PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — It took one swing for Rory McIlroy’s Open Championship to go sideways on Thursday—and start a heated debate about a very golf-wonky subject.
McIlroy’s highly anticipated start at Royal Portrush was marred when the Northern Irishman pulled his tee shot on the first hole of the Dunluce Course, an uphill, 421-yard par 4. The ball struck a spectator (reportedly breaking her cellphone) then fell just left of the out-of-bounds stakes that run along the left side of the hole. A stunned McIlroy hit another off the tee, hacked his way up the hole and eventually finished with a quadruple-bogey 8. Welcome to Portrush!
If you thought McIlroy was angry about the circumstances, you should have started reading social media shortly after it was confirmed the ball had landed out-of-bounds. We’re a family website, so we’ll give you the PG version of the primarily issue at hand: What are out-of-bounds stakes doing all down the left side of the hole, considering the left side of the hole sits beside the course's 18th hole?
Among golf-course architecture types, this is referred to as “internal” out-of-bounds, and its existence is a wee bit controversial. It is mostly used to prevent golfers from intentionally playing another part of a course to get to a designated hole's green. (At the 2017 Open, a local rule created internal out-of-bounds at Royal Birkdale to keep players from playing the ninth green by driving it down the adjacent 10th fairway.) It is also used on occasion for safety reasons when a hole is adjacent to a practice area, which is the case for the internal out-of-bounds at Royal Liverpool. The biggest concerns among designers who deplore its use is that it's an unnecessary impediment on the course.
At Portrush, there is also internal O.B. on the left side of the 18th hole, the white stakes completing a triangular plot of land between the first and 18th holes that is a no-fly zone for golf balls.
Additionally, as if having the O.B. stakes on the left side of the first hole at Portrush wasn’t upsetting enough to some, they also have internal O.B. down the right side of the first hole as well, creating quite the narrow runway for those starting their round.
Suffice it to say, the internal OB between the first and 18th holes was the subject of some conversation early in the week at Portrush, more so on the 18th hole with the potential for a shot from one of the leaders on Sunday landing left of the green with an clean approach to the hole but being just on the wrong side of the OB line. On Wednesday, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers was asked specifically why it’s there.
“The reason for that is if you go back in history the club did not own that land,” Slumbers said. “And so it was somebody else’s land in years gone by. And as the course has developed they’ve always kept that historically as out of bounds. And we felt that was highly appropriate to do so this year as we’ve rebuilt the course. We try to stay true to how the course is played.”
Indeed, the club now does own the land, but has maintained the spot as OB for historic reasons.
So for everyone at home, the short answer to why it’s there is tradition. We’ll let you debate the merits of that answer on your own.