British Open: There's potential for a controversial finish at Portrush

British Open: There's potential for a controversial finish at Portrush

British Open

British Open: There's potential for a controversial finish at Portrush

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PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – Visitors are advised to avoid talk of boundary lines in these parts. But at Royal Portrush there is a problematic, two-shot-inducing boundary looming as a potential rules and fun spoiler.

A set of freshly painted white stakes down the 18th hole cannot be ignored on a links where there are nature-inspired land forms and an overall sense of possibly a new Open rota favorite that seemingly needs no embellishment. But there is a rationale behind the normally loathsome internal out-of-bounds worth considering. And maybe admiring. Or fearing. Here goes.

Seeking to replicate conditions for member play and the 1951 Open’s most famous shot, the R&A has positioned less-than-subtle white stakes atop a native-grass covered ridgeline down the left side of the 18th hole. The area once supported the barbed wire fence where eventual 1951 winner Max Faulkner drove and, while avoiding entanglement, played a heroic slicing 4-wood out over the boundary to seal his British win.

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While such attention to maintaining challenge and consistency is refreshing in a world often ignoring history and tradition, circumstances have changed since that 1951 championship. The boundary marked a sliver of property between the first and 18th holes not owned by Royal Portrush 68 years ago. A ball landing there was legitimately out-of-bounds.

Since the last Open, the club has purchased the land but maintains the internal boundary lines. And that’s where the historical accuracy runs into trouble.

At 474 yards, the former 16th hole has been lengthened and massaged for Royal Portrush’s biggest event since hosting the 2012 Irish Open. The now-18th fairway was lowered, narrowed and the new tee moved more to the right, meaning when downwind, players are launching drives at a diagonal out-of-bounds line.

“The historic out of bounds to the left of the hole will be a threat if the driver is taken,” noted consulting architect Martin Ebert in the run-up to the championship. “But, if the golfer chooses to lay up, a long and possible blind second will result.”

That strategy is sensational and poses a rare risk-reward decision off the British Open’s last tee. With all of the elements put together, this could be the rota’s best finisher. But with the out-of-bounds not actually denoted by a permanent fence, the R&A may face criticism should a seemingly good drive down the left bounce out of bounds and still appear playable.

Not helping matters: the 18th’s left-hand boundary line regularly confronted by members is now the home of a two-story corporate tent. The R&A course setup team made the call to shift the stakes closer to the low ridgeline, maintaining a challenge and fear factor in line with the past Opens here. But at just seven paces from the fairway around 320 yards off the tee and delineating no real property edge like St. Andrews’ Links Road, players will take offense at what looks forced.

The R&A’s efforts in setting up courses is generally lauded by players as the best because the R&A appears unconcerned with scoring. But with a row of white stakes — albeit historically inspired ones — what looks to be a sensational championship in the making could be spoiled by something rulemakers generally hope to avoid: a discussion of boundaries, imagined or otherwise.

 

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