The old boys playing in this week’s Senior Open Championship on Sunningdale’s Old Course can’t believe their luck. They’re playing on one of the great inland courses in the British Isles.
Too bad the crème de la crème of the European Tour no longer have that option. Sunningdale Old is too short for today’s young guns who hit drives 300 yards plus.
Sunningdale Old is a course all golfers should have on their bucket list. After all, this is the course where Bobby Jones once shot what was thought the perfect score, a 66 in qualifying for the 1926 Open Championship that consisted of 33 shots and 33 putts.
Long gone are the days when a score of 66 was considered extraordinary. All you have to do is look at amateur and junior tournaments to find a slew of 66s and lower on a regular basis. World number one Rose Zhang returned a 62 in one round to win the U.S. Girls Junior Championship. And she’s still in her teens.
Super senior Bernhard Langer, who is chasing his 12th senior major this week, began the Senior Open lamenting the very fact a classic course like Sunningdale is now obsolete for regular tournament golf. He says the governing bodies haven’t done enough to protect the test Sunningdale once was.
“The R&A and the USGA are making our rules, we try to play by their rules and so far they haven’t done anything really of any great impact to bring the ball back or any of that,” Langer said.
“They’ve obviously put restrictions on the trampolining effect on the driver but people are hitting the ball incredibly far, the young folks.
“It’s a fascinating part of the game, so it’s a difficult decision and I do get it, because people come out and watch Bryson DeChambeau, right? Because he is the longest guy on tour right now, or one of the longest, and it’s fascinating to watch.
“People came out to watch John Daly because he could hit it really far and if you take that away, then you make the game maybe less attractive.”
“But at the same time, you’re making some golf courses obsolete in terms of the distances that they’re hitting it and golf becomes a little more expensive because you used to have 7,000 yards of golf, now you need 8,000 yards.
“You need an extra 1,000 yards, more or less that you need to take care of, maintain, rent, buy or whatever you want to call it, water it. It’s just more expensive to do an extra 1,000 yards than not, it’s just common sense.”
Common sense surely also says that the older players get, the less distance they should be achieving. Not so for the joint first round leader.
Darren Clarke knows Sunningdale well from his time living in Surrey and playing money games against the likes of Sam Torrance. Although now in his 50s, Clarke hasn’t noticed any difference in the lengths he’s achieving because of new technology.
“I'm hitting as far around here now as when I was playing here all the time,” said Clarke, who returned a 65 to share the lead.
Sunningdale Old isn’t the only course to be rendered obsolete for the European Tour’s elite because of distance. I’m obviously biased being a member, but the Duke’s Course (pictured) at Woburn is a great golf course but just not long enough for today’s hot shots, a fact that probably saddens the likes of Langer, Clarke and many others in this week’s Senior Open since they played the Dukes many times in the old British Masters.
Thankfully Sunningdale Old, the Dukes, Ganton, which recently hosted the Senior Amateur Championship, and other classic courses are still a challenge for the over 50s and ordinary amateur golfers. Too bad we don’t see them hosting European Tour events on a regular basis.
We still await the R&A and USGA’s decisions following findings from the Distance Insights Report. Whether the governing bodies will do anything to reign back the bombers achieving 200 mph ball speeds remains to be seen.
Shame that whatever is decided is probably too late for great courses like Sunningdale Old, Woburn’s Dukes and Ganton.
#JustSaying: “The Dukes course is a rare shining moment in the middle ages of British golf architecture.” Tom Doak