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Turnberry course insight
By Matt Cooper Last updated: 13th July 2009
Matt Cooper has been talking to the Course Manager at Turnberry about the state of the course.
In 1976, looking ahead to the following year's Open venue, the journalist Pat Ward-Thomas wrote: "On a fresh day, with the sea tranquil and deepening in its blueness as the sun rises high, or at evening when the mountains turn black in the fading light and the sky is livid with colour, Turnberry is incomparable."
Ten years later, having endured atrocious conditions during Turnberry's second Open, Japan's Tommy Nakajima asked: "Why can't they hold the Open in summer?"
The two views neatly summarise the curious nature of the Ailsa Course at Turnberry: placid and wonderful in fine weather; brutal and imposing when the wind blows.
Since it last hosted an Open in 1994, architect Martin Ebert has brought the course up to date with six new championship tees, 250 yards extra in length, 23 new bunkers and three new hole designs.
Matt Cooper talked to Course Manager Euan Grant about the effect of those alterations, the nature of the Turnberry challenge and the current state of the 2009 Open Championship's host course.
Golf365: Hello Euan, let's start with the changes to the 10th hole. It's called Dinna Fouter which means "Don't mess around" but that's what happened!
Euan Grant Yes, but not in a bad way I hope. The tee has been moved out onto a little ledge that overlooks the rocks so it is very dramatic but it also changes the angle of approach to the fairway. There are two new fairway bunkers, too, right in the middle of the fairway. It introduces a risk and reward element which will be dependent on the wind to a great degree. Players can aim between the sand and the sea which, if they succeed, will give them a short flick into the green. The safe option is to bail out to the right and have a 150 yard approach.
Golf365: The 16th has had a more profound modification?
Euan Grant Definitely. It used to be a straight hole with a kidney-shaped bunker on the left. Now the hole dog-legs left-to-right with that bunker now in the elbow of the fairway on the right.
Golf365: It's another hole that has introduced risk and reward?
Euan Grant Exactly - you can give it a bash off the tee, over that bunker and the mounding that now surrounds it. That gives a much shorter shot in to the green. The alternative is to stay back and that brings the burn right into play. The big difference with the new angle is that the burn used to lie right in front of you so you could play over it quite easily. Now its snaking path becomes a problem; it can catch more errant approaches and anything right will go in there. There was always a threat there but we've made more of it.
Golf365: The 17th hole is called Lang Whang or "Good Whack". Modern equipment made that a rather hollow claim, but the new championship tee looks to have corrected that?
Euan Grant The new tee adds 61 yards to the hole but effectively that is more like 100 yards because the landing area is now on an upslope. Everything is very wind dependent though. That sounds like a cop-out but it's just the truth. It can blow four different ways here and it did exactly that in the Amateur Championship which we hosted last year. On any given day the wind can do anything.
Golf365: Did the Amateur Championship allow you to observe the changes in action and make moderations?
Euan Grant We did get to see how good players fared but we haven't changed anything. It's simple: the wind makes this golf course so we're happy to let it. When the wind was in the amateurs' faces they struggled to reach the fairway. But then again, when it was behind them, they were hitting all the way to the bunker on right hand side which is 350 yards from the tee. So the wind is a huge factor.
Golf365: It's always important that the finale to a major championship course gives players the potential to win - and also lose - the title. Do you feel you are closer to that now?
Euan Grant Yes. And if the current wind prevails - it is coming from the south - then it will be very tough. I've been watching a few players out there today and they were having to force shots on the last four holes.
Golf365: At the European Open Sergio Garcia said he had been up to play the course and had seen the rough was very green and tough. Is that the plan?
Euan Grant It's very much down to the weather. We struggled for any growth early on in the year, then very suddenly in April it spurted which is what Sergio saw in May, but that thinned out soon afterwards. That said we had another spurt of growth in early June followed by the late June heat-wave. That says it all - now we're dry and if it stays like this they'll be no growth. The tall fescue grass will respond quickly but that's not the really thick stuff. If it stays dry and windy that fescue will look intimidating but it won't be that bad. I'm not saying it will be easy because it is established rough, but the thick green stuff won't have grown. We've also got five metres of cut rough and we consider our fairways to be reasonably generous.
Golf365: It's often said that Turnberry has the flattest of links fairways - no bad kicks.
Euan Grant Correct. It's a very fair course. The players will be well-rewarded by good shots.
Golf365: The other key feature is that the greens tend to collect the ball rather than repel them.
Euan Grant Yes, also true. Only one green doesn't collect - the 13th which is like an upturned saucer. It is just the way the greens were built when the course was originally designed.
Golf365: You were the Head Greenkeeper at St Andrew's before taking on this role, Euan. Could you explain a few differences between the two courses.
Euan Grant The land is the key. St Andrew's is built on sand which is very fast drying, quick running, more humped and hollowed. Turnberry has a soil mix so the greens will accept shots. At St Andrew's you've often got to land it 40 yards short and run it in. In fact during the 2005 Open only one man had the skills and nerve to hit the shots he wanted to from 90-100 yards - Tiger Woods. He was the only one who would hit it hard enough and high enough to shoot at pins. Everyone else had to risk getting bad bounces with chip and runs. That element makes St Andrew's a huge mental challenge, less so at Turnberry.
Golf365: So, with flattish fairways plus collecting and receptive greens, if the wind doesn't blow the course is vulnerable. But if it blows ...
Euan Grant If the wind blows it will be particularly tough. You've got a stretch of holes from four to eleven that are right along the sea. It's a great run - very exposed. Even so, hit a good shot and you'll be rewarded, Like you say, though, if there is no wind the players will go low. At the end of the day it's only a number. It's quite possible someone will go 62-80 and not be doing too badly. That's playing golf with nature and we've got no problem with that.
Golf365: A final question, Euan - Open week must be exhausting for the green-keeping staff. How much sleep do you get?
Euan Grant Actually all the work is done in the lead-up. From April up until now we work very hard and it will be the same in the next two weeks. But from Thursday of the tournament we've done all we can. We do get up early - about three o'clock - to start work at four and then don't leave the course till nearly midnight. But during the day we don't have a lot to do and that's the tiring bit! You don't notice the tiredness when you're doing physical work. But during play it is like being a fireman: the radio is playing, the TV is on, we're waiting around just in case the Rules guys call. We have to be ready but we also hope the call never comes.
Golf365: Well, we hope you don't get the call and enjoy a fine championship. Good luck and thanks for talking to us.