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Proper time to draw line in our sand.

The tee shot to the par-three 11th at St Andrews last week caught the bunker known as Strath and thus began a tortuous sequence of events.

For a start, there was the problem of getting to the ball for Strath is deep, very deep. And the creaking undercarriage would not tolerate an orthodox descent.

So I sat down, dangled my legs over the edge and lowered myself into the hazard.

Then all I could see was the sand below and the sky above and ten not entirely terrible shots later the ball left the bunker and there came the huge physical exertion of following it out.

The Old Course, bless it or curse it, still does not compromise its essential character. When you get into trouble, then you pay and that experience has been on my mind ever since; will probably remain as a permanent scar.

But it set in motion a train of thought along the lines of how desperately corrupt we tend to be in the matter of golf course design today. St Andrews is the home of golf, it is the place whence all the game's examples are supposed to emanate and you have to go there to appreciate how far the modern game has alienated itself from its traditions.

Bunkers? Some courses do not have bunkers. They have sand patches that are not hazards at all, but comfort zones. You can putt out of some of them and you can use woods in many.

One of the great shots in golf is held to be Severiano Ballesteros's 250-yard three-wood from a bunker in the 1983 Ryder Cup match at Palm Beach Gardens. When Jack Nicklaus says, as he did, that this was the finest shot he had ever seen you are supposed to believe him and I do.

Perhaps, though, there might have been some sort of comment on the nature of a bunker that you could take a three-wood into. You certainly wouldn't find one like that at St Andrews and it is no wonder that all Americans are not keen on the place.

Now I would not suggest that every golf course should replicate St Andrews; that all bunkers should be as they are on this barren stretch of Fife; that all greens should in any way compare. There are only four single greens and of the others the fifth/13th covers more than 1.5 acres and to cut it by hand mower, a greenkeeper would walk several miles. I do not recommend that all courses should have greens that might require 300ft putts.

The spell that golf casts is enhanced by the variety, not the sameness, of its playing fields and it would be a dull old game if every course in the world, every links course, even, was a slavish copy of this 600-year-old masterpiece.

But to play it remains one of the abiding privileges. Here is not something that was set out by architects; no one sculpted St Andrews. Only nature.

And everyone who wants to design a new course, or tart up an old one, should first make a visit to this part of Scotland and try to grasp the real meaning of real golf.

Some feature of this great golf ground, large or small, should be incorporated into every course that is ever laid. Here is the game's heritage and I am distressed by the distance that some courses have travelled away from it.

Much is made of the advantages top golfers are afforded by new technology. Why, then, I wonder do present day designers lay their piffling sand patches at a range, say, of 320 yards from the tee when you can get out of them for free?

The other week, in an evaluation of the fluke factor involved in a hole-in-one, I instanced the grotesque fortuitousness of the ace achieved by my mate Clayton at Brocton Hall. He bounced the ball into the hole off a small mountain.

While his lawyers contemplate the seriousness of my scornful allusion, let me hasten to salute Clayton's latest ace. At Moor Hall's 17th on Monday. Let me pay his shot its proper due.

Taking a five-wood from the forward tee (155 yards), guarding against the possibility of a passing gale of wind and judging the elasticity of the flagstick to perfection, he rammed the ball against the stick and watched it drop, stunned, into the cup.

Fluke? There is always a virtue in straightness.
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Author:Golf, Michael Blair
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 4, 2000
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