Review for Royal Troon (Old)

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TaylorMade

Review:

On a sunny and calm morning in early September 2018 I rolled up to Troon with a booking to play the Portland Course (highly understated in its own right - MacKenzie reworked) and ended up being asked to join in with a group on the Old Course. I made the most of it. It turned out to be one of the best days of golf I've ever had.

The 1st tee, right in the corner of the property by the beach, is definitely one of the more iconic opening tee shots on the Open rota, perhaps surpassed only by St Andrews. 1st to 5th are pleasant holes without significant undulation and not too difficult if you can avoid the bunkers. The beach and O.B. to the right are not really a factor except if you are wild on the 1st tee. Then after the long par three 5th, with its nasty bunkering, the majestic par five 6th leads you into a slightly grander dunescape, providing for a quaintly enclosed green and building you up for the stretch that is about to come.

I can't quite recall, but I don't think the 2016 Open coverage made enough of a big deal about the 7th, 9th and 10th holes, such was the emphasis on the Postage Stamp and the murderous 11th. The 7th tee provides the first enthralling vista of the course; it's all before you from the elevated tee, including the 8th green very much in your eyeline, in fact it is almost directly in line with the 7th green in the distance. A fabulous par four, it plays as a dogleg right down into a valley with the fairway bunkers as targets, from where a short iron approach is played back up to the green at the top of the slope and tucked naturally between dunes and with an intriguing open back edge (on to the 10th fairway) through the green.

So up the steps off the 7th green you go - to the famous Postage Stamp. It is most definitely not over-hyped in any way. The walk up the steps to reveal the view from the tee is an inexperience in itself alone. Best par three in the world? It is rightly spoken of up there with Augusta 12, Pebble Beach 7 and Cypress Point 16. What I had not realised previously is that you walk almost right next to the green as you play the 7th, so you have an early gauge of what is in store, not unlike the 16th / 17th situation at Sawgrass, but it still doesn't prepare you for the view from the 8th tee, a view that extends to the Ayrshire coast beyond. The hole is not that short really. I measured it 137 to the back of the green into a one club wind with the pin the middle by the deadly coffin bunker, so I played a sneaky 135-yard knock-down 8 iron (to six feet thank you). So much for the dink with a wedge.

If you're not still mentally on the previous hole, you should realise that the 9th is quite a classy hole itself. It's a dogleg right par four played through an undulating fairway towards what seems the quietest little dune sheltered corner on the Ayrshire coastline, until the planes taking off from Prestwick Airport roar just above your head. One thing you don't see on Open TV coverage is the walk between the 9th green and 10th tee. Probably the longest walk between holes on the course and through a secluded pathway out of reach of spectators and cameras. A couple of holiday site caravans overlook the walkway and you could imagine Palmer, Watson, Weiskopf, Calcavecchia, Leonard, Hamilton and Stenson all having brief moments of reflection that may have relaxed their minds en route to clinching their respective claret jugs.

10 is another undulating par four played down into a valley, with the 7th green and 8th tee to the left side, and up to a perched green. At one point as you walk along the fairway the 7th and 8th greens are visible to the left almost in line with one another - it must be quite a setting during Open time.

Then to the brutal 11th. Officially the hardest hole on the Open rota. The white and yellow tees are elevated away from the railway line and the view from there is worth seeing as it shows the hole nicely, but plays a very different tee shot. The O.B. wall runs down the right side of the entire hole, with the train tracks just the other side of it, and to the left there is the worst jungle on the course, all in all leaving no room for error. I hit a solid straight drive, but then got greedy with my second, blazing a 3-wood on to the 11.40 southbound to Ayr. The 11th green and 12th area is guarded by some trees, the last bit of shelter you will find before the 19th hole. 12 goes back southerly, a tough slight dogleg right par four, then the homeward stretch begins with the difficult 13th, as all of a sudden you feel very exposed to the elements.

I will always love 14 because of my 5-wood and 30 foot putt birdie. Wonderful long par three! Number 15 also caught the attention. A charming fairway mound just before the green that you can use to your advantage, especially if the pin is at the front. It was on this green that Stenson held that monster putt to finally put some distance between himself and Mickelson in their famous 2016 duel. The 16th is a flatish long par five with a cross fairway burn to negotiate and here the setting gradually becomes more urban to the right side of the course as you get closer to the town and the clubhouse. The 17th is a long par three, with a friendly landing area short right of the green and a more punishing fall-off on the left, overlooked by the Marine Hotel from the right, which actually evokes a very St Andrews like kind of vibe.

Most Open rota finishing par fours seem to have certain similarities. Decent if not spectacular par fours in their own right and quite flat with numerous bunkers along the fairway and at greenside, obviously enhanced by the grandeur of the clubhouse setting on any given day and even more so by the grandstands at Open time. The 18th at Troon is no different and a mere driver and 8-iron for me on the day. Note the Stenson bunker (that he somehow did not roll into) on the right side at about 275 yards from the back tee.

I must comment on the welcome I received at Troon. It was exceptional and made the day all the more memorable.

Date: March 29, 2020


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