The famous Road Hole – the 17th – has been extended by 40 yards for 2010. Has there been much criticism of that from players or others in the golfing world?
What we’re trying to do here is restore the hole to its previous challenge, where the players are having to hit into the green with much longer clubs than they have been in recent times. The hole has never been lengthened. It was played in the 1900 Open Championship at the same length as it was in 2005. We did consult a few players at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last year about it, and I haven’t heard much criticism from those who have actually been to see it. We think it’s a good move. What we’ve seen, to be honest, is that in still conditions in the summer players don’t have to take driver or anywhere near it to get to where they want to be off the tee, and they’re hitting into the green with more lofted clubs. So the threat of the road seems to be much less. We do see a lot of play here from the pros with ‘the dunhill’ here every year and The Open every five, so we do know how they play the course. The real motivation behind this is not so much to make the drive harder, but to bring the road back into play via longer clubs for the second shots. We’ll have to move the fairway to the left a little – we had been edging it right in recent years – so we will be doing that as well.
Have you played off that tee yet or contemplated hitting driver there into a stiff breeze?
I haven’t actually hit off it, but I have contemplated the shot many a time! If we get a big wind against, we might not use that tee because we do want the hole to be reachable. Where you get caught out in The Open is if a big wind comes up midway through the day and you don’t see it coming. That’s one of the reasons why weather forecasting is very important.
Have there been any other significant changes to the course?
There are two other things I’d mention. There’s a bunker short left of the 9th green that’s been edged out a little bit more and the green cut out a bit behind it, so we might get a tighter pin position on the left-hand side there. But probably more significant is what we’re doing to encourage play at the 4th to be up the right side rather than over to the left where the fairway is shared with the 15th. We’re doing that in several ways. Firstly, we’ve cleared all the gorse so that you can see the fairway from the tee much better; secondly we are going to play from the back of the back tee, which makes carrying the plateau on the left quite a challenge; and finally we’re cutting the grass shorter on the bank from the plateau down to the right-hand fairway, so if the ball goes in there it will come back down. Before it would have stuck on the bank. The top of the plateau is going to be left pretty undesirable in terms of the rough too, so players will be more inclined to play up the right. The pin positioning will lean towards that too. It’s how the hole was meant to be played, and it also has a big effect on pace of play out there, because mixing up the 4th and 15th fairways can be both dangerous and very slow.
The Seniors Open is mostly played on a links, but yes it has been inland too. We’ve been trying to get an event to Walton Heath for some time because it’s a really strong course, but the Seniors isn’t solely our event. It’s 50/50 with the European Tour and there are sometimes sponsor pressures to be quite near London – that does happen from time to time. But four times out of five it will be at a links course and very often at an Open Championship venue. This year it’s at Carnoustie the week after The Open at St Andrews.