Perhaps the only unforgettable thing about Royal Troon, site of next week's 126th British Open, is the view from the 1st tee. On the left stands the stately but aging Marine Highland Hotel. The Atlantic Ocean is on the right. At first glance there doesn't appear to be anything in between, but hiding among the battered hillocks, craggy hollows, weathered dunes, impenetrable gorse and patches of heather sit the links. "I remember seeing mounds everywhere—no fairways or greens, just mounds," says Tour player Brandel Chamblee, recalling his first trip to Troon, in 1982.
"I don't remember any of the holes, but it was a difficult course," says 1986 PGA champion Bob Tway, who played Troon in 1989, the last time the British Open was held there. "The wind was at our backs going out, and you had to fight your way back in."
"The only things I remember are that the course was rock hard [in '89] and the hotel had no running water for three days," says Jeff Sluman. "I thought I was back in medieval times. I left the water on full blast for two days to see if there was a chance of taking a shower, but they'd had a drought. I don't have much memory of the holes. With no water hazards or trees, they all blend together."
No, you won't see the word unforgettable used very often next week in the reports from Troon. The adjectives are more likely to be firm, difficult, challenging, treacherous, mean and nasty—the words usually associated with British Open sites.
Troon has a decidedly low profile among Open venues, no doubt due to its featureless landscape. The course doesn't have the timelessness of St. Andrews, the snobbery of Muirfield or the beauty of Turnberry. What Troon does have is a murderers' row of par-4 holes and Colin Montgomerie's father, James, who is the secretary of the club and righteously plays the role in the proud tradition of grumpy old men.
Troon does have two name holes. The 8th, the Postage Stamp, is the more renowned. A dinky par-3 of 126 yards, it has a green, surrounded by deadly bunkers and nestled between a grassy sand hole on the left and a steep drop-off on the right. Decades ago, before square grooves, perimeter weighting and aerodynamic balls, the 8th could be a scary hole. Now it's no more than a hard sand wedge for most players and won't even cause a gulp—unless there's a 25-mph cross-wind, which is always a possibility. "I played with a guy who hit his ball 30 yards over the green," says Brad Faxon. "He played Ping-Pong back and forth over the green for a while. It's a beautiful little hole, but it's not the hardest." In '89, when the Open was played in balmy calm, the 8th "was duck soup," says Ken Green.
Aye, laddie, the Postage Stamp is easily licked. Even Gene Sarazen mailed one in on the 8th during the 1973 Open, when he was 71, holing a five-iron shot for an ace during the first round. "For many years the Postage Stamp had haunted me," Sarazen later wrote. "I feared it, so when I walked onto the tee and faced the wind, I was somewhat nervous. I chose my five-iron because I was determined not to be short. When the crowd roared and I realized the ball was in the hole, I felt there was no better way to close the books on my tournament play and call it quits."
The day after the ace, the old man holed a bunker shot for a deuce at the Postage Stamp. Both the ace and the bunker shot were televised, which probably explains why the 8th is Troon's most famous hole.
A couple of other incidents add to the hole's legend. In the '50 Open, the second held at Troon, Herman Tissies, a German amateur, needed five blasts to escape one greenside bunker, only to wind up in another one. He eventually played back into the same bunker in which he had started and made a 15. That same year Roberto de Vicenzo was in contention during the final round when he missed the green at the Postage Stamp and was badly bunkered. An experimental unplayable-lie rule was in use then, and it allowed for no penalty stroke, just loss of distance. Rather than do a Tissies, De Vicenzo went back to the tee, replayed a shot to the green and holed the putt for a 3. He went on to finish second, two strokes behind Bobby Locke.
The 8th remains a difficult par for those who miss the green, but like the 18th at St. Andrews, which was reduced to a long par-3 during the '95 Open, the Postage Stamp is merely a delightful anachronism these days and isn't likely to affect the outcome of the championship. "It's like the [107-yard] 7th hole at Pebble Beach," says Green. "There's nothing to it unless it's howling, and any hole is hard when it's howling."