Does Ernie Els still have the game to make a difference at St Andrews this weekend? Photo: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

ST ANDREWS – The 495-yard (in bonnie Scotland they talk yards not metres) par-4 17th Road Hole at St Andrews is one of the toughest and most talked about holes in world golf.

If you slice, your golf ball could end up surprising guests enjoying drinks on the balcony of the luxury Old Course Hotel which runs parallel to the hole.

If you hook your drive you may well find the Scholars bunker to the left of the fairway, duff your next into the Progressing bunker before finally landing in the notorious Road Hole bunker beside the green. Then you hit your next a tad too hard and you’re on the tar road beyond the putting surface, which you are obliged to play off. 

At that stage, as Michael Tobert observes in his excellent book “Pilgrims in the Rough”, you’re likely to be pleading with your caddie to take you round the back and shoot you.

But if the 17th invariably hogs the limelight at St Andrews, the par-5 14th – at a back-breaking 618 yards (back-breaking for the average Joe but not necessarily for the big-hitting professionals taking part in this week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship) – also deserves mention as it has been the scene of much drama and heartbreak over the years.

Louis Oosthuizen, speaking ahead of Thursday’s first round of the Dunhill, said he didn’t have much trouble with the 14th en route to his seven-shot victory in the 2010 British Open.

“I birdied it twice during the four rounds and in the final round hit a good drive followed by a three wood which nearly hit the pin before running into a back bunker. From there I blasted out and made a par five which I was pretty happy with because so much can go wrong at 14.”

Louis Oosthuizen working on his putting. Photo: Michael Sherman (ANA)
Louis Oosthuizen working on his putting. Photo: Michael Sherman (ANA)

Indeed so much can go wrong. Hard on the right is the stone wall separating the Old Course from the Eden Course. Hit slightly to the right and you’re out-of-bounds in Eden, and it’s no pleasant Garden of Eden at this stage of your round. The drive at 14 must carry, or be threaded past, a nasty little crop of bunkers in the middle of the fairway called the Beardies over 250 yards from the tee-box. 

If this is achieved the player enters a blissful zone of wide, flat fairway called the Elysian Fields but any feeling of tranquility is short-lived as a battle with Hell lies ahead. This is a massive expanse of sand, some 28 yards from front-to-back and alarmingly deep.

In the 1939 Open, South Africa’s Bobby Locke – then just 21 years old – was leading the championship, six-under fours for the round and heading for a course record when he got stuck in both the Beardies and Hell on his way to an eight. Next day he drove out of bounds over the stone wall on the right and took seven. 

In the 2000 Open (when winner Tiger Woods birdied the 14th each day), Jack Nicklaus strayed into Hell’s cavernous maw and took a calamitous 10. In 1984 Bill Rogers, the 1981 Open champion, made 12 at 14.

In bygone days, the Bishop of London is reported to be so pleased to have extricated himself from Hell at his first attempt that he exclaimed: “Out of Hell in one!” To which Andra Kirkaldy, his playing partner, retorted: “When ye dee (die), mind and tak’ yer niblick wi’ ye’.

Watch the 14th with interest on SuperSport this week . You may not see Louis Oosthuizen or Branden Grace in Hell. But Hugh Grant or Kyle MacLachlan? They could have a dark role to play in there.  

African News Agency (ANA)

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