English Golf Courses

Player worried about St Andrews

South African legend concerned the Old Course could be rendered obsolete by modern golf ball

By Martin Inglis

Gary Player has revealed he fears for the long-term future of the Old Course unless the game’s governing bodies impose tighter manufacturing limitations on the golf ball.

The South African, three times a winner of the Open Championship, is a long-standing critic of the distances that modern balls are capable of travelling and believes that, without action from the R&A and USGA, the Old Course in St Andrews will become almost obsolete as a championship venue.

“We’re in for big trouble if we don’t change the ball,” said the 80-year-old, speaking at a Mercedes-Benz event at Royal Troon. “In the years to come, you’ll see players drive the green on eight of the holes at St Andrews. Will that be an Open Championship? It’ll be laughable, and so we’ve got a tsunami coming.

SCORN

“[Two-time former World Long Drive champion] Jamie Sadlowski would stand on the first tee at St Andrews and drive over the green.”

Player was commenting in the wake of a report published by the R&A and USGA that claimed that there had been minimal gains in driving distances across seven of golf’s main professional tours since 2003. 

However, many were quick to pour scorn on the findings, Player amongst them. “Never mind stats, eyes don’t lie,” he said. “I’m not interested in these stats. I’m seeing things that were not possible – 360, sometimes 400-yard drives.

“It’s a lot of crap. We’ve got a tsunami coming. It’s Mickey Mouse what you’re seeing now. They better change, otherwise they’re going to be caught with their pants down.”

The Old Course has staged the Open Championship a record 29 times, most recently in 2015 when Zach Johnson claimed his second major championship. However, in order to remain a relevant test, it has undergone a consistent series of modifications, including the lengthening of several holes.

CONSTERNATION

When Jack Nicklaus won there in 1970, it measured 6,951 yards. That had crept up to 7,115 yards by 2000 and 7,304 in 2010.

The lengthening of the iconic 17th ‘Road Hole’ ahead of the 2005 Open Championship caused particular consternation, with the new tee moved off the course and into the adjacent St Andrews Links Golf Academy’s driving range. 

Player is not the only high-profile golfer to have raised concerns over the impact that modern technology is having on some of the world’s top golf courses. Ahead of this year’s Masters Tournament at Augusta National this year, 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus also addressed the issue.

“The golf ball goes so far, Augusta National is the only golf course in the world that financially can afford to make the changes that they have to make to keep up with it,” he said. “I don’t think anybody else could ever do it.”

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