The 11th, Troon's other marquee hole, is more likely to have an impact on the Open. Known as the Railway because it runs next to the Glasgow-to-Ayr line of Scotrail, the 11th, which used to be a 481-yard par-5, has been repackaged and updated into a 463-yard par-4, a move sure to rival Congressional's par-3 finish at the U.S. Open as a source of controversy and conversation. The 11th's fairway is a narrow ribbon angled between ferocious gorse on the left and the tracks, which are out of bounds, on the right. In '89, winner Mark Calcavecchia scored four 5s on the hole, the last coming on a 40-foot putt that he says he didn't even line up.
Peter Jacobsen did not discover that the Railway had been changed until last year, when he played Troon with P.J. Carlesimo, the Golden State Warriors' coach, who was then guiding the Portland Trail Blazers. "I ripped a drive, and when we got to the ball, the caddie goes, Aye, ye gut aboot tew firtee,' " Jacobsen says in his best Scottish burr. "I say, 'Man, this is a tough par-5.' He goes, 'It's a parrr firrr!' I say, 'Bull! It's a 5.' He says, 'It's a firrr!' "
During the '89 Open, Jacobsen was paired with Arnold Palmer and British Amateur champion Stephen Dodd, who was fighting a case of the shanks. "On the 11th hole, after this guy's seventh shank," says Jacobsen, "Arnold says, 'God, this guy has shanked it every hole.' I say, 'Gee, Arnold, I didn't realize I was that intimidating to play with.' Arnold made a face at me, then laughed."
Palmer won the '62 Open, the second of his consecutive British titles, because of his play at the Railway. Using a one-iron off the tee on three occasions and a three-wood once, Palmer made an eagle 3—the only one all week—two birdies and a par to pick up most of his six-shot win over Kel Nagle. That same year 22-year-old Jack Nicklaus took a 10 on the hole, while former British Open champ Max Faulkner had an 11.
The most difficult shot at the Railway is the second because the closer you get to the green, the closer the tracks snuggle in on the right. In the '82 Open, Tom Watson ran a three-iron shot onto the green and made an eagle that lifted him to a come-from-behind win over Nick Price and Bobby Clampett.
Most of the players don't think Troon needed to be toughened. "I don't know why they made [the 11th] a par-4," says U.S. Open champion Ernie Els, whose first appearance in a major came at Troon in '89, when he was 19. "Par around that place will be even tougher than at Congressional. Compared to Troon, Lytham last year was a nothing course. I think Troon and Muirfield are the two toughest links courses you'll ever play."
Troon's finishing stretch can be punishing. "The first 12 holes are awfully good," Calcavecchia says, "but those last six will make you pucker." Part of the reason is the weather. Troon's 3,429-yard, par-36 front nine go out along the beach, while the 3,650-yard, par-35 back side returns to the clubhouse. The prevailing southwesterly wind rakes across the course, helping on the front and hurting on the back, which is bad news because the shortest par-4 on the back is 431 yards long and one of the two par-3s is 223 yards. Watson, playing there years ago with amateur friends, warned them about Troon's two faces. The three amateurs, all good players, shot around 40 on the front, but none of them broke 60 coming in.
If a pair of pars are a must on the final two holes and they're playing into the wind, well, g'd luck, laddie. The 17th, the 223-yard wind tunnel, was ranked as the most difficult hole in '89, averaging 3.27 strokes. The 18th stretches 452 yards with a series of fairway bunkers down the left side and the famous one on the right that snared Greg Norman's drive and led to his X in the four-hole playoff won by Calcavecchia. Even a good drive leaves a long iron to a heavily bunkered green.
"I did an outing there last year, and it was cold, windy and rainy," says Calcavecchia. "I played as well as I know how and shot one under. The course looked so different because it was green, and it seemed so wide open between the Marine Hotel and the ocean because the bleachers weren't there. When I got on the 1st tee, I looked around and said, 'Wow.' "
What he saw was nothing, really. That's why Troon is really something.