TROON, Scotland -- There should be little surprise Royal Troon’s 11th is causing trouble during the opening round of the Open Championship. But as much scoring difficulty as any hole since 1995 in a major? On a day with just a light northwest breeze and brilliant sunshine? Without Royal Troon playing fast and firm?
Granted, this is the hole where Jack Nicklaus famously made 10 in his initial Open appearance and that Arnold Palmer branded as “the most dangerous he’d ever seen.”
Certainly, “The Railway” perennially plays the toughest at Troon. Still, the 482-yard par 4 hugging the train line boundary was tracking a full stroke over par well into Thursday’s play until a midday run of pars, bringing the average just under a full stroke over par. The 11th’s 4.91 scoring average would put it in the company of the all time highest (5.030, Shinnecock Hills’ 10th hole, 2004 U.S. Open, final round; 4.929, Royal St. George’s third, 2011 British Open, third round).
With just one birdie and the pain of 12 “others” through the first six hours of play, the 11th’s scoring average is threatening to be higher than its 1997 first-round number (4.91).
According to Troon consulting architect Martin Ebert, The Railway is actually eight yards shorter this year than 2004 and has seen gorse removed down the far right side. Ebert wanted to remove more of the lost-ball inducing plant, but the R&A didn’t want too much change.
“If the gorse wasn’t there and you could see more they’d feel just a bit more comfortable on the tee,” Ebert said. The R&A did agree, however, with his call to remove gorse down the far right side, where Ernie Els made an epic final-round par in the 2004 Open.
Ebert saw the carnage first-hand in Round 1 while working as a referee in the Sandy Lyle/David Duval/Scott Gregory game. They combined for a total of 23 strokes, even with Lyle and Gregory hitting the fairway with drivers.
Duval tried to play with iron off the tee but ended up hitting two provisionals en route to a 9.
“When David had his issues on 11, I did admit to being involved in the course modifications and actually suggesting that more gorse should be cleared,” Ebert said. “But I don’t know if that helped the cause or not [laughs]. But what a gentleman he was.”
Soon after his group struggled, Ebert radioed back-nine roving rules official and legendary pace-of-play hound John Paramor, who wanted to know why the group was behind.
“I told him it might not be the time to put the group on the clock given that they just took 23 strokes,” Ebert said. A hole later, the group had not caught up, and Paramor did just that.
Looking ahead to the rest of the Open, the course's consulting architect says Royal Troon’s 11th hole will give the players fits, especially with the northwest wind angle seen on Thursday.
“I suppose you get those iconic, difficult holes in golf, don’t you?” Ebert said. “This is definitely one of them. In the final round, that hole could turn the entire event.”