WORDS MICHAEL CATLING ILLUSTRATIONS GRAHAM GACHES INSTRUCTION IMAGES ANGUS MURRAY
The wait is almost over. Ten years after its last appearance in Kent, and a year later than originally billed, The Open Championship returns to the Garden of England with the possibility of fans and the kind of drama you only ever see on a links course.
If you’ve played Royal St George’s before, you’ll know that the players won’t have it easy. They’ll be battling Mother Nature as well as dramatic dunes, and hitting a high proportion of blind shots from some of the most undulating, crumpled fairways in England. It rates among the toughest venues on The Open rota and yet it has produced some of the most memorable moments – and implosions – in Major Championship history. Going against the modern preference for longer and stronger, The R&A have taken the unusual step of snipping 22 yards off the yardage this year, so the course will play shorter than it did in 2011. Indeed, the fact that only three of the past 14 Open winners have finished under par here may also explain why any tinkering has largely been limited to adding and moving a few bunkers to catch out the bigger hitters.
The expectation – among members at least – is that their course will not be overpowered. Whether that turns out to be true only time will tell, but we are confident that no one will be complaining if the grandstands are packed and we finally get to crown a new Champion Golfer of the Year. We’ve waited long enough.
1 PAR 4 445 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 4.22 (8)
Widely regarded as one of the toughest starts in Championship golf, with thick rough either side of the fairway and a green which slopes away from players. The tee shot should favour the flatter left side of the fairway, but it needs to carry 250 yards over a deep swale, known as ‘the Kitchen’. The wide green is guarded by a trio of bunkers which collect any approach shots that come up short or left, particularly those from the rough. Tiger Woods famously started with a triple bogey here in the 2003 Championship after losing his tee shot, while Jerry Kelly carded an 11 in 1993.
2 PAR 4 421 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 4.06 (16)
A sweeping right-to-left dog-leg which turns towards the coast. It’s 250 yards to carry the two bunkers on the corner of the dog-leg, but most pros will take a 3-wood for position and favour the right side of the fairway to leave a better angle in with a short iron. Any approach drifting right or left will run into a little hollow, leaving a difficult pitch to a small, raised green which falls away at the edges, a recurring feature at Royal St George’s.
3 PAR 239 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 3.25 (6)
Prior to Royal Portrush rejoining, this was the only par 3 on The Open rota not to feature a bunker. Mounds cradle the green and often deflect balls from the right back onto a two-tier putting surface which is just 15 yards wide. Statistically it is one of the most difficult short holes in Open history. The hardest pin is on the bottom level.
4 PAR 491 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 4.52 (1)
Played as a par 5 during the 2003 Open and named after the ‘Keeper’s Cottage situated behind the green. The priority off the tee is to avoid the Himalaya bunker, which is the second largest in England, at more than 40 feet. Those who attack it – and most players will – need to carry 270 yards to find a flat area of fairway, which lies beyond a large dune known as the ‘Elysian Fields’. The approach plays to a green with a deep depression frontleft and white posts three paces over the back. The margin for error is small and anything coming up short or too far right will be deposited into a hollow with a six-foot climb back up. In 2011, this hole yielded more double bogeys (26) than birdies (16).
5 PAR 4 422 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 4.11 (12)
Perhaps best remembered for John Daly driving the green – with a strong wind assist – during practice in 1993. A first sight of the sea is present from the tee, where players must choose which section of the split fairway to aim for. The bold wil look to cut the corner of the dog-leg and take on a carry in excess of 320 yards to clear five bunkers and many more dune ridges. A sub 260-yard lay-up is the safer option and stops players from running through the fairway. Players who choose the latter will try to find a very small area of flat fairway, known as ‘Campbell’s Table’, on the left side, otherwise they will have a blind second to a long, bunker-less green.
6 PAR 3 174 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 3.21 (9)
Nicknamed ‘The Maiden’ after the huge greenside dune that rises high above its surroundings. Four deep pot bunkers add extra protection to the green, which is set on a 45-degree angle to the tee and divided into two tiers by a ridge that runs through the middle. In 2011, Tom Watson’s hole-in-one overshadowed the fact that there were more double bogeys or worse here than any other par 3 on the course.
7 PAR 5 566 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 4.56 (18)
“One of the friendliest par 5s you will find,” says Andrew Cotter. The drive plays blind to a fairway which is overlooked by high dunes on the left and sits hidden behind the crest of a hill some 280 yards in the distance. The hole turns slightly left for the second shot and normally benefits from a prevailing wind – which might explain why 19 of the 23 eagles in 2011 were made here. Both Darren Clarke and Phil Mickelson made a three in the final round after flirting with the steep-sided bunker on the right and using the contours to run the ball onto the green.