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Old Course to be lengthened for 2005 Open

The Old Course will be lengthened to 7,275 yards for the 2005 Open, feature seven new tees and include the longest hole on the championship rota. While the 14th at St Andrews is due to be extended to a whopping 616 yards, Peter Dawson, secretary of the Royal and Ancient, insisted yesterday the links would remain a test of brain rather than brawn.

Before work starts this month on a programme of alterations designed to bring traditional hazards back into play, Dawson explained the R&A had no wish to change the character of St Andrews. The latest facelift involves lengthening the Old Course by approximately 160 yards. The 7,275 yards for the 2005 Open compares to 7,115 yards for the 2000 Open.

Dawson also rubbished the suggestion that the introduction of seven new tees was in any way an attempt to "Tiger-proof" St Andrews for the 2005 Open. He said it would be "wonderful" if Tiger Woods, the champion in 2000, was able to repeat a brilliant performance at the home of golf.

After spending the last 15 months investigating what was feasible and worthwhile, the R&A has decided to embark on work which restores the natural golfing challenge of the ancient links.

"We’re not looking for the course to become a big hitter’s paradise - far from it," Dawson said. "We’re committed to staging a championship which isn’t just for golfers who hit the ball a long way. The thing to remember about St Andrews is the fairways are so firm and the ball runs so far, it doesn’t play to its length any way.

"So we’re not trying to change the character of the course - we just want to re-instate the old decisions players had to make. There isn’t a parallel here to what’s happened at Augusta because we don’t think the Old Course particularly needs lengthening: it’s been proven many times it’s subtle enough to provide a good challenge.

"Yet because of the history of the place and the fact so many people who are average golfers come here from all over the world to play the course, moving hazards is not the option it would be at many other places. You simply can’t move a bunker here or there on the Old Course. All that leaves is to move tees. We shifted six tees at the 2000 Open and these latest changes are on a par with what happened last time. This time the course will be 160 yards longer - a rise of just two per cent."

Dawson was adamant the changes shouldn’t be viewed as any kind of "Tiger-proofing" exercise and said he was quite at ease with the fact the world No 1 didn’t find a single bunker during 72 holes.

"Tiger played the course as it should be played," added the secretary. "The Old Course is all about course management and it was that quality which won him the championship that week. I don’t know if Tiger would agree or not, but, in my opinion, that was his best week yet in the majors.

"He handled his game brilliantly. Let’s be clear - we’re not trying to Tiger-proof the links. If he does it again and stays out of the bunkers, that would be wonderful."

In striving to present a more strategic test, the R&A knew there was no space to alter the first, the 17th and 18th. "But we felt the second needed a bit of lengthening to bring Cheape’s bunker back into play and, secondly, to encourage a second shot with a feathered longer iron rather than a spinning pitching wedge," Dawson explained. The new tee increases the length to 443 yards.

On the fourth, the new tee will restore the traditional choice of a left or right line to avoid the central rough mounds. The tee moves back 15 yards, giving a new distance of 479 yards, which should dissuade the pros from shelling the ball over the middle.

The new tee on the ninth involves a positional switch left behind the existing medal tee. This makes the drive partially blind. "We’ve not increased the length and are not trying to take away the driveable par-4. But if the pin is on the left-half of the green you would need to hit a draw and possibly wouldn’t get there with a straight drive."

At the par-3 11th, the tee will be moved back 15 yards to make a championship distance of 189 yards. On a calm day, Dawson reckoned the pros could find the green from the old tee with a 7- or 8-iron. The new tee will demand a longer iron.

The new tee at the 12th will add 30 yards and increase the length to 344 yards. More significantly, the alteration will bring the fairway bunkers back into play.

The point of the new tee at the 13th is to bring the Coffins bunkers more into play. The tee moves back 35 yards and extends the hole to 465 yards.

Finally, perhaps the most significant change of all is on the 14th, where taking the tee back another 35 yards will bring the Beardies bunkers, as well as the out-of-bounds wall, more into play. Consequently, the fearsome Hell bunker will again challenge the second shot.

"Even with just a wee bit of breeze in your face this one is going to be a real cracker," Dawson grinned. "We had no problem with players getting up in two at either the sixth or the 14th. Latterly, they’ve been getting up at both. Nothing wrong with that, but the drive at 14 had become hazard-free. So we’re tinkering to restore rather than change. Which is the point of all these new tees.

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