The last major rerouting of the Old Course at St. Andrews took place about 137 years ago. That sounds like a long time, but in the life of St. Andrews it is only about a third of the course's existence. The often argued beginning of the club dates back to somewhere around 1550.
In approximately 1863 old Tom Morris had the first green separated from the 17th, giving us the current 18 hole layout with includes seven double greens.
That change by Old Tom in 1863 was exactly 10 years before the first time St. Andrews would host the Open.
The course has changed little in 137 years, and this is not a bad thing.
Some tweaks here and there, but for the most part it probably looks similar today as it did a century ago.
One significant tweak for the 2010 British Open this week will be the lengthening of the famous "Road Hole;" also know as hole No. 17. That difficult hole will now play about 40 yards longer.
As we head into The Open at the Old Course, let's run down the ten holes that I think will decide the winner of the Open.
We'll look at the five toughest holes, where strokes will be lost, and the five easiest, where moves can be made.
We'll start with the five most difficult holes where, if the wind is blowing the from a certain direction, each one can create havoc.
Five Most Difficult Holes
5. Second Hole —Par Four —453 Yards —Named "Dyke"
All golfers know about the deep, unforgiving bunker (Cheape's bunker) on the left side of the fairway, yet many end up in it anyway. It must be avoided at all costs. A tee built for the 2005 Open added 40 yards to the hole and has really brought the bunker into play.
4. Ninth Hole —Par Four —352 Yards —Named "End"
The last hole going out, known as the "End," No. 9 is a reachable par four. Yet, it is not so easy.
Two bunkers in the middle of the fairway short of the green give it some protection. Gorse and heather line the left side. This hole never seems to score as easily as you would think.
3. 14th Hole —Par Five —618 Yards —Named "Long"
The longest hole at St. Andrews is aptly named. Like many holes on the Old Course, the difficulty level of the hole is often based on the direction of the wind. If the wind is blowing from the east the 14th is a long three shot par five.
Out of bounds on the right and four bunkers on the left make for a difficult tee shot. A tricky, steep green as well.
2. 11th Hole —Par Three —172 Yards —Named "High" (In)
Wind direction and speed can change your club and ball flight dramatically. A severe sloping of the green from left to right and back to front.
Can't be long with a gully behind the green. Can't be short or the ball will run way off the green. Little bunker in front of the green and a big, deep bunker that is left of the green.
1. 17th Hole —Par Four —495 Yards —Named "Road"
One of the most demanding par fours in all of golf. Made even more demanding with the lengthening of the hole.
The carry is now about 260 over the sheds. The green angles away from the players and anything long will end up on the road behind the green.
Five Easiest Holes
5. Sixth Hole —Par Four —412 Yards —Named "Heathery" (out)
It's chief defense is the wind. A strong NW wind could prevent birdies, but otherwise they will be plentiful. Long hitters can drive past most of the dangers of the hole (bunkers and gorse).
4. Seventh Hole —Par Four —371 Yards —Named "High" (out)
All that is needed here is a lay up drive and a short second into the green. Birdie hole.
3. 10th Hole —Par Four —386 Yards —Named "Bobby Jones"
It was lengthened for the 2000 Open by 40 yards, but is still drivable for the long hitters.
Shorter hitters will lay up, trying to avoid bunkers, and hit a wedge into the green.
2. Third Hole —Par Four —397 —Named "Cartgate" (out)
Another hole that can be easy if the wind is right.
Pot bunkers and gorse must be avoided (as with most holes) off the tee. Little ridge in front of the green can cause some strange bounces.
1. Fifth Hole —Par Five —568 Yards —Named "Hole O'Cross" (out)
Almost always the easiest hole during championships at St. Andrews, and this year should be no different. Most guys in the field can reach it in two.
However, the green size at 90 yards long can make eagle putts most difficult.
All five of the holes on my easiest list come in the first 10 holes. So, make hay while you can.
One hole not mentioned is the final hole, "Tom Morris."
No. 18 is a drivable par four for many in the field at 357 yards. Birdies can be made, which makes it a dramatic finishing hole.
But I wouldn't go as far as to call it an easy hole, either. The swale known as the 'Valley Of Sin', must be avoided with either a long drive or a short second shot.
The holes mentioned above will be pivotal in deciding the eventual winner of this championship.
Not much has changed at St. Andrews over the years, which is, of course, a very good thing.
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