The Great Debate: Should The Old Course be changed?January, 2013
Is it in Golf's best interest?
YES If changes aren’t made it will become an obsolete Open venue like Prestwick.
The Old Course has no official beginning and by the same token it will have no end. Constantly shifting through the ages, much like the English language, its enduring appeal is largely down to an ability to move with the times.
That’s why, while the Open was last at Prestwick in 1925 and will never return, the Old Course continues to be the venue the pros most look forward to visiting.
It is not as though changes are without precedent at St Andrews – after all, there used to be 22 holes rather than 18 and the course was played in the opposite direction for centuries, clockwise rather than the anti-clockwise rotation we all know and love today. It was as recently as 1870 that the 1st green was designed by Old Tom Morris while countless new tees have been added, most recently on the other side of the wall on the 14th.
What matters most, surely, is that it remains a relevant Open venue and that the changes are overseen and directed by those who know best and have the game’s best interests at heart.
Step forward three parties: the St Andrews Links Trust, the R&A and the architect Martin Hawtree. One is a trust responsible for the public courses in the town, the second is the rule-maker for golf and the third is a man who has made sympathetic modernisations to most on the Open rota.
The Old Course will be better for the changes – the pros will face a better test – and nor will it lose any of its charms or eccentricities.
NO It is a historical monument that should be forever left as a point of reference.
This isn’t just any old course – it’s the Old Course in St Andrews, the little town in Fife where golf was born in Great Britain & Ireland.
And you can tell that the St Andrews Links Trust, the public body ultimately responsible for the Old Course, know they are doing something controversial; the work which is being carried out by Martin Hawtree came about on the quiet and with a minimum of consultation.
That is wrong, because they are custodians of a public facility rather than the owners of a private one. This is a museum piece, and it has been shaped by nature rather than man ever since the game – or a recognisable version of it – was first played on these shores some 600 years ago.
The great architects have learned from it, and used its many features to improve their own designs. How can they continue to do that if the original with which they need to make comparisons no longer stands?
True, if the wind doesn’t blow then the scores during St Andrews Opens are low. So what? As long as the best player wins then what difference does that make?
The R&A, whose headquarters overlooks the 1st tee and 18th green, are always at pains to say that the winning score in the Open is irrelevant to them.
Yet they have worked alongside the Links Trust in this instance and heavily influenced changes whose only motivation is to make the course more exacting.