• Alistair Tait

When will golf hit the 8,000 yard mark?


Considering the PGA of America has just announced Kiawah Island Golf Resort's Ocean Course will measure 7,876 yards for next week’s PGA Championship, the answer to the headline seems obvious: we don’t have to wait long. As you’ll find out below.


Kiawah will become the longest course ever to stage a major, 31 yards longer than Erin Hills for the 2017 U.S. Open. Remember the days when 7,200 yards was considered “long"?


Is there another sport that’s had to extend playing areas to fend off technological advances?


Aside from Kiawah being 124 yards short of 8,000 yards, the par rating is 77.2, with a nosebleed slope of 144.


The course will be 200 yards longer than it was when Rory McIlroy won the 2012 PGA Championship. More tellingly, it’s 636 yards longer than for the 1991 Ryder Cup.


If you’re a fan of short par 3s like the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon, Royal Lytham’s 9th, or the 12th at Augusta then you’ll be disappointed. The shortest par 3 is the 8th at 198 yards. The others are 207 (5th), 223 (17th), and 238 (14th) yards respectively. Talk about one-dimensional? So much for a nice mix of short, medium, and long par-3s.


Short par 4s like the 12th at St Andrews, 10th at Riviera, 3rd at Augusta? It’s a sign of the times that the shortest par 4 the world’s elite will play at Kiawah is the 390-yard, 3rd hole, a drive and a flick for today’s top players.


There are those who point to current winning scores and say: Look, Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters with a 278, 10 under par; Collin Morikawa won last year’s PGA Championship with a 13-under 267 tally. These guys aren’t shooting lights out despite drivers with frying pan heads, and balls that screech off clubheads like Exocet missiles. What’s the problem? Besides, fans love long drives. It does wonders for beer sales because the “mashed potato” boys just love to celebrate 400 yard drives by chugging a can of Milwaukee’s finest.


Would said players be shooting such scores if not for rock hard greens running at speeds at the top end of the stimpmeter with tricky pin placements? That seems to be the last line of defence to stop players posting telephone numbers. Dustin Johnson’s 20-under-par in last year’s Masters on a soft, receptive Augusta National must have had the green jackets crying into their mint juleps. You can bet the Augusta authoritarians will resist another Autumn Masters as long as they’re handing out gaudy green jackets.


What would next week’s winning score be if players took on the 7,240 yard layout it was in the 1991 Ryder Cup with today’s equipment, on greens that ran at normal speeds?


Someone please answer the other question I’ve posed: Is there another sport that’s had to extend playing areas to withstand the onslaught of technology? Football and cricket pitches, basketball, badminton, netball and tennis courts, hockey and lacrosse rinks, NFL fields and even ping pong tables haven’t changed size despite technological advances. Runners still cover 26.6 miles in the marathon even though they’re bigger, faster, stronger. The only sport I can think of that expanded the playing area was the javelin, but those in charge simply implemented new rules on javelin design to stop athletes throwing their spears out of the arena and endangering lives.


Isn’t that a revolutionary idea?


Yet major championship courses have been pushed back to the point where we’re within 124 yards of a measure many probably never thought possible. Indeed, the R&A has had to take the Old Course at St Andrews outwith its original boundary for recent Open Championships.


Problem is, many championship courses, especially links like Royal Lytham, Royal Liverpool, Royal Troon, are already stretched to the max.


When will see an 8,000 yard major championship course? Here’s a wee exclusive: I have it on good authority the R&A is considering stretching the Old Course to 8,000 yards for next year’s Open Championship to celebrate the 150th running of the game’s oldest major.


Word is a temporary 1st tee and 18th green will be constructed behind the Royal Ancient clubhouse beside the St Andrews Aquarium. Competitors will hit over the iconic clubhouse to start their rounds, and hit approach shots over it to finish.


The 17th tee will be moved back to the astro turf mats on the St Andrews Links Driving Range – smart move since the governing body doesn’t have to build another new, back tee. The 17th green is to be sited over the wall behind the existing green, and the hole, an 800-yard par-4, will be called the “Behind the Road Hole” for next year’s championship.


Other exciting plans are in place to take the Old Course to 8,000 yards, 4,201 yards longer than for the inaugural 1860 championship at Prestwick.


What a celebration of golf it’s going to be.


7,876 yards? Pah!


#JustSaying: “The reason the Road Hole at St Andrews is the greatest par four in the world is because it’s a par five.” Ben Crenshaw

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