The Old Course at St. Andrews will have a slightly new look when the British Open returns in 2015.
In the first significant changes to the home of golf in some 70 years, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and St. Andrews Links Trust have agreed on altering nine holes in a two-year project. Work already is under way on the first phase, which includes widening the famous Road Hole bunker by about 20 inches.
Three bunkers will be moved closer to the putting surface — two on the second hole, one on the fourth hole. Two bunkers well to the right of the second hole — close to the third tee — will be removed. On the third hole, one fairway bunker will be removed, and one will be added about 275 yards off the tee. Another bunker will be added on the short par-4 ninth hole, about 25 yards short and to the left of the green.
The corners of six greens will be recontoured, which includes lowering the back of the green on the par-3 11th hole. A large depression in the landing area of the seventh fairway will be filled and a slight mound created.
The man in charge of the work is golf course architect Martin Hawtree. The first phase involves the second, seventh, 11th and 17th holes. The second phase will start in the winter of 2013 and involve the third, fourth, sixth, ninth and 15th holes.
Tiger Woods, who set the scoring record at St. Andrews in 2000 at 19-under-par 269, said he could understand moving the bunkers on the second hole.
”We do use the pin over there on the back right, and if we get a left-to-right wind those bunkers really aren’t in play because they’re too close to the third tee,” Woods said Tuesday. ”But I can see by moving those closer to the green that if we get a left-to-right wind, those bunkers now are in play, which is good, because that’s our miss anyway, that back pin over that bowl to give yourself an angle at that putt. I believe that’s a positive change.”
As for the 17th? Woods isn’t so sure.
”I think 17 is hard enough as it is,” he said. ”I don’t think we need to make that bunker any deeper or bigger.”
The Old Course has gone through very limited changes over the years, except for lengthening it in 2005 to the point that one tee was actually located on another course.
R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said the changes are intended to make the elite players be more precise with their shots.
”While some holes have been lengthened on the Old Course in recent years, it has otherwise remained largely unaltered,” Dawson said. ”The championship committee felt there was an opportunity to stiffen its defenses in some places to ensure it remains as challenging as ever to the professionals.”
Change on the Old Course is not unprecedented. Officials once lengthened the course and added bunkers out of concern that a new golf ball would lower scores. That was in 1905 with the introduction of the rubber-core Haskell ball.
Dawson anticipates criticism of the changes, though he called it a ”knee-jerk reaction.”
”If they came to see me and walked out onto the course, I’m quite sure they would be fine with it,” he said.