Dawson says too much Old Course hysteria

R&A chief Peter Dawson with the Claret Jug.

R&A chief Peter Dawson with the Claret Jug.

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R&A chief executive Peter Dawson says there is too much hysteria surrounding planned changes to the Old Course, and has called for balance and perspective from the golfing world.

Speaking to Golfweek about the changes, Dawson claims alterations in preparation for the 2015 Open Championship will stay true to the Old Course’s original design. (See below for a hole-by-hole breakdown by Dawson, where he defends the changes.)

“There’s a huge amount of comment out there on social media,” Dawson said. “Most of it is ill-informed and we need some balance and perspective. I know there are lots of people who think the Old Course has never been touched, should never be touched, that it’s a shrine,” Dawson said. “The history of that is simply not factual.

“The course has developed at various rates in its history. It’s simply not true to say the course has stood still. Most of the stuff we are doing now falls into a very slight category.

“It’s completely illogical to think a course built so long ago can stay the same. What you have to do absolutely as a top priority is preserve what the course is all about and what its essential strategy is. There are no two bodies like the R&A and Links Trust that love and cherish the Old Course more.”

A recent poll of by the European Institute of Golf Course Architects shows support for Dawson. In a poll of 112 members across 25 countries, 72.15 percent of those who responded felt changes to the Old Course might be appropriate. A majority of members agreed with the statement that renovations could be carried out but only if they were “based on thorough historic research.” Exactly 58.2 percent voted for this option.

“The results of our poll clearly show that, while many of our members agree that it ought to be possible to carry out alterations to the Old Course, a significant majority believe that such changes should only be allowed if they reflect the historic strategy of the course,” EIGCA president Rainer Preissmann said.

Dawson said the changes came about after the R&A’s championship committee suggested alterations in advance of the 2015 Open Championship. “The Championship Committee of the R&A went to the Links Trust with some suggestions. The Links Trust and the Links Management Committee agreed to some of them and not others. We agreed on the appointment of an architect (Martin Hawtree) to look at the suggestions in more detail.”

Dawson refutes suggestions that his organization and the Links Trust came up with these changes without consulting the townsfolk of St. Andrews.

“The Links Trust conducted a consultation exercise, or certainly an information exercise, with the local clubs. The Links Trust consulted club by club. Then the clubs’ liaison committee were also informed.

“The local reaction generally has been very supportive. The local reaction was fine, at least at club level. But you will always find people at St. Andrews who say nothing should ever change, that the course is perfect the way it is. I quite understand that.

“In making our recommendations, we tried to be as sympathetic to the Old Course and average players as humanly possible. Martin Hawtree has been very sympathetic to the traditions of the Old. It’s still going to be the Old Course, not a Hawtree course.

“It wasn’t for us to say you must do this. The Links Trust could have said ‘no, sorry, we are not doing that.’ Or the local consultation could have shown a lot of hostility to the changes, but that wasn’t the case.”

Tom Gallacher, secretary of the St. Andrews Club, backed up that statement. “Most of the hysteria seems to be from outside St. Andrews, not here,” he said. “People here are quite used to change.”

The changes will be made in two phases, with some taking place over this winter and others next winter. Dawson explains the changes.

• • •

First-phase changes: This winter

No. 17: Road Hole Bunker

“The work is virtually finished. These changes are so 'major' they’ve been done in less than a week!

“Let’s get this in perspective. The Road Bunker is rebuilt every year because it gets so much play and so much damage. Historically it has been left to the green keepers to rebuild it. That means it has never been rebuilt the same way twice.

“The bunker has always changed in depth, and quite often changed in shape, and quite often the approach contours have changed a bit.

“All we are doing this time is trying to finalize a design, and properly map it digitally so that every time it is rebuilt it is rebuilt to remain faithful to what it was before. The bunker is not being made any harder. It is also not being widened to any extent that it hasn’t been in the past on several occasions.”

No. 11 Green

“We want a left-hand pin position and a left-hand back pin position, which we currently don’t have. That will bring Hill Bunker into play on the left.

“The issue is that at old green speeds, before mowers were properly invented and greens were four on the stimp meter or something like that, you could get a pin position on the left hand side. But now when we are at 10.5 in the summer and in The Open, we found that you couldn’t get a pin there that wasn’t Mickey Mouse. We almost put a pin there (in 2010), but we thought if the wind blows it’s going to be very unfair.

“The whole left hand of that green has been unusable. Not just for The Open, but for normal play as well, except in the wintertime when the greens are slower.

“It restores the hole to the variety it used to have. All that has happened is that we have eased off the slope a little bit on the left hand side.”

No. 7 fairway

“There is a hollow in the fairway, a collection area, where balls go into and it’s full of divots. You’ve almost got to make it ground under repair for part of the season. That dip has been filled in and it has been turned into a very slight mound. It is now very slightly convex as opposed to concave, so that it will spread balls around the fairway.”

No. 2 green

“This will be the most noticeable change this winter. We don’t use the bottom part of the green on the right-hand side at Championship time because it’s far too easy. The reason it’s too easy is that the land to right of the green is very, very flat and you are on grass that is as good as putting greens at most courses. So there is almost no premium for hitting the green.

“What we are planning to do there is make the flat part to the right of the green slightly undulating. It will be just enough to make you think about what line you’ve got to take with the putter.

“There are two bunkers short and right 25 yards away from the green and I can’t get the hang of why they are there. No one is ever in them and so they are being moved closer to the green.”

• • •

Second-phase changes: Next winter

No. 3 bunkering

“The whole issue is that if you hit it left off the tee you get a safe drive. If hit you hit up the right you get risk and reward. You get a better line into the green but the hazards (bunkers) come into play.

“The bunkering on the third doesn’t extend far enough up the hole for it to be a risk to drive up the right. I reckon you could carry all the bunkers with persimmon, not just modern clubs. So the proposal is to create another bunker further up the right in line with the others, and take the first fairway bunker out. So we’ll have same number of bunkers.”

No. 4 green

“Again, if you drive it up the right you should have an advantage. Drive it up the left you will have a safer drive but not such a good line in. At the moment, if you drive it up the left and then miss the green on the right, which players often do, you are in a very flat area beside the green. So we are going to put some very gentle undulations right of the green similar to the second hole.

“There is also a bunker to the right of the fourth green that we are going to move closer to the putting surface.”

• No. 6 green

“The area to the right of the sixth green merging with the seventh tee is flat and we are going to undulate that a little bit. We’ve done quite a lot of this at Muirfield, and you wouldn’t even know we’ve done it.”

No. 9 green

“There is a proposal for a new bunker about 25 yards short of the green on the left. The idea there is to increase the risk/reward ratio of having a go at the green. Looking at old photographs, the rough on the left was heather and came into what is now fairway by about 10 yards so it was a much tighter tee shot in the past.”

No. 15 green

“If you hit it over the green then there is a very flat area to the right of the back bunker as you look at the hole. It’s easy to just putt from there back onto the green. So we are going to undulate that area slightly too, just to make missing the green long slightly more penal.”

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