in the bunker. Palmer made triple-bogey 7.

Maybe something unfunny will happen again this week at the Road Hole. If it does, no one will be surprised.

NOTE: Padraig Harrington withdrew after the death of his father, who had been treated since March for cancer of the esophagus. Harrington was replaced by Henrik Stenson.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Tournament data

What: 134th British Open

Where: Old Course at St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland

Yardage: 7,279 yards

Par: 72

When: Tomorrow to Sunday

TV: TNT; chs. 2, 7

Defending champion: Todd Hamilton

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