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''Such destruction beggars belief''

Charles Happell

Charles Happell

Written on Wednesday, 28 November 2012 13:47

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The five-time winner of the British Open, Peter Thomson, has expressed his outrage at proposed changes to the Old Course at St Andrews, saying they amount to the destruction of a golfing treasure.

Speaking to BackPageLead from China, Thomson said when he first read the news from Scotland about the renovations, which include the widening of the famous Road Hole bunker and alterations to eight other holes, he was almost struck dumb.

''Have the architects of golf gone mad? I can scarcely believe what I read,'' Thomson said.

''The Old Course is a Golf Treasure that has proved itself to be the ultimate Championship venue. It satisfies in every way the aspirations of champion players and high handicappers. It beggars belief that someone in authority should want to destroy it.

''Like a bad dream, I am hoping it will go away - together with those who would propose the slightest change. Such arrogance deserves no support.''

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and St Andrews Links Trust recently agreed on altering the nine holes in a two-year project, overseen by British golf course architect Martin Hawtree (who has been used by Royal Melbourne for some its renovations in recent years.)

Work already is under way on the first phase, which includes widening the famous Road Hole bunker by about half a metre, and reshaping the 17th green so that the bunker collects more errant shots.

Thomson, who won the second of his five Opens around the Old Course in 1955, has been a successful golf course architect for much of the past 40 years, his firm Thomson, Wolveridge and Lobb building and renovating courses around the world. One of his creations is the Dukes Course at St Andrews.

In terms of majors won, he remains the most successful Australian male golfer ever, having lifted the Auld Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale in 1954, St Andrews in 1955, Royal Liverpool in 1956, Royal Lytham and St Annes in 1958 and Royal Birkdale in 1965.

Today, Thomson said ''world-wide wisdom'' - opinions from a range of senior golfing people - should have been sought before any changes to the Old Course were even considered. He said had he been asked, he would have counselled against any alterations whatsoever.

''The Old Course should not be tampered with since it represents the origin of the game. If it is tampered with now, it would be further tampered with as the years go by until it has lost its identity. It is best left well alone,'' he said.

''No-one from far away has any business supporting outrageous alterations to the Old ... Tampering with it is totally ignorant and arrogant. As for the R&A members ... I have yet to hear their attitudes (about this) but you can be sure I will be making enquiries, especially amongst the 'locals'.''

The noted American designer, Tom Doak, was so incensed by the news from St Andrews, he fired off a letter to the golf course architects' associations in the US, Europe, Australia and Britain, seeking their support in trying to get the R&A's decision overturned.

He wrote: ''Gentlemen: I was horrified yesterday to read of the changes proposed to The Old Course at St. Andrews. No longer content just to add back tees for championship play, the club and its consulting architect, Martin Hawtree, have planned to move bunkers, add contouring around the greens, and soften slopes in other places prior to the next Open championship.

''I have felt for many years that The Old Course was sacred ground to golf architects, as it was to Old Tom Morris and C.B Macdonald and Harry Colt and Alister MacKenzie before us. It has been untouched architecturally since 1920, and I believe that it should remain so.

''I propose to make a petition to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club expressing that as a golf course architect, I feel that The Old Course is sacred ground, and that architectural changes should not be made to it unless necessary for the maintenance and health of the course. I would like to know from each of you individually, whether you are interested in participating in this movement, and whether your organizations might be interested in participating as well.''

Among the other changes either underway or being proposed are: Moving three bunkers closer to the putting surface — two on the second hole, one on the fourth hole; removing two bunkers well to the right of the second hole — close to the third tee; removing one fairway bunker on the third hole, and adding a new one about 275 yards off the tee. Adding another bunker to the short par-4 ninth hole, about 25 yards short and to the left of the green.

The corners of six greens will be recontoured, which includes lowering the back of the green on the par-3 11th hole. A large depression in the landing area of the seventh fairway will be filled and a slight mound created.

Asked about the changes this week, former world No.1 Tiger Woods - who has twice won the Open at St Andrews and regards it as his favourite course - said he was happy about the removal of some bunkers, which had essentially become redundant, but was most concerned by the changes proposed for the 17th green.

"I think 17 is hard enough as it is," said Woods, who carded two pars and two bogeys on the hole when it hosted the Open Championship two years ago. "I don't think we need to make that bunker any deeper or bigger. I know they experimented in 2000, I believe, they made the bunker deeper, then I think it was in '10 they made it more expansive, so it was not as deep, but more balls would collect into it. They seem to keep changing 17 a lot. It's a pretty hard hole. I think it's the hardest one on that whole property. So .... I'm not real keen on that one.''


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