London: Officials behind the restoration of the most famous golf bunker in the world, the 17th greenside trap at St Andrews, have defended the work against accusations that they are ruining the hole.
The St Andrews Links Trust confirmed on Wednesday that the size and shape of the Road Hole bunker had been changed.
David Malcolm, a past captain of the New Club at St Andrews, told the Guardian newspaper that the whole town was “in uproar” over the alterations.
“Tampering with the bunker is going too far and its loss is a tragedy,” he said.
But the Trust, which is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the course, says the work is simply restoring the bunker to its condition 30 years ago.
Peter Mason, the Trust’s external relations manager, said on Wednesday that constant use and upkeep had altered the nature of the trap making it bigger in circumference and deeper.
He added there had been “mutterings” from professionals that it was no longer a fair test of sand play, demonstrated by top players David Duval and Ernie Els suffering nightmare visits to the bunker at the 2000 British Open and this year's Links Championship respectively.
“We want to return it to being reasonably playable for the ordinary golfer and a good bunker test for the stars,” he said.
The changes included shortening the lip by about 18 inches Ä it is now between five-and-a-half and six feet Ä which will also have the effect of gathering more balls from the green into the bunker, he said.
It will also be made slightly smaller in circumference, Mason added. “If you look at pictures from the time, it will be pretty much what it looked like 30 years ago,” he said.
He said the Trust comprised representatives from both the R&A and the St Andrews club itself as well as the local council and all sides had been fully consulted about the need for change.
There would be further meetings and site visits before the work was completed, probably by the end of January, he added.
The Road Hole is known as one of the hardest par fours in the game, largely because of the deep and dominant bunker that protects the green at the end of a narrowing, undulating fairway.
Countless players have seen their British Open dreams disappear in its sand.
In 1978, Japan’s Tommy Nakajima took five shots to get out while in 1990 Italian Costantino Rocca took three during his playoff with eventual winner John Daly. In the 2000 Open, Duval’s hopes of catching Tiger Woods vanished when he took four shots in the Road Hole bunker.
Peter Dawson, the secretary of the R&A, said in a statement: “We did not ask for these changes and it is evident that they have altered the nature of the hole. I’m not sure anyone likes it very much. The changes have been noted and we will be in discussion about them...I’m sure this work will be reviewed.”