The True Firm and Fast

Posted on: April 25th, 2012 by admin No Comments

The True Firm and Fast

Published July 11, 2010
True, firm, and fast course conditions are to be expected at The Open Championship and nowhere should this be more evident than at The Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, this week.

By definition, links is “sandy, level to undulating land built up along a coastline, usually bordering an ocean or lake.” Sounds like St. Andrews to me. Remember the running-on-the-beach scene at the opening of “Chariots of Fire?” That was shot in St. Andrews, on the sands abutting the Old Course. You can get a similar feeling in the U.S. at a few notable courses such as Shinnecock Hills, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, and The National Golf Links, probably our best examples of links-style courses.

Over the last few weeks, the commentators covering the tennis matches at Wimbledon have noted that there had been no substantial rain in Great Britain for six months, a concern echoed by Gordon Moir, Director of Green Keeping for the Links Trust, which oversees the courses at St. Andrews. The forecast for the Open is more what we think of for British golf-cool, wind, and rain. But if things remain atypically dry, what can the players expect? Just like the runners in “Chariots,” it will be like playing on a beach-undulations and dry sand. Very different conditions from what they face nearly ever other week of their season.

Maybe more than relying on their physical skills, links golf forces players to think, to anticipate funny bounces and plenty of roll. They have to learn to accept what the course gives them, good and bad, and not get too upset, or happy, when the fates strike. No matter how good they are, they must accept the fact that all hazards and out-of-bounds areas are potentially in play. They must address and slightly alter their game plans, and that’s when things aren’t bone dry: If the rain stays away, it’s likely that the bounce and roll off following tee shots and approaches will be exaggerated. Anything can happen, and will, one reason even the most jaded of us still enjoy watching The Open.

Playing conditions on fine fescue fairways (tolerant of dry conditions) are naturally faster, producing even more ball speed than the putting surfaces. Yes, you read that correctly: The fairways at St. Andrews very likely will be faster than the putting greens. That’s why it’s not uncommon to see players deliberately trying to land shots short of the greens and run on.

Playing over there involves different skills and more than a little bit of luck to put the ball in proper position. Remember Tom Watson’s 8-iron shot on the 72nd hole at last year’s Open at Turnberry? Even Watson, winner of five Open Championships and an old hand at links golf, didn’t think his ball would bounce and roll for more than 180 yards.

Give the R&A and their maintenance people credit: Green speeds will be appropriate for the competition and the hole locations. Putting greens will roll at 10-10.5 feet, which may sound slow, but given the elements, is fair. The green contours, natural environment, and the invisible hazard called “wind” will combine to put the players to the test.

With appropriate speeds for the competition, expect to see well-struck and smartly planned shots rewarded. Anything less will be penalized.

And isn’t that how the game should be played?

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