ST. ANDREWS -- What's another five yards?
During its annual spring press conference today the Royal and Ancient Golf Club officially unveiled changes made to the Old Course at St. Andrews for this summer's Open Championship, chief among them the lengthening of the 17th hole. Already one of the most-discussed alterations to an Open rota site, there's a new detail that may fuel more debate: The hole will play to 495 yards, a full 35 yards longer, not the 490-yard estimate originally announced last autumn.
"We just can't count," Peter Dawson, the R&A's chief executive, joked when asked about the difference on the scorecard. The 490 number was determined by pacing, he said, while the 495 figure was determined through precise measurement. Conspiracy theorists should note the R&A admitted another difficulty with addition: the seventh hole will play to 371 yards, 19 shorter than the last Open here in 2005, even though there have been no alterations. Dawson said a "detailed re-measurement" revealed what had likely been a mistake made years ago and never corrected.
The par-4 17th, which played to a stroke average above 4.6 in the last three Opens, will see the fairway widened four or five yards on the left, closer to its mowing configuration in 2000. The R&A was criticized in recent years for its presentation of the hole, notably pinching the fairway at the end of the landing area to prevent players from blasting drives too close to the putting surface. Dawson underscored that the bunker fronting the green and the road behind it have come into play far less in recent years during the Open and PGA European Tour events, prompting the changes.
The new tee looks out of place, positioned on a practice ground behind an out-of-bounds fence and beyond a service road running along the right of the 16th hole. Although Dawson said the aiming point for the tee shot remains the same to clear the shed beside the Old Course Hotel, the obstacle that makes an imposing blind shot to the fairway for daily players now seems miles away for the touring professional. "It will not look as much out of place off the golf course during the Open as it does now," Dawson said, noting it will be disguised by the trappings of the Open. The new tee also means a reconfiguration of the grandstands beside the 16th green, where about 2,000 seats will be available, albeit slightly further from the putting surface.
The change to the 17th, the re-measurement of the seventh and 15th (which loses a yard to 455) and a six-yard extension of the 10th tee (to 386) make the Open scorecard now read 7,305. That's one number, at least for now, the R&A is certain is correct.
-- Brett Avery