Ivan Morris – fond memories of St Andrew's

Ivan Morris – fond memories of St Andrew's

Mutt: I couldn't help having a little laugh at my own expense when I read that the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews has had to take 'precautions' to golf-ball-proof its roof with some sort of a rubber shield.

Jeff: I smiled when I read the same piece and remembered you bouncing your ball around up there. The roofer given the contract made the comment: "The gutters are jammed full of golf balls." I bet yours was among them.

Mutt: One wonders why they didn't do 'golf ball proofing' before now? An average bill of £1,500 every week to replace damaged tiles could not be allowed to continue.

We all know the history of the railway sheds, but how planning permission to build a large hotel in such a dangerous place was ever granted is staggering.

What were they thinking of? In Ireland, they'd be told to close down the golf course!

Jeff: It's a sacrilege to say it but in many ways The Road Hole ridiculous. An architect would be laughed out of the room if he proposed anything like it today.

As time has moved on and the ball flies further and further, the 17th has become a different hole but it remains as severe a test of nerve as you will find.

A hole that was originally a par-5 (and now, even though lengthened, is a par-4) once saw golfers play up the left and not even attempt to play over the railway sheds, is now a good drive over the top and an 8-iron! What would Old Tom Morris think of that?

Mutt: Or, Peter Thomson who won the 1955 Open Championship by giving the sheds (as they were back then in place of today's hotel) a wide berth and playing short and to the right of the green with his second shot in every round?

Jeff: Times have changed. The slightest following wind 'allows' the pros to hit fairway metals off the tee, even when the tee is pushed back across the road onto the practice ground.

It's still a penal tee shot but more a test of nerve than skill. The pay off is too good not to go for it.

Mutt: There is no strategy involved on that tee shot but when you succeed and arrive up to play your second shot you had better know exactly what you are going to do next.

I have vivid memories of Seve making a 'classic' four and Watson making a 'classic boo-boo' by over-hitting onto the road in 1984.

Jeff: I can remember Sergio Garcia hitting a low punch no higher than 15-feet off the ground from 170-180-yards range, landing it short of the green by some 20-yards and rolling it right up beside the hole. You don't see that very often but it is the perfect way to play the hole.

The 17th was never intended to be a drive and an 8-iron but anyone walking off that green with a four secured, no matter how it is done, is thrilled. You may know where you need to hit the ball but you need nerves of steel to go ahead and hit it there.

Making everyone nervous is why it is such a great hole. Layups must be executed with care and precision so the wedge approach can be played safely to a narrow target.

Mutt: That the hole was once a par-5 illustrates what a mental game golf is. Par creates an expectation that is often unattainable and has serious consequences if you push too hard seeking it.

In fairness, you do have the option of giving the hotel a wide berth rather the taking the shortcut over the building but the pay off is just too advantageous to forgo.

Mutt: No matter how far the pros hit the ball nowadays, no one can say the hole is easy. It's the least receptive of greens with the most magnetic of bunkers lying in wait. Every year The Open it is played at St. Andrew's, the average score for the World's best players is 5+ on a par-4.

Jeff: The pros can't blame their high scoring on the local, St. Andrean's standing bet - after hitting the drive, they hop over the wall into the Jigger Pub.

Have a few drams before emerging to finish the hole. The wager is to score a number lower than the number of drinks consumed.

Mutt: That was a good reason for lowering par from five to four!

Jeff: Yes - but don't forget one must have negotiated that darn hotel and be in the perfect spot on the fairway before attempting 'Sergio's Run Up Shot' - otherwise it is a case of playing short and to the right of the green (a la Peter Thomson) and hoping for a pitch and a putt.

Mutt: Arnie Palmer wrote: "St. Andrew's is endlessly complicated, mysterious, intriguing, strategically challenging and stimulating under all circumstances and simultaneously breaks and defines all the rules of design."

Jeff: That's a great quote. Having to hit over a hotel certainly breaks a few design rules. How quirky and weird is that? Isn't it odd that a hole designed to be so hard gets lauded when golf should be fun and not the bane of our life?

I can't help thinking about the lucrative sideline 'off-loading' the thousands of balls recovered from the hotel gutters.