The Hacker: Members make balls-up of Turnberry rough – that's the thick of it

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The Independent Online

Just so you can get the full flavour of the task facing the world's best golfers in The Open at Turnberry this week, let me pass on some idea about the state of the rough on the Ailsa course.

Player after player who have had a sneak preview have told how tough it is. Padraig Harrington says it is the thickest he's ever seen.

But Colin Montgomerie came out with the most revealing fact. Turnberry members were given the rare treat of playing on The Open course a couple of weeks ago.

Usually club members are forbidden to tread the hallowed fairways for weeks before the event but 150 of them were allowed to play a medal on the Ailsa.

Between them they lost 480 balls in the tall and cruelly-thick rough. I don't have a record of the scores but I am told they were very high and there were between 70 and 80 "no returns".

In other words, half the competitors either ripped up their cards or gave up keeping count of the shots they'd taken. You get a few "NRs" in most club medals but that number represents a slaughter of epic proportions.

And the members weren't even playing off The Open tees. They were off the whites.

It does help to get some perspective on the difficulties presented by an Open course when you see how ordinary golfers perform on it.

Back in the days when golf stars used to have a pint or two with the press during tournaments I remember Wayne Grady propounding his belief that before every major tournament club golfers should be sent out to sample the problems the pros face and prove how hard is the challenge. He suggested the Press would be ideal for the job.

I said it was like sending canaries down a mine shaft but it is a good idea to send out guinea pigs to give us a measure of how tough it is.

Watching the top golfers in action on television can often make the game look too easy and not give a true impression of their achievements.

If you are at the course as a spectator you can see the distances involved and the level of accuracy required and you can feel whatever discomforts the weather is bringing. You also see the bad shots as well as the good.

What you see at home is a sanitised version. TV foreshortens a course, smooths out the bumps and hollows, hides the difficulties. And the cameras tend to show better players making the better shots with apparent ease.

There is an upside to this because the seeming simplicity of it all persuades people to take up the game. By the time they discover they've been conned, they're hooked.

Since I've been moaning about the rough at Royal Porthcawl I shall be taking a close look at Turnberry's rough this week and an even closer look at how the pros keep out of it.

Of course, the pros will have far more help than Turnberry's members in finding the balls that go adrift. Thousands of spectators will be assisting by trampling down the grass.

There will be even more than usual when they hear there's a good few balls waiting to be found.