LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- The irony is so thick that even John Daly couldn't swing a driver through it. Las Vegas - the vortex of all things fabricated - is now one of the few places in the world where golfers can actually experience the original design of one the world's most famous golf holes.
The greenside bunker on the "Road Hole" at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland was recently moved away from the 17th green and hacked down a couple of feet so as to encourage the occasional up-and-down. The goal, says the St. Andrews Links Trust, was to create a more player friendly golf hole. Critics of this decision are lining up like democrats at a dunk Trent Lott carnival booth, and they range from touring professionals to golf historians.
"The whole town is in uproar," says David Malcolm, a former captain of the New Course at St. Andrews. "Tampering with the bunker is going too far, and its loss is a tragedy.."
But defenders of all that is good and righteous in this golfing world can take heart! Some 10,000 miles away at Royal Golf Links Golf Club in the heart of Sin City, U.S.A, the Road Hole exists in all its original glory.
Well, minus a few small historical details.
"I guess the biggest difference between our Road Hole and theirs is that instead of hitting over a hotel, you hit over a (faux) British Open scoreboard," says Royal Links general manager Joe Dahlstrom.
The biggest difference, that is, other than the ability to procure a ten-dollar lap dance, a 150-item buffet dinner, or a parlay bet on Sunday's NFL games within a 15-minute drive of the golf course at the (in) famous Las Vegas Strip.
But who's counting?
Royal Links Golf Club is the brainchild of Bill Walters - local gambling legend and golf history aficionado who owns and operates six golf courses in and around the valley. In the mid 90s, Walters sent golf course architect Perry Dye on a 90-day fact-finding trip to the British Isles.
Dye and his crew shot elevations and snapped photos of 18 of the best holes from courses that had hosted the British Open, and then set out to craft one of those "inspired by" courses that have become all the rage in recent years.
Turns out they got the Road Hole right at Royal Links while the getting was good.
The hole, which is the 17th at the Old Course, plays as the 10th hole at Royal Links. The road in this case is more or less a cart path, and patrons have a better chance of seeing a rattlesnake in action than they do a sheep or some other Scottish livestock. The Royal Links version of the hole plays 466-yard from the back tees. Just like on the original, golfers have to clear a section of wall with their tee shots and avoid the controversial pot bunker to the left of the green on their approaches.
"We have a transatlantic challenge every year that pits amateur's from Scotland against amateurs from Las Vegas," Dahlstrom says. "They could not believe how realistic that hole and the entire course feels and plays.."
More realistic, some might say now, than the real hole. The bunker on the Old Course's Road Hole was eight feet wide at its base and was known to gather errant approach shots from twice that width. It has been replaced with 32 feet of gathering area that leads to a revised pot bunker set four feet back from its original location. The crest has been lowered and the face reduced by two feet.
In an somewhat related story, David Duval, Costantino Rocca, Ernie Els and Tommy Nakajima have all reported drastic increases in self confidence.
But, in keeping with providing the most accurate replica product available on the market today, will Walters Golf alter the Road Hole at Royal Links to match the Road Hole at the Old Course?
"We haven't really discussed it at this point, but you can be sure there will be some discussion," Dahlstrom says. "There's something to saying that we have the original Road Hole design, and Bill Walters also has a great appreciation for the tradition of the game.."
The smart money says that Walters and Royal Links officials will leave the hole alone. After all, they've done quite a bit of altering to a layout that has only been open for five years. The course just reopened a few months ago after replacing the grass on all 18 greens with Champion Bermuda turf. Most tracks that make Golf Magazine's "Top Ten You Can Play" list (1999 for Royal Links) rest on their laurels for a decade or so, but Walters Golf was seeking perfection.
"We did the greens and some additional landscaping and fixed some rough areas to make the experience more realistic and to make Royal Links the best conditioned course in Las Vegas," Dahlstrom says. "I think we are all pretty happy with the course as it stands."
Especially when you can stand on the tee box of Royal Troon's famous par-3 "Postage Stamp" hole, or behind the green on the 322-yard par-4 12th hole where Tiger Woods would hit his tee shots during the 2000 British Open to take the penal fairway bunkers out of play.
"A lot of people haven't had the chance to play in Scotland, but they relate to the holes by way of the British Open on television," Dahlstrom says. "They recognize these holes from television and they remember seeing (David) Duval in the Road Hole bunker or Tiger on this hole or that hole. They like to compare the way they played the hole to the way the professionals played it."
Ah, but to truly play the Road Hole the way the professionals will play it now would call for relocating the greenside bunker on Royal Links' 10th hole. If it should come down to it, Walters Golf couldn't ask for a better town in which to roll the proverbial dice.
Desert Pines, also owned and operated by Walters Golf, closed on Dec. 14 to address an agricultural phenomenon affecting its greens. A turf grass fungus caused the thinning of the bentgrass on some of the course's greens, resulting in putting surfaces that Walters Golf deemed unacceptable. The majority of the greens at the Pinehurst, N.C. inspired layout are being treated, reseeded or resodded as needed. Resident card holders will be able to play at Stallion Mountain Country Club until Desert Pines reopens on Jan. 23, 2003.
December 31, 2002