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Royal Troon Golf Club

A pair of multiple Open winners returns to the site of both triumph and disappointment at the Senior British Open

By: Nick Edmund

Appeared in July/August 1997 LINKS

In this age of super-long holes—650-yard par 5s, 500-yard par 4s, 280-yard par 3s—it's reassuring to know that there is still a place in the highest levels of golf for a hole like the Postage Stamp, the famous 123-yard 8th hole of the Old Course at Royal Troon Golf Club, the site of this year's Senior British Open and next year's British Open.

The art of playing this short hole, on which a score of 15 has been recorded during the British Open, is perfectly emblematic of Royal Troon and its motto: “Tam arte quam marte.” As much by skill as by strength.

Necessitating just a wedge on the rare calm day, the tiny green protected by bunkers provides an all-or-nothing proposition that is especially daunting when it requires as much as a mid-iron into the wind. In fact, on a typical day, the 8th is the first hole that plays into wind at Royal Troon, which, similar to the Old Course at St. Andrews, goes out for seven holes and forms a bit of a loop through the middle stretch before finally heading home.

As at St. Andrews, Americans have fared well at Troon. U.S. players have won the last six Opens played here, among them defending Senior Open champion Tom Watson, who captured the fourth of his five British Opens in 1982.

Watson will be going for a unique double, as he attempts to win the Senior Open on the same course on which he won the Open, the way he did last year at Turnberry.

And after his remarkable week at Royal Birkdale, Greg Norman is looking for a measure of redemption. In the 1989 Open, he was involved in the first four-hole playoff in major championship history, along with fellow Australian and eventual winner Mark Calcavecchia.

After shooting a final-round 64, Norman birdied the first playoff hole. Such was Norman's infamous bad luck: Had the playoff been sudden-death, he would have been hoisting the Claret Jug. Instead, he and Calcavecchia were tied on the final hole, on which Norman hit a 300-plus yard drive into a bunker and eventually hit it out of bounds for an X.

So Calcavecchia joined Watson, Arnold Palmer (1962), Tom Weiskopf (1973), Justin Leonard (1997) and Todd Hamilton (2004) as American winners at Troon. Prior to Palmer, when few Americans made the transatlantic voyage, Troon's previous Open winners were Englishman Arthur Havers (1923, by one stroke over Walter Hagen) and South African Bobby Locke (1950).

Founded in 1878, the club started with five holes that quickly grew to 18 holes by 1887, with most of the holes designed by its first professional, George Strath. (The club's second course, now called Portland, opened in 1895.) Playing at 7,064 yards for the Senior Open, Troon, like most links, requires the wind to provide a defense. The course is also renowned for its greens, and the roster of winners, which includes some of the best putters in the game's history, solidifies this reputation.

But the most remarkable feat in Troon's history didn't involve any putts. In the 1973 Open, then 71-year-old Gene Sarazen made a hole-in-one on the Postage Stamp with a 5-iron. The next day, he didn't fare as well, finding a greenside bunker. But the inventor of the sand wedge holed the next shot for birdie.

Now that is a pretty good display of skill.

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