Perhaps the only unforgettable thing about Royal Troon, site of
next week's 126th British Open, is the view from the 1st tee. On
the left stands the stately but aging Marine Highland Hotel. The
Atlantic Ocean is on the right. At first glance there doesn't
appear to be anything in between, but hiding among the battered
hillocks, craggy hollows, weathered dunes, impenetrable gorse
and patches of heather sit the links. "I remember seeing mounds
everywhere--no fairways or greens, just mounds," says Tour
player Brandel Chamblee, recalling his first trip to Troon, in
"I don't remember any of the holes, but it was a difficult
course," says 1986 PGA champion Bob Tway, who played Troon in
1989, the last time the British Open was held there. "The wind
was at our backs going out, and you had to fight your way back
"The only things I remember are that the course was rock hard
[in '89] and the hotel had no running water for three days,"
says Jeff Sluman. "I thought I was back in medieval times. I
left the water on full blast for two days to see if there was a
chance of taking a shower, but they'd had a drought. I don't
have much memory of the holes. With no water hazards or trees,
they all blend together."
No, you won't see the word unforgettable used very often next
week in the reports from Troon. The adjectives are more likely
to be firm, difficult, challenging, treacherous, mean and
nasty--the words usually associated with British Open sites.
Troon has a decidedly low profile among Open venues, no doubt
due to its featureless landscape. The course doesn't have the
timelessness of St. Andrews, the snobbery of Muirfield or the
beauty of Turnberry. What Troon does have is a murderers' row of
par-4 holes and Colin Montgomerie's father, James, who is the
secretary of the club and righteously plays the role in the
proud tradition of grumpy old men.
Troon does have two name holes. The 8th, the Postage Stamp, is
the more renowned. A dinky par-3 of 126 yards, it has a green,
surrounded by deadly bunkers and nestled between a grassy sand
hole on the left and a steep drop-off on the right. Decades ago,
before square grooves, perimeter weighting and aerodynamic
balls, the 8th could be a scary hole. Now it's no more than a
hard sand wedge for most players and won't even cause a
gulp--unless there's a 25-mph crosswind, which is always a
possibility. "I played with a guy who hit his ball 30 yards over
the green," says Brad Faxon. "He played Ping-Pong back and forth
over the green for a while. It's a beautiful little hole, but
it's not the hardest." In '89, when the Open was played in balmy
calm, the 8th "was duck soup," says Ken Green.
Aye, laddie, the Postage Stamp is easily licked. Even Gene
Sarazen mailed one in on the 8th during the 1973 Open, when he
was 71, holing a five-iron shot for an ace during the first
round. "For many years the Postage Stamp had haunted me,"
Sarazen later wrote. "I feared it, so when I walked onto the tee
and faced the wind, I was somewhat nervous. I chose my five-iron
because I was determined not to be short. When the crowd roared
and I realized the ball was in the hole, I felt there was no
better way to close the books on my tournament play and call it
The day after the ace, the old man holed a bunker shot for a
deuce at the Postage Stamp. Both the ace and the bunker shot
were televised, which probably explains why the 8th is Troon's
most famous hole.
A couple of other incidents add to the hole's legend. In the '50
Open, the second held at Troon, Herman Tissies, a German
amateur, needed five blasts to escape one greenside bunker, only
to wind up in another one. He eventually played back into the
same bunker in which he had started and made a 15. That same
year Roberto de Vicenzo was in contention during the final round
when he missed the green at the Postage Stamp and was badly
bunkered. An experimental unplayable-lie rule was in use then,
and it allowed for no penalty stroke, just loss of distance.
Rather than do a Tissies, De Vicenzo went back to the tee,
replayed a shot to the green and holed the putt for a 3. He went
on to finish second, two strokes behind Bobby Locke.
The 8th remains a difficult par for those who miss the green,
but like the 18th at St. Andrews, which was reduced to a long
par-3 during the '95 Open, the Postage Stamp is merely a
delightful anachronism these days and isn't likely to affect the
outcome of the championship. "It's like the [107-yard] 7th hole
at Pebble Beach," says Green. "There's nothing to it unless it's
howling, and any hole is hard when it's howling."
