Doughtie Sr. on Golf (February 2013)

Sacred Ground

As we enter the new season,full of expectations,the weather hasn't been too kind to us of late.Snow,ice and now wind and rain,have not given us much oppotunity to test our skills on the course.However it is a good time to fine tune our game's at the Practice ground.Perhaps some of us may have to prepare for a new putter or putting stroke in readiness for the Rule change to be applied in 2016.The powers that be in St Andrews will no doubt take all the arguments into account when issuing the revised Rules,which will outlaw the anchoring of the belly putter.

There is however some concern that those administrator's of our game ,have not given as much thought to their decision,together with St Andrews Links Management Trust(Stichting)who manage the town's 7 courses,to make significant alterations to the hallowed ground of the Old Course St Andrews.

This stretch of land,referred to worldwide as "The Home of Golf",situated on a strip of coastline,against a backdrop of the Auld Grey Toun,has been used for our Royal and Ancient sport for many centuries and only witnessed a few changes,the last in 1949,limited to placing some teeing grounds further back.Modern greenkeeping equipment have made the greens faster,but their contours have not been altered.The layout and character of the course has never been tinkered with.

The R and A Championship Committee,organisor's of the Open Championship,together with the Trust and advised by Martin Hawtree,whose family have 3 generations of golf course design experience,which commenced with grandfather Fred in the 1900's,have an excellent pedigree,but it appears that little consultation with others has been made.

The R and A explained that the Championship Committee felt that changes were necessary to improve the course's defence against the world's top players,prior to the 2015 Open,to be contested on the Old Course.

Obviously,over the last decades,equipment that can launch a high-tech ball much further has made some of the older and famous courses  drive-pitch and putt venues.

Instead of introducing Rule changes(such as with the belly putter)to limit the size of driver heads or returning to the 1.62 size ball(remember them????)at least for the professionals,the course(s) are to be made more "challenging".However it is the same layout(s) which millions of regular club golfers also have to battle against.......every week.....not just once every 5 years...

Some of the sport's top players like Tiger Woods and Ian Poulter have voiced their disapproval,with the former pointing out that the Old Course record during the Open is only 63 and that the courses defence comes from the elements,such as a stiff breeze.

The changes were announced late one Friday in what many considered  was an attempt to disguise the news,since work commenced the following Monday.

The alterations include the shifting of bunkers on the 2nd and 3rd holes,the flattening of a mound on 4 and the addition of a bunker at the short 9th to discourage some for "going for the green".On the back 9,the green on the par3 11th will be flattened.However it is the changes to the famous Road Hole(17th ) that has caused the most stir in StAndrews and around the golfing world.

The iconic bunker protecting the green will be deepened and extended and the entrance to the putting area narrowed.This on a hole which has been lengthened by 40 metres,and considered by many,including the toppers,as difficult enough.

Other architects and experts,wonder whether the changes will in fact make the famous course any tougher......that remains to be seen.

And so the Sacred Ground will soon have a different appearance and challenge.....time will tell how they will effect the competitor's in future Opens and not forgetting, the paying public, who grace the Links year in year out.

We wish you all a pleasant season.

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