Olds College Campus News

13.02.02-OC.turf.ClubSt. Andrews Renovations by Greg Bond

As a graduating diploma student in the turfgrass management program at Olds College, this semester we are learning golf course design and construction.  As one of many topics under discussion, the most recent media frenzy regarding renovations to the old course at St Andrews prompted me to offer my own observations and opinions.

For many, when patrons hear their golf course will undergo a renovation,  we instinctively think of a complete re-do of a golf hole or holes.  However, it is important to understand the difference between restoration and renovation.  While occasionally misunderstood, restoration includes returning a course to its original state (or at least as close as possible). A renovation might completely change the physical look of greens, tees, or fairways.   While performed for a variety of reasons, they both offer benefits by improving playability, agronomic conditioning and design integrity.  After doing a little research about the history of the old course and then realizing some of the renovations Martin Hawtree has in place for the property,  I felt it necessary to share – and possibly change a few misguided views.  

Known globally as the home of golf, St Andrews  has been so deeply respected, that many believe it to have remained unchanged since its earliest days.  In fact, the Old Course has gone under many changes since it was created in the 1400’s.   The course was once 22 holes but was changed to eighteen in 1764. The 18th green is no original, Old Tom Morris built that green himself in 1866 and followed with a new green on the 1st hole 4 years later.  There were seven double greens added in 1832 and today there are eleven. Fewer realize that those riveted bunkers are routinely rebuilt, and are only a thin slice of renovation performed over the years.   In 1821 the Old Course measured at 3,189 yards “out” and the same back, but at the 2010 Open Championship the Old Course measured at 7,305 yards; about 1000yards longer since 1821.  Only seven years ago, ninety bunkers were renovated at the Old Course and 160 yards were added.  Although renovations to St. Andrews may have been quoted as drawing a “moustache on the Mona Lisa” , these have been the historical renovations performed at the Old Course.  

For additional consideration to the aforementioned changes, it may prove helpful to reiterate the facts toward the actual extent of the scheduled improvements.  One of the most recent changes Mr. Hawtree will make, includes a slight grade change to the 11th green for playability.   This change might affect those putting at the pro level when conditions are at their height, but this will make very little difference to those recreational players who likely won’t notice any change.   Similarly subtle improvement are also planned, such as the widening of the road-hole bunker on number seventeen.   A mere 20 inches wider, this “renovation” seems hardly worthy of a mention, and hardly newsworthy. We can appreciate depreciation, and that almost every golf course in the world has undergone some kind of renovation. However slight, improvement to satisfy a more demanding membership, and to remain competitive in a saturated marketplace, are also viable considerations.  Golf clubs are challenged with the rapidly changing demographic environment,  accommodations to advances in technology with distance, while also attempting to motivating junior golf with forward tees and similar.

I think the R&A have preserved this iconic property, without major changes but minor adjustments as necessary for both agronomics and playability.  For so many sports who have embraced change, those decisions to accommodate advances by restriction or field enhancement are reality.  Whether wooden bats, deeper goal lines, or longer drivers,  those tasked with protecting the integrity and the rules of the game, must base their decisions upon the pursuit of fairness and exciting competition.

The recreational golfer will always be seeking new technology to make hard things easier, and why not?  Industry will always create better golf clubs, longer balls, range finders etc...and each course is designed to enhance our enjoyment and experience.  It may be unrealistic for us to think we will ever “catch up” with new technology, but perhaps we can embrace that the evolution of sport may advance as fast as the athletes who use it.   Whether to renovate or restorate for challenge or playability, to preserve or defend,  the Old Course has endured with the leadership of it’s keepers with historic integrity, and remains a true test for all who might define our “sport”.    

Gregory Bond, Diploma student at Olds College, Turfgrass Management

Reference: http://www.flagstick.com/teeshots/old-course-renovations-causing-uproar/