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Postage Stamp at Royal Troon: 'As much by skill as by strength'

By Ron Garl, Special Contributer

Royal TroonEditor's note: Golf course architect Ron Garl is known throughout the U.S., and especially in Florida, where he has been hailed for his innovative routing and his commitment to environmentally sensitive designs. TravelGolf.com said he "may be the best golf course architect you've never heard of," though his peers have certainly recognized his achievements.

Based in Lakeland, Fla., Ron Garl has won national and international awards, from Golf Digest, the Audubon Society, Golf Magazine, Links Magazine and Southern Living, among others. He was named "Golf Designer of the Year" by the International Network of Golf in 1996.

Royal Troon Golf Club on the West Coast of Scotland has been the venue for seven British Open Championships. It's a formidable links course and the club's motto states precisely the philosophy required during play: "tam arte quam marte." Readers may be more familiar with the translation: "As much by skill as by strength."

Nowhere throughout the layout is this motto more relevant than at its most celebrated hole, the short par-three "Postage Stamp" hole. As the shortest par-three in Open Championship competition - measuring only 126 yards from the back tee - its design is deceptively simple. From an elevated teeing ground shaved from the top of a large sand dune, the play is directed to a small, perched green carved into another neighboring dune.

The putting surface is just eight paces wide and surrounded by five pot bunkers with a large sand dune to the left. The dune shelters the green, and makes the wind's effect more difficult to read. Even among the storied collection of links holes in Britain it is unique. There is no safe play; you're either on the green, or in trouble. The ball cannot be trundled along the ground; it must be played high through the air. In many ways it may have been the first 'island' green.

The setting of Royal Troon's eighth hole is almost without comparison, with views of the Firth of Clyde and the Isles of Arran and Kyntyre in the background. On a clear day, it's even possible to see the northernmost tip of Ireland. But such days are few and far between and it is said by the local Troonites that if you can't see the Isle of Arran from the Postage Stamp tee, then it's raining. And if you can see it, then it means it's about to rain.

The elements play such an influential role in links golf and the Postage Stamp hole is no exception. Depending on the wind direction and its strength, I have played anything from a 3-iron to a wedge. What a shame that more par threes around the golfing globe cannot offer this variety of shot-making.

The present eighth hole was designed in 1909 - some 30 years after the club's conception. The original eighth hole called for a blind tee-shot to a green behind the sand dune to the left of the present green.

From what one gathers, I've heard that the current design - the size of the green in particular - received a lot of early criticism. The then golf correspondent at the Glasgow Herald plastered his opinion around that the green was ridiculously small and the hole painfully difficult to play.

Nonetheless, in the spring of 1910, the Great Triumvirate - Harry Vardon, James Braid, and J H Taylor - played an exhibition match on the course that included the new Postage Stamp hole. How comforting it must have been, shortly thereafter, for the club to receive letters of support from the three greatest players in the game, expressing how they thoroughly enjoyed and approved of the new addition.

No great hole will be without its critics, but I have always found this hole to be intriguing. Its simplicity, setting, and potential calamity, sets it apart from all others in an age where so many par-3s are no longer very short.

It remains a unique and refreshing symbol of defiance. Perhaps the 12th at Augusta National aside, where else could a single hole produce a score of 15 - Herman Tissies in the 1950 Open - and a hole-in-one - 71-year-old Gene Sarazen in the 1973 Open Championship?

Contemporary professionals are not spared the trial. Even the great Tiger Woods took a triple-bogey six there on his first visit to Royal Troon at the 1997 Open.

Love it or hate it, the Postage Stamp is a hole you just cannot forget. Ever since first playing Troon in 1967, I have always enjoyed the challenge and pure fun of playing the Postage Stamp.

Royal TroonI designed the first replica golf course, Golden Ocala. In recognition of the impression that the Postage Stamp hole has made on me, it was incorporated into the layout at Golden Ocala. The magazine, Travel & Leisure has ranked it as the Best Replica Course in America.

My senior design associate, Steven McFarlane, who is originally from Troon, joined our practice five years ago. This was the period when I was completing the construction of a replica of the Postage Stamp at Wooden Sticks Golf Club north of Toronto.

I was especially keen for Steven to see the hole before it was grassed, to get his upfront opinion. When he stood on the tee, he remarked, "The only thing missing is a 40 mph wind and the backdrop of the Irish Sea."

I knew right then, that I had done all I could to pay homage to this great hole.

Ron GarlRon Garl, Special Contributer


 
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