Changes to the Old Course…Sinful

by Jeff Skinner

Now I know for certain, nothing is sacred.  When The R&A announced last week that there would be changes made to the Old Course, I along with many others was stunned.

Of all the courses a golfer yearns to play at least once before they head to the eternal 19th hole it’s the Old Course.  To walk the grounds of Old Tom Morris is the dream of any true golfer.  To be able to play the same course that so many great professionals have played is a great part of the allure of the Old Course.  But it is so much more than that.

The hallowed grounds of the Old Course are now to be changed, and changed drastically to accommodate the professionals that play nothing but a fraction of the rounds there.

Peter Dawson the Chief Executive of the R&A said the changes are to offer a stiffer challenge to the professional golfers.  Translation: The R&A wants to “protect the course” and these efforts are designed to thwart those super low scores that have become so very common place with the advent of the bazooka like drivers and the rocket like golf ball.

But something is radically wrong.  This is the Old Course, the Mecca for all golfers, and changing it so drastically just so a 59 isn’t carded on it is pathetic.  I know this course isn’t the exact same one where Tom Kidd won the first Open Championship played at St. Andrews in 1873.  Nor is it the same one that Bobby Jones won on in 1927 or Sam Snead in 1948.  But the last change to a bunker on that course took place in 1949 and the changes of late have been to tee boxes, adding length of course.  So maybe to an amateur who doesn’t play from the tips this just may be as close a layout as one could get to the same tract that Bobby Locke won on in ’57 or Jack Nicklaus in 1970 & 78.  And maybe we could play the same shots that Seve Ballesteros did when he won in ’84 or Faldo in ’92 and Daly in ’95.  We could pretend for a moment that we were Tiger in 2000 or even Oosthuizen three seasons ago.  You get my drift.

But playing where the pros play is only a very small part of the attraction of the Old Course.   This is the course that millions of golfers have played on for hundreds of years, the same turf, the same sand, the same gorse, the same burn.

The course has evolved over the years but there isn’t a course in the world with more history and tradition than the Old Course.  And if any organization in the world values tradition it’s the R&A.  Are they that concerned that low scores will make the Old Course anything less than it is now?  Hogwash, as they would say.

The appeal of the Old Course isn’t that it is the toughest course in the world, heck it’s nowhere close to being the toughest course in the Open Championship Rota.  Are we supposed to care what the total under par score is at the Open?  Or are we supposed to revel in the fact that we see the greatest golfers in the world walk these hallowed grounds every five years?  That’s what I do…enjoy watching the rolls and bounces of links golf, that’s what the R&A should do.

If Dawkins and his fellow members are so concerned about protecting against low scores they should institute a ball change and leave the course alone.  These aren’t minor changes, they are so significant that Tom Doak has started a campaign to have the R&A reconsider the changes but it may be too late, work has already started.  The R&A aren’t stupid, they probably figured that they would get the work started before all the screaming started.

I haven’t had a chance to play the Old Course yet but I was hoping to make the trip soon to fulfill that dream of so many golfers.  But as it looks now, the course that has been there for hundreds of years won’t be the one I walk.  There’s no other way to classify this but to simply call it sinful.

Click here for Geoff Schackelford’s in depth coverage.

Click here for Tony Korologos’ update, with pictures of the work.



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