It’s a hole that captivates and inspires. Everyone comes away from the 17th at Sawgrass with a story – even if it’s nothing more than how many balls they put in the water.
But when Alistair Beggs saw the famous ‘island green’, it made him think. And he had a lot of time to mull over those thoughts on the long flight home.
A Royal Liverpool stalwart, club captain in 2014 and then Head of Agronomy at STRI, he’d been part of a greenkeeping delegation to visit the Ponte Vedra venue – the headquarters of the PGA Tour – a decade ago.
One sentence, uttered by then Sawgrass general manager Bill Hughes, had hit him like a lightning bolt: “Golfers will travel from all over the world and pay me $300 to hit one shot.”
“That resonated with me,” Beggs told greenkeepers at the BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition earlier this year. “I was coming home on the plane and thinking, ‘that’s the power of an iconic par 3’.
“We didn’t have one of those at Hoylake. ‘We’ve got a great golf course, and a great balance of holes, but we haven’t got a par 3 that could really engender a massive amount of drama and thrills around an Open’.
“I started thinking, ‘how could we create a hole like that?’ There aren’t many short, uphill, par 3s in world golf.
“I thought about a hole we already had, which was a short downhill par 3, and could we reverse it and play it the other way? We’d take the green back to the shoreline.
“We’d connect with the dunes at the end of the round of golf. If we did that, it would allow us to extend the 18th hole.”
All ideas are great in theory. Putting them into practice is something else entirely – and potentially altering an iconic course like Hoylake required a lot of time, collaboration, and agreement.
Beggs mulled over the idea with friends. He floated it with club chiefs. It seemed to find favour. Then The R&A would need to be on board. They were.
“Everybody I’ve talked to so far quite likes the idea,” he added. “The next step is to talk to an architect and our architect was Martin Ebert.
“He thought we could create a really interesting, iconic, par 3 on this piece of land and started developing some ideas for the detail around the hole.
“We broached it with the members in conceptual terms. We looked at the timeline and thought, ‘can we build this hole and not only have it playable but at a turfed championship standard for a 2023 Open?’ We decided that we could.
“In the winter of 2019 we began to build it, and we opened it in the midst of Covid in May 2020.”
The result is Little Eye, and what’s been created is a hole that will stir the spirits no matter whether it’s a 54-handicapper or the World No. 1 who takes it on.
Gorgeous to look at, and just as thrilling to play, the small infinity green seems to be carved into the sky amid a sea of bunkers, massive run-off areas, and the water in the distance.
The 15th for the members, but a remarkable penultimate hole on the Open routing, it plays 134 yards at its longest. But it can be shorted to as little as 100.
That means, as Beggs, who is now Head of Sustainable Agronomy Services at The R&A, pointed out in Harrogate, it can be played by anyone. And everyone has the chance to come off with a birdie.
“But if you don’t get the ball in the right place,” he said. “You’re going to be punished.”
Punished by a huge sandscrape trap if you miss it short, by a pot bunker if you pull it left, and by a 20-foot-high slope careening into a massive bunker if you push it right. Go long, and there’s a waste area waiting.
Get the wind blowing, put the pressure of the Claret Jug on the line on Sunday evening, and take everything you know about major golf and throw it – and the form book – out of the window.
“It will be very dramatic and it will be very entertaining,” Beggs said. “It is quite a penal golf hole in architecture terms,” he said. “But it is a short hole, and it gives people the opportunity to hit a great shot.
“There’s not a better hole to hit a great shot on than that one.”
In such a setting, amid such incredible views, is how championships should be decided. One shot for a chance at immortality. The Open can’t come quickly enough.
The architect behind Little Eye – the dramatic new Open hole
The man who had his eye on the Little Eye project was architect Martin Ebert, who advises on a number of the courses on the Open rota.
“The project at Royal Liverpool has been an extremely exciting one overall but the opportunity to create a new hole on a great links such as Hoylake is a rare one,” he said.
“The hope and expectation is that not only can a very short hole produce significant drama for the penultimate hole of The Open, but also provide the club with a hole which members and visiting golfers from around the world will be hugely excited to play.
“It is also a real advantage of the new hole project that it allows the Championship 15th and 18th par-5 holes to be strengthened with new back tees.”
Have you played the dramatic new Open hole? What did you make of the Hoylake new hole, and how did you get on? Let me know with a tweet.
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