The Open: Course changes, slow play and LED scoreboardsApril, 2013
A look ahead to the 16th Championship at Muirfield
1) The course changes
This is widely thought to be one of the players’ favourite courses partly because it is on flat ground and, as Jack Nicklaus once said of it, ‘what you see is what you get’.
What the players will see this year is a course lengthened by 158 yards from 2002 so just a two per cent increase.
There are seven new back tees at 2, 4, 9, 14, 15, 17 and 18 with the bunkering being tightened around the greens.
At the 2nd and the 6th the back of the greens have been restored to the old Harry Colt shape, the 9th has an extra 46 yards thanks to a land swap with their neighbours at the Renaissance Club while the 10th fairway has been moved half a fairway to the left.
This is to allow more room on the practice ground and an ‘extremely high fence’ will stop players clearing it as they did when they last visited here.
In total the course will play at 7,192 yards and to a par of 71.
As for the conditioning all the rough has been cut back over the winter with the growth expected in late May and June.
2) The exemptions
At one point last year there were 161 players exempt for a field of 156. Due to withdrawals this number came down but changes have now been made to prevent this happening again.
In the past the highest player (in the top five) not eligible for the Open at the French and Scottish Open would secure a place in the field. For this year it will just be the winner of the Scottish Open who will be able to advance to Muirfield. Likewise on the PGA Tour the winner of the John Deere will now only be eligible.
Elsewhere in Japan now the top two on the Money List are exempt and nine, previously 10, spots are up for grabs at Final Qualifying at Sunningdale.
If any places are then still free then the world rankings will come into play.
3) More for the fans
This year those visiting Muirfield and the East Lothian surrounds will have their viewing experience by a WiFi mesh in the tented villages and grandstands as well as LED scoreboards at four holes, the 7th, 13th, 16th and 17th.
Like many events on the PGA Tour the spectators will now be kept up to speed with live footage and players’ stats.
So mobile phones will again be allowed having been brought back in last year.
Those in Edinburgh can visit the Open in the Square which takes place in St Andrews Square from Thursday July 11 to Saturday 13, the week before the Championship.
Here the public will have the chance to try golf, get tips from PGA pros, play on a simulator and tackle some of the great Open courses on EA Sports games.
Crowds are expected to be similar to those in 2002 when 160,000 passed through the gates.
One missing avenue was an Open venue in the South West of England to spread things geographically 4) The slow play issue
The idea is to have the players round the course in four hours and 30 minutes and round times at Lytham were the best the Championship has had for a while.
This is a work in progress with each group assigned an official to keep things up to speed. Last year nobody was penalised a shot and the thinking was that Guan Tianlang was not experienced enough at the Masters to get back on time.
Interestingly at the 2012 Amateur Championship every competitor had to read the slow play regulations before signing up to play while this year at Royal Cinque Ports they will watch a video.
R&A chief executive Peter Dawson would personally like to see more twoballs to make golf a half-day activity rather than something that takes up two thirds of your day.
5) No change to the Open rota
As things stand there are nine courses on the Championship rota which the R&A think is ‘about right’. Royal Portrush is still being considered but the staging of the Irish Open, where 130,000 attended, is thought to be a different proposition to holding an Open.
Jim McArthur, chairman of the R&A championship committee, added that one missing avenue was a venue in the South West of England to spread things geographically but nothing at present is deemed worthy of hosting an Open.
Finally St Andrews will likely continue to hold the Open every five years.