The Royal & Ancient was criticized for adding 40 yards to the famous 17th hole at St. Andrews for last summer’s British Openm when R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson said the intent was to bring the road behind the green back into play.
It would be hard to describe the change to the Road Hole as anything but a success.
Among the signature moments from the British Open was Miguel Angel Jimenez going across the road next to the wall, and banging his shot off the wall and back onto the green.
The 17th tee on the Old Course's most famous and most difficult hole was moved back 30 yards, making the hole a 495-yard par 4, but the average score went up only from 4.63 during the 2005 British Open 2005 to 4.66 last July.
“I think the [new spot for] 17th tee has been a great success in terms of stiffening the test of that hole,” Dawson said. “I said at the beginning of the week, we were hoping that the road might come more back into play, and by gosh, it did. We had far more people on the road this year through the back of the hole than I’ve seen at previous Opens in recent times. To that degree we are very pleased with the hole.”
Only 38 percent of the players hit the 17th green in two.
The 18th hole has to rank among the easiest closing holes in championship golf. Perhaps it’s prudent to look at the 17th and 18th as a package finish of par 4s. The 495-yard 17th had an average score 4.665, while the 357-yard 18th had an average score of 3.629. So for a “par 8” of the two holes combined, the average score was 8.294.
Because the changes were so well received, there are no plans to make the Old Course any longer when the British Open is next played at the course – possibly as early as 2015, but no date has been officially set. But officials do hope to see the Road Hole playing even a little tougher, and the focus of any possible alterations is likely to be on the slopes on and around the green rather than the tee.
"We would like to see more balls go in the Road Bunker," said Dawson. "It's lost its ball-gathering capabilities."
The bunker itself is now easier to get out of than it was because the face is no longer the vertical wall that it once was. Dawson said the incline was at 67 degrees, which was about 3 or 4 degrees less severe than previous years.
"We wanted to give players some sort of chance to get out rather than no chance," he explained
Even so, Denmark’s Anders Hansen still needed four attempts in taking a quadruple-bogey 8.
"The new tee was a success in stiffening the test,” said Dawsom. “I would have liked the rough on the left somewhat thinner, but it grew up rapidly in the last few weeks. We were hoping that lengthening the hole would bring the road behind the green back in play more, and by gosh it did that.
"Overall I think the course is just fine and there are no plans for lengthening the course any more," he stressed.
Dawson also defended St. Andrews against criticisms that it lends itself to runaway winners and therefore a less-exciting finish. Tiger Woods won by eight in 2000 and by five in 2005, and South African Louis Oosthuizen's victory came by a seven-shot margin.
"I think that's just coincidence," he commented. "You can get big margins on any course."
Prior to Woods, there was a playoff in 1995 between John Daly and Costantino Rocca, but Nick Faldo won by five in 1990.