Review: Royal Troon Golf Club
If the test of a championship course is, as many claim, the quality of the champions it produces, then Troon can be content with the list of champions that the Ayrshire links has produced. Arthur Havers, Bobby Locke, Arnold Palmer, Tom Weiskopf, Tom Watson, Mark Calcavechia and Justin Leonard have all won here. Add to that list the two course record holders Greg Norman and Tiger Woods and you begin to understand why Royal Troon is seen as one of the most thorough examinations known to the game of golf.
The Club dates back to 1878, but golf was played on this stretch of links long before that. Initially known as Troon Golf Club, it was not until its centenary year that the club received the honour of a Royal prefix. Troon thus became Royal Troon and remains the only club to be granted such an honour by the present monarch.
The front at Troon nine hugs the seashore and runs away from the clubhouse until at the tenth tee the golfer turns for home. Accordingly, with two nine's running virtually straight out and straight back, the wind will determine which is the easier of the two halves. That said, the front nine is where to make a score, as the closing stretch at Troon is amongst the most feared in Open Championship golf.
As a consequence, the visitor cannot afford to ease themselves gently into rounds at Troon. Instead they must try get out of the starting blocks fast and grab the birdie opportunities presented by the first few holes. Certainly Greg Norman was not to be caught napping in 1989 when he opened with five straight birdies on his way to posting an impressive closing 64, which took him into a play-off with Mark Calcavechia and Wayne Grady.
At the sixth you'll find the longest hole in Open golf. An imposing par five which stands at a remarkable 577 yards long. The tee shot demands both length and accuracy as the landing area here is well protected by three fairway bunkers. The second shot should be aimed down the left side to open up this long narrow green. The green itself was shifted to the right of its original position in preparation for the 1973 Open and that now gives the hole a slight hint of a dogleg. The real difficulty with the approach shot is convincing yourself to hit enough club. The green is further away than it looks, so take at least one more club than you initially think.
If the sixth is the longest hole in Open Championship golf, then the eight is the shortest at a mere 126 yards. The tales surrounding the "Postage Stamp" are legendary and have been told in many a clubhouse the world over. Originally called Ailsa, there were no bunkers on the left side of this green, but in 1923, following the advice of James Braid, left hand bunkers were added. When first constructed, the bunkers sat above the level of the putting surface but now they nestle ominously below this illusive green which is guarded by five greenside bunkers in total.
In the 1950 Open, the German amateur Herman Tissies took an amazing fifteen strokes to navigate the Postage Stamp, including five blows in one of the left hand traps. However, the person to ask how the hole should be played is Gene Sarazen. In 1973, at the ripe old age of seventy- one, Sarazen holed his tee-shot with a five iron while playing with Max Faulkner and Fred Daly. In his second round he made a magnificent two holing from a greenside bunker!
The toughest hole on the course is without doubt the eleventh. At 463 Yards, it has adequate length to test any golfer. Add to that equation, gorse on the left, the railway line on the right and the fact that the wind is often against and you may begin to imagine just how hard this hole really is. Certainly it had the beating of Jack Nicklaus when he ran up a ten here during the 1962 Open, perhaps Jack's only consolation being that his ten was one better than the eleven strokes taken by Max Faulkner. In stark contrast, Arnold Palmer only required twelve shots over all four rounds to negotiate the eleventh on route to winning his first Open title.
The closing stretch at Troon is as demanding as any in Open Championship golf with three cracking holes to finish. The sixteenth, a genuine three shot par five, provides at least the glimmer of a birdie opportunity. Contender's coming down the stretch must take that chance, as to birdie either seventeen or eighteen will require sublime shot making.
The seventeenth stands at 211 yards and accordingly requires a long iron or even a wood to reach this green that slopes off on all sides. The ridge in front of the green lies some ten yards from the actual putting surface; as a result it is possible to hold this green provided the tee shot is on target. Justin Leonard made two here to effectively clinch the Open from Jesper Parnevik in 1997.
Prior to the 1989 Open, the eighteenth at Troon had been viewed as rather a timid closing hole for the elite of the professional game. Consequently, a new back tee was added which gave the hole some much needed extra length. Perhaps more psychologically important though is the fact that the new tee means that the walk from the seventeenth green seems to take an inordinate amount of time. For anyone leading a major championship, such time for contemplation can only add to the supreme test of nerves that they are already enduring.
Now standing at 452 yards as opposed to its previous length of 374 yards, the eighteenth hole at Troon is long by anyone's standards. Moreover, the hole is usually played into the wind. That said, the view for your approach shot cannot be bettered in the west of Scotland. Ailsa Craig lies dormant in the distance while Royal Troon's lounge window perches aluringly at the edge of the putting surface. Make sure you take time to admire one of the finest views in golf.
If at all possible, dine in the clubhouse for the fare here is exceptional. Additionally the camaraderie and ambience of the Royal Troon lounge really should be experienced as part of your day out.
Royal Troon Golf Club
Tel: 01292 311555