- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
THE WILD WAYS OF OLD TROON
Old Troon is a dour and forbidding links hard by the Firth of Clyde in the western seascape of Scotland, one of those eerie, unnerving British golf courses surrounded, by evil dunes, vile shrubs and an atmosphere more suited to the Hound of the Baskervilles than to sport. Last week this famous 84-year-old course added a list of new horrors—a riotous crowd, fairways as firm as a battleship's deck, the incessant whine of jets landing on a runway only 3,000 yards away—and tried to scare Arnold Palmer out of the British Open title he was there to defend. But it was Old Troon, with all its hazards, that wound up on the defensive.
Palmer responded to Scotland's fierce challenge with what he himself called the four best rounds of his career. Mauling the formidable course almost as he pleased, he shot a remarkable 71-69-67-69, crushed the British Open's finest field in decades and set the English to exclaiming what many Americans have been saying all along—that Palmer may well be the greatest golfer ever to play the ancient game.
It has been more than 25 years since the British got quite so worked up over their Open championship. From time to time in the past there were exciting American invaders—Palmer, of course; Hogan, who won in 1953; Snead, the 1946 winner; and an occasional collection of lesser players. But this time they had the best foreign field since the days when Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen and their contemporaries made the Open an annual pilgrimage. In addition to Defending Champion Palmer and U.S. Open Winner Jack Nicklaus, there was Snead again, still a wondrously smooth golfer at the age of 50; there were Gene Littler, in the prime of his career, and brash young Phil Rodgers, whom the British golf writers most politely referred to as "wise-cracking." From South Africa came Gary Player and an able delegation of his lesser-known countrymen. Australia was represented by Kel Nagle and Peter Thomson, and New Zealand by young Bob Charles.
"Truly the world championship of golf," wrote more than one British paper with undisguised pride.
A good many of the visiting players felt, however, that they were competing on uneven terms. How, they asked, can you ever make a decent score with the wind tearing across the links, and the fairways impossibly hard?
To be sure, Troon is a strange course by American standards. The first six holes, which run alongside the Firth of Clyde, are not too different from some of our own seaside courses—flat and bordered by the long, tough grass that the Scots call bent. But then the course, newly lengthened to 7,045 yards, turns inland over hilly dunes. The fairways are narrow, splotched with steep-sided bunkers that look like moon craters and burned brown by one of Scotland's worst droughts. In some areas it is possible to get a better lie in the rough than the fairway. But in other places the rough is full of those bushes that are as prickly as the Scots conscience: varieties of spiny broom and an impenetrable menace called whin.
Some of the shots that must be hit through or around these dangers are absolutely blind. The second shot on the 9th is over a hump of dune to an unseen green nestling on the edge of a trailer camp, from which casually clad mothers and babies peer across at the golfers. The drive on the 10th is another blind shot over enormous dunes and between the towering poles supporting the approach lights to one of the jet runways at Prestwick International Airport. The peeps and chirps of the commuter trains, which sound exactly like a dime-store whistle, are just one of the minor hazards on the 11th. Gary Player said early in the week that the last nine holes were "the most difficult in the world when the wind is blowing." Later in the week the wind didn't blow, and Player still couldn't handle them.
"There's so much luck involved," Gene Littler observed one morning before starting a round. "You can watch two perfect drives go right down the middle of the fairway, and one will bounce into the rough, while the other will kick straight ahead and roll 50 yards."
This sounds horrible, as well as unfair, but the British view of the game is that a course should test a man's fortune as well as his fortitude. As one Englishman explained: "Our people think that a golf course should follow natural terrain, whatever that may be. On most seaside courses you are going to get bumpy ground. Your chaps feel that if you hit a fine shot you should be entitled to a good lie on the fairway. You can't say either philosophy is right or wrong. It is simply a matter of one's traditions and the way one is used to playing a game. We feel that over 72 holes the bad bounces and the good ones will even out among all the players. On our courses, if you let a bad bounce get you down, you are done for."