Royal Troon – a serious test of links golf
On a beautiful June day I paid my first visit to Royal Troon since Todd Hamilton held the Claret Jug aloft in his all-beige ensemble back in 2004.
I was there courtesy of Mercedes-Benz – Official Patron of The Open Championship – to play the course and spend some time with 80-year-old, three-time Open champion, Gary Player, asking him about his Open memories and watching him keep the Mercedes-Benz guests royally entertained during an excellent clinic on the range.
But what of the links itself? I have to confess that I had found Troon just a little underwhelming on my previous couple of visits compared to other Open Championship venues, but was mightily impressed on my return.
The links is far better and more varied than I’d remembered and was in excellent condition, as you might hope with golf’s biggest championship just a few weeks away. The changes implemented by Martin Ebert had enhanced the course’s visuals and challenge in a number of places, among them the 9th, 10th and 15th holes, the last of that trio now playing on a different line from the tee – the line that the hole took for Troon’s first Open back in 1923, as vice-captain Alasdair Cameron had told me just a couple of weeks earlier as he chatted to me about the final run-up to the big event.
The Postage Stamp 8th will, as ever, have a role to play. Yes, it’s only 123 yards, but if the breeze is up it can quickly become the world’s hardest 123 yards should you miss the green. Last time in 2004, Ernie made an ace here, while Tiger took 6 in the final round.
The 11th is a real brute where players will be hitting into the unknown over a sea of gorse on a long par 4 flanked by more thick gorse on the left and the railway on the right. The 17th is then a tough long par 3 to a raised green that will become ever more difficult to find as the pressure mounts in any sort of wind.
The key to the Royal Troon Open Championship test is to make a hatful of birdies heading out over the first seven holes, for once you hitting the Postage Stamp, there’s a little loop around the turn before you’re likely to then find yourself hanging on for dear life over the majority of a testing back nine that plays straight into the prevailing wind!