McGinley furious over the 'home' extension

Changes to the hallowed turf are causing controversy. James Corrigan reports
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The Independent Online

And at St Andrews this time we will have ructions about the changes made to the Old Course, the men who dared to alter "the home of golf", and the argument promises to roar with all the vehemence that the Royal and Ancient feared it would when they added five new tees and 164 yards to the course. That much seemed certain last week when Woods added his bellow to the burgeoning chorus of disapproval, whose most distinctive lyric is "Why?"

What made Woods' criticism all the more damning was that the player who raised the original concerns, Paul McGinley, had first reasoned that the R&A were playing directly into the titanium-tipped hands of Tiger and the other mighty drivers who monopolise the upper rungs of the world rankings.

"Too many times they are getting an advantage," ventured the 38-year-old. "Look at what they have done at St Andrews. I'm very disappointed - they've changed the home of golf. They didn't need to lengthen it, they have just rewarded the big hitters, because there are some bunkers there that are now in play for 80 per cent of the field. But Tiger can just blow it over them. I mean, that's not the future of golf, is it?"

It is the immediate future, however, as McGinley was quick to point out when he was approached last week to expand on his objections. "I don't want to say too much about it because I have got to go there and compete against the best players in the world," he said. "And I don't want to get that in my head. I have to find a way of playing it."

But when something means as much to somebody as St Andrews obviously does to McGinley then it is hard not to go there. With the merest encouragement, the Dubliner was piping up again. "To me, the future of the game should evolve around firm greens, tough pin positions and getting rewarded for hitting the fairway," he said. "Not length, length, length, length, length. Everywhere we go back, it's more and more length.

"Take the 14th hole at St Andrews. This is the way the hole goes. You have out of bounds on the right, and bunkers on the left, but now that the tee has been taken back so far that 80 per cent of the field cannot hit over them. So the further you hit it, the wider the fairway gets and the less your risk is.

"Don't get me wrong, big hitting is an important part of the game and it should be rewarded, but the fairway going like that is not a reward. What are those bunkers, a 260-yard carry from the tee? Now, no matter what the wind is doing the big-hitters are going to be flying them."

Indeed, it does seem odd that when Peter Dawson, the R&A chief executive, announced that the governing body were "restoring rather than changing the course" they were still prepared to add five completely new tees - at the second, fourth, 12th, 13th and 14th holes - a few of which are, bizarrely, out of bounds.

"Look, I agreed with Peter when he said that they shouldn't add or take away any of the bunkers that have been there forever, but they still messed with tee boxes, didn't they?" McGinley said. "It does disappoint me, because the big picture about scoring there, first of all, has to be the weather. And secondly, the pin positions could be tougher. I would like to see that being the road we go down to toughen up courses, as opposed to just lengthening them all the time."

For this reason, McGinley is in no doubt about the long and short of it all. "History has always proven that big hitters win at St Andrews," he explained. "John Daly has won there, Tiger obviously won it the last time, and Seve Ballesteros was one of the longest when he won there. But there must be other ways of playing it too."

Together with McGinley, Colin Montgomerie will be scouring the links for this "other way" as well, but that does not mean he is backing his Ryder Cup teammate. "I agree entirely with Peter Dawson about restoring rather than changing the Old Course," the 42-year-old said. "All they are doing is putting bunkers back into play that were there some 20 years ago. Bunkers are there to punish, and the original hazards are being put back into play, which is in keeping with the whole character of the Old Course."

It is strangely out of character for Monty not to be the player with the gripe, but then this simply highlights the difference of opinion that is sure to be emphasised in Fife as the week gets older and the bunkers get seemingly wider to all but those like Tiger.

Be sure that a good old family argument is about to erupt. Quite apt really, at the home of golf.