The 11th, Troon's other marquee hole, is more likely to have an
impact on the Open. Known as the Railway because it runs next to
the Glasgow-to-Ayr line of Scotrail, the 11th, which used to be
a 481-yard par-5, has been repackaged and updated into a
463-yard par-4, a move sure to rival Congressional's par-3
finish at the U.S. Open as a source of controversy and
conversation. The 11th's fairway is a narrow ribbon angled
between ferocious gorse on the left and the tracks, which are
out of bounds, on the right. In '89, winner Mark Calcavecchia
scored four 5s on the hole, the last coming on a 40-foot putt
that he says he didn't even line up.
Peter Jacobsen did not discover that the Railway had been
changed until last year, when he played Troon with P.J.
Carlesimo, the Golden State Warriors' coach, who was then
guiding the Portland Trail Blazers. "I ripped a drive, and when
we got to the ball, the caddie goes, 'Aye, ye gut aboot tew
firtee,'" Jacobsen says in his best Scottish burr. "I say, 'Man,
this is a tough par-5.' He goes, 'It's a parrr firrr!' I say,
'Bull! It's a 5.' He says, 'It's a firrr!'"
During the '89 Open, Jacobsen was paired with Arnold Palmer and
British Amateur champion Stephen Dodd, who was fighting a case
of the shanks. "On the 11th hole, after this guy's seventh
shank," says Jacobsen, "Arnold says, 'God, this guy has shanked
it every hole.' I say, 'Gee, Arnold, I didn't realize I was that
intimidating to play with.' Arnold made a face at me, then
Palmer won the '62 Open, the second of his consecutive British
titles, because of his play at the Railway. Using a one-iron off
the tee on three occasions and a three-wood once, Palmer made an
eagle 3--the only one all week--two birdies and a par to pick up
most of his six-shot win over Kel Nagle. That same year
22-year-old Jack Nicklaus took a 10 on the hole, while former
British Open champ Max Faulkner had an 11.
The most difficult shot at the Railway is the second because the
closer you get to the green, the closer the tracks snuggle in on
the right. In the '82 Open, Tom Watson ran a three-iron shot
onto the green and made an eagle that lifted him to a
come-from-behind win over Nick Price and Bobby Clampett.
Most of the players don't think Troon needed to be toughened. "I
don't know why they made [the 11th] a par-4," says U.S. Open
champion Ernie Els, whose first appearance in a major came at
Troon in '89, when he was 19. "Par around that place will be
even tougher than at Congressional. Compared to Troon, Lytham
last year was a nothing course. I think Troon and Muirfield are
the two toughest links courses you'll ever play."
Troon's finishing stretch can be punishing. "The first 12 holes
are awfully good," Calcavecchia says, "but those last six will
make you pucker." Part of the reason is the weather. Troon's
3,429-yard, par-36 front nine go out along the beach, while the
3,650-yard, par-35 back side returns to the clubhouse. The
prevailing southwesterly wind rakes across the course, helping
on the front and hurting on the back, which is bad news because
the shortest par-4 on the back is 431 yards long and one of the
two par-3s is 223 yards. Watson, playing there years ago with
amateur friends, warned them about Troon's two faces. The three
amateurs, all good players, shot around 40 on the front, but
none of them broke 60 coming in.
If a pair of pars are a must on the final two holes and they're
playing into the wind, well, g'd luck, laddie. The 17th, the
223-yard wind tunnel, was ranked as the most difficult hole in
'89, averaging 3.27 strokes. The 18th stretches 452 yards with a
series of fairway bunkers down the left side and the famous one
on the right that snared Greg Norman's drive and led to his X in
the four-hole playoff won by Calcavecchia. Even a good drive
leaves a long iron to a heavily bunkered green.
"I did an outing there last year, and it was cold, windy and
rainy," says Calcavecchia. "I played as well as I know how and
shot one under. The course looked so different because it was
green, and it seemed so wide open between the Marine Hotel and
the ocean because the bleachers weren't there. When I got on the
1st tee, I looked around and said, 'Wow.'"
What he saw was nothing, really. That's why Troon is really