During the first round of the British Open the par-4 17th hole at St. Andrews — the iconic Road Hole — was the hardest hole since the tournament started keeping stats in 1982, according to Ryan Lavner of the Golf Channel.
The average score was 4.833 on the par 4, and there wasn’t a single birdie:
156 golfers played hole 17 in Rd10 birdies (0%)54 pars (35%)102 bogey or worse (65%)
— Cork Gaines (@CorkGaines) July 17, 2015
The golf world saw this coming. The Road Hole has always been one of the toughest par-4’s in golf, especially since St. Andrews lengthened it to 495 yards before the 2010 Open. But in advance of the 2015 Open, organisers made it even more difficult by taking away one of the traditional (if unusual) ways of playing the hole — missing left intentionally.
The Road Hole Bunker, a deep bunker off the left front of the green, has been tweaked so that it collects more wayward approach shots. The bunker itself is the same size, but the area around it is now angled so balls will feed right into the trap.
You can get a sense of it here as Luke Donald climbs out of the bunker. It’s now designed so that anything close to the bunker goes in it:
It’s a steep grade:
It’s easy to see the problem here. With a literal road and out of bounds to the right and a treacherous bunker that eats everything to the left, players either have to be perfect or go way long and left on their second shots. When you factor in the fact that many players are hitting long irons or 3-woods to even reach the green, it’s a nearly impossible task to make birdie:
In an article for the Telegraph before the tournament, Nick Faldo broke down the Road Hole and said it’s “all about whether the pin is located behind the Road Hole bunker.” Well, that’s exactly what happened yesterday, and it was historically hard as a result.
Jordan Spieth, who made bogey on the 17th after finding the bunker, was one of the most outspoken players after the round, basically calling the hole unplayable.
“And then 17 today, you purposely try and miss the green on the second shot. There’s almost no other way around it,” he said. “That kind of takes away the point of the hole, but at the same time, it’s the Road Hole at St. Andrews, and today’s pin position is really the only time you can’t really play the hole.”
Earlier in the week golf writer Geoff Shackleford criticised the redesign, calling the landscaping around the bunker “volcano walls.”
Still, even if the players find it unfair the 17th is one of the most fun holes in golf. The tee shot over the hotel still looks awesome, and the split fairway leads to a variety of drives:
And even if players find the bunker, you can get great shots like this. They’re just few and far between:
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