Golf Architects Decry Old Course Renovations

Count famed golf architect Tom Doak as among those against the renovations of the Old Course at St. Andrews, Announced last week by the organization that runs the 400-year-old course - the St. Andrews Links Trust, the modifications are intended to address today's longer-hitting players in advance of the 2015 Open Championship.

The Trust hired English architect Martin Hawtree, an esteemed designer whose most recent work is the much-heralded Trump International Golf Links near Aberdeen, Scotland. According to a recent Cybergolf article written by Tony Dear (, the project at the host venue of a record 28 Open Championships involves flattening the 11th green as well as changes to the second, third, fourth, seventh, ninth, and 17th holes.

The plans include the addition, repositioning and removal of several bunkers, and re-contouring several green surrounds. Such extensive changes to the Old Course have not been proposed since John Low oversaw a re-bunkering on the front nine in 1905-08.

Doak, who during his younger days spent several months living in St. Andrews studying the Old Course and serving as a caddie there, told, "I have felt for many years that the Old Course was sacred ground to golf architects, as it was to Old Tom Morris, CB Macdonald, Harry Colt and Alister MacKenzie before us. It has been untouched architecturally since 1920, and I believe that it should remain so. I don't believe it should be impossible to change the Old Course, or any other historic course.

"But I think it should be a lot harder than it currently is, where only the management of the club and any consulting architect they hire have to agree," added the Michigan native. "I think the default position should be that such an international treasure should be guarded, and that there should be a high burden of proof that changes need to be made, before they can be made."

Robert Cupp, the current president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, was a bit stronger in his opinion. "This is tantamount to redesigning Chartres [cathedral]," said Cupp. "The historic significance of those forms is immense, something that should be preserved at all cost, even if it is some low scores."

Doak has started a petition that's already been signed by other golf architects. He's received support from other designers around the world, including Graham Papworth, current president of the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects.

But New Zealand architect Scott Macpherson, who was profiled in another Dear story ( and whose book, "St. Andrews: The Evolution of the Old Course," is regarded as one of the most comprehensive accounts of the historic place, cautioned against overreacting. "Preservation is a sticky road," he told "It's changing anyway - grass is growing, gorse is growing, bunkers are eroding. I'm pretty relaxed about some of the changes to the golf course, but I'm more worried about changing green contours."

Macpherson noted that, despite minor work on the golf course over the past century, this is the first time a name designer has left an imprint. "There is no architect credited for any of the alterations since Old Tom (Morris) built the first and 18th greens in 1870," he said.

"(H.S.) Colt was on (the) greens committee for a long time, but his name isn't attached to any alterations, and I spent a long time looking for such things in the historical papers."

Despite Macpherson's expert observations, a poll of 79 members of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects determined that just 11 - or 13.9 percent - found it was appropriate to alter the Old Course in response to the modern game's technological advances. Twenty-six percent said no changes should be made at all to the hallowed grounds.

Rainer Preissmann, EIGCA president, said of the Trust's decision: "Over the last few days much has been said and written about the prospect of changes being carried out to the Old Course. EIGCA felt that this was an opportunity to discover the thoughts of golf course architects in Europe and to perhaps present a more balanced assessment.

"The results of our poll clearly show that, while many of our members agree that it ought to be possible to carry out alterations to the Old Course, a significant majority believe that such changes should only be allowed if they reflect the historic strategy of the course.

"This, along with those who believe that it should remain untouched altogether, reflects the continued influence of this great links on golf course architecture and shows the high regard which architects continue to hold for the Old Course."

Architects aren't the only observers criticizing the renovations at the "Home of Golf." A few days ago, English touring pro Ian Poulter compared the alterations with "drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa."

Tiger Woods was a bit milder in his reaction, although he wasn't pleased to hear that the famed Road Hole - No. 17 - will be stiffened up as part of the remodel. "I think 17 is hard enough as it is," Woods said during the just-completed World Challenge, which he hosts.

"They seem to keep changing 17 a lot. It's a pretty hard hole. I think it's the hardest one on that whole property."

Yet Woods endorsed some of the changes. "At 2, I believe, (they are) moving the bunkers more in where they're more playable. We do use the pin over there on the back-right, and if we get a left-to-right wind, those bunkers really aren't in play because they're too close to the third tee. But I can see by moving those closer to the green that if we get in a left-to-right wind, those bunkers now are in play, which is good, because that's our miss anyways is that back pin over that bowl, over that big hump to give yourself an angle at that putt. I believe that's a positive change. Same thing at 9 - that's a good change."

Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews, which runs the Open Championship, expressed some contempt for the critics. "There's a huge amount of comment out there on social media," Dawson said. "Most of it is ill-informed, and we need some balance and perspective. I know there are lots of people who think the Old Course has never been touched, should never be touched, that it's a shrine. The history of that is simply not factual.

"The course has developed at various rates in its history. It's simply not true to say the course has stood still. Most of the stuff we are doing now falls into a very slight category.

"It's completely illogical to think a course built so long ago can stay the same," added Dawson, whose organization - in conjunction with the USGA - has received flak for a proposed rule change that will ban putters anchored to the body. "What you have to do absolutely as a top priority is preserve what the course is all about and what its essential strategy is. There are no two bodies like the R&A and Links Trust that love and cherish the Old Course more."

Dawson also noted, "The proposals from Martin Hawtree should place more of a premium on accuracy and ball control while retaining the spirit and character of the Old Course."

The course modifications will be made in two phases, with some taking place over this winter and others next winter.