Mackenzie & Ebert currently advise on seven of the 10 courses on the Open Championship rota and they have now started work to redevelop a former Open layout and, in particular, the Himalayas nine at Prince’s.
Martin Ebert and Mike Howard have visited the Kent links on multiple occasions, produced an historic report with pre-war and RAF photography and there are a variety of changes which will be in place by late spring or early summer next year.
The changes include the 2nd and 3rd being combined to make a long par 5, a new signature par-3 5th will be inserted and played towards the sea which will be between 120 and 160 yards, and the current 8th will become a short, drivable par 4 with wetlands either side.
Otherwise there will be extensive changes to the bunkering, water hazards, green surrounds, tees and clearance of trees.
Work has now begun on the new 5th, followed by the new 2nd fairway, then new tees on six holes and finally the fairway bunkers.
NCG spoke to Martin Ebert on the changes…
How different does the Himalayas nine currently look like versus the early 20th century when it opened?
Firstly, there only used to be 18 holes at Prince’s before WW2. The course played from the old clubhouse (now the Lodge) and played out and back, constantly changing direction. Many holes played up and over the characteristic dune ridges you see running between all the holes now.
When the course was rebuilt by Sir Guy Campbell and John Morrison in 1951 following the devastation of war, 14 of the old 18 green complexes remained in the same location but all were completely rebuilt. Only one hole plays the same as before the war and that is the 1st of the Himalayas which used to possess a much wider fairway, a feature we are reintroducing. The rest are completely different with few features remaining.
What were Prince’s characteristics when it hosted the Open in 1932 and do they endure?
The original layout at Prince’s was groundbreaking for the time due to it being designed just after the Haskall rubber cored ball was invented. This meant it was long. There were also so many bunkers – lots and lots of them! And they weren’t small either. The historic aerials we found show crater-like bunkers that would dwarf what you now see. The par-3 3rd on the Himalayas used to be the approach to the old 9th hole.
When we first walked the course we thought the large depressions either side of the hole were bomb craters, a product of when the army used the course as a training base during the war. When we found the aerial from 1941 we discovered these were actually large, deep bunkers, and they were both sides of the approach with a narrow strip of fairway between. That was Prince’s, long and heavily bunkered and it had a reputation for being one of the toughest tests in the country.
When this is understood it makes Gene Sarazen’s five-shot winning margin in that Open even more impressive. The fact he had invented the sand wedge the previous year may have played a part though!
Tell us about the restoration of the Himalayas bunker between the 8th and 9th. How big is/was it? How would it compare to the Alps at Prestwick or Big Bertha at Portrush or the one on the 6th at St Enodoc?
Rather than one bunker, the Himalayas are really a set of three bunkers which were set into the dune ridge which the golfers used to have to drive over. The old photographs show that the bunkers were certainly formidable, probably at least the height of three men standing on each other’s shoulders. That would not put them quite as large as the three bunkers mentioned or the huge bunker at the 4th at Royal St George’s but they were still great features. It will be fun to restore the bunkers to remind golfers of the original course and we are also planning to reinstate the tee to play over them for the 9th hole on the odd occasion.
What is your view on the three nines – is there any thought of creating a composite 18 that would host the Open?
A composite layout could be produced at Prince’s but I am not a great fan of producing an 18 from three loops of nine holes as generally that 18 is not available for the golfing public to play. As far as the Open is concerned, the use of any two of the three nines would provide a suitable test with some upgrading of the Shore and the Dunes required but hosting an Open is more a matter of being able to accommodate the infrastructure that goes along with it and ensuring suitable access to the course. That would have to be looked into in more detail if such a dream had any chance of becoming reality.
Should the three nines be equally demanding?
The three nines are all seriously good in their own right, the Himalayas included even before we have started our work but the project to improve this nine will leave everyone in no doubt that the three are all on a par with each other.
Should they be consistent or each celebrated for their own character?
I believe that the nines should be consistent enough that they can be paired together in any configuration to create a seamless 18 hole test. However the Himalayas will have a slightly different character than the Shore and Dunes as this nine occupies its own area which also happens to be very expansive.