By Lewine Mair, Global Golf Post
It might take some believing, but Royal Troon’s famous Postage Stamp, unarguably one of the top three par-3s in the world, has been copied. Not just a “rough” copy, but one in which everything mirrors the original, right down to the last contour. It measures 123 yards precisely; the bunkering is identical, and the same applies to a putting surface and apron, which are programmed to send balls on their familiar helter-skelter paths to the Coffin Bunker and its sister hazards.
So, did the perpetrators ask for permission?
Actually, they didn’t have to, for it is all down to Royal Troon itself, hosts of the 2024 Open. The Wee Postage Stamp, so called because it sits on the new Craigend nine-hole course which will double as a practice ground for Open Championships of the future, has been three-plus years in the making and will come into play at the end of May. As for the official opening, that will take place on the 18th July, when Henrik Stenson, the 2016 Open champion at Royal Troon, will be the guest of honour.
The idea of a second Postage Stamp came from Alasdair Cameron, a past captain. He thought that a hole resembling the Postage Stamp would be just the thing for those older members for whom 18 holes on the championship links was becoming a bit much.
They could, of course, cut across from various points on the front nine to the back, only that meant missing out on the distant Postage Stamp, Royal Troon’s eighth hole (it is about two miles from the clubhouse). Equally concerning was how the gentlemen in question were missing out on a favourite source of conversation for, as I.M. Mackintosh wrote in his 1974 history of the club, the Postage Stamp is the one hole everyone wants to know how everyone else has fared.
… no one was thinking that the new Postage Stamp could do more than “resemble” the original, but … (Martin) Ebert pointed out that it could be an almost exact replica …
Before too long, Cameron and his fellow officials realised that the new edition could serve as a hole for everyone, including the young local schoolchildren who have been introduced to golf thanks to the good offices of Kieron Stevenson, the club’s tireless head professional, and the 12-17-year-old boys and girls whose enthusiasm is fed by regular free coaching. (A quarter of the 130 children are girls, while the same percentage applies to the women currently playing their golf over Royal Troon’s three courses.)
When the time came, the club commissioned Martin Ebert, one of the foremost course architects in the land and an adviser to seven Open venues, to lead the project. At that stage, no one was thinking that the new Postage Stamp could do more than “resemble” the original, but when Ebert pointed out that it could be an almost exact replica, thanks to the combination of the accurate topographical survey of the hole and the talented skills of shaper Jamie O’Reilly, the committee went for it.
“It was an inspired idea on Alasdair Cameron’s part,” Ebert said. “I’d never been asked to do anything like it before. You often draw inspiration from other holes, but this is so much more than that. … The club were brave in pushing ahead with the idea at a time when COVID was beginning to take hold and, since then, we’ve had endless support from Billy McLachlan, the course manager, and his staff. They took the project under their wing from the start.” For the record, the direction of the hole is marginally different from that of the original, and there is slightly less in the way of elevation.
Royal Troon has enjoyed the full backing of the R&A, which could see that it was going to end up with the best of practice grounds for Opens of the future. Four of the nine holes on the Craigend course will provide target greens for the professionals, with some suggesting that the Postage Stamp could be cordoned off to allow the golfers to have a bit of fun playing with and against one another in the days before they are playing the hole for real in front of an audience of thousands. As Stenson said, “It’s where you need to go if you enjoy seeing the professionals struggle.”
And struggle, they do. Herman Tissies, admittedly an amateur but playing in the 1950 Open, amassed a 15 on the hole. Suffice to say that it included a tee shot, 13 bunker shots and a tough single putt, following which his playing companions must have been torn between saying, “Well done!” and “Bad luck!”
Maureen Madill’s mother knew precisely what to say on that day in the Helen Holm Trophy when her daughter, later a well-known radio commentator, was to-ing and fro-ing across the green for so long that people were queuing up on the tee. “For heaven’s sake,” she called from behind the ropes, “pick up your ball and get out of everyone’s way.”
On a more cheerful note, the 71- year-old Gene Sarazen, who had been invited back to the Open of 1973 by way of celebrating his first appearance at Troon 50 years before, aced the hole. (In 1923, he was the best player in the world but failed to survive the qualifying rounds for that year’s Open after running up an 85 on a neighbouring course in the mother and father of all storms.)
After his hole-in-one of ’73, this winner of seven majors said that the shot detonated much the same feeling as when he holed out with his 4-wood for a double eagle/albatross at Augusta’s 15th in 1935, a blow which became known as “the shot heard ’round the world.”
That there was a camera at the back of the Postage Stamp to capture the Sarazen moment was not luck. It is something which has applied since time immemorial because TV stations and newspaper outlets alike are scared stiff of missing out on the next believe-it-or-not happening.
All of which explains why Ebert thinks that the inspiration for his new creation is sufficiently well-known for every visitor who stands on its tee to say to him or herself, “I know this hole!”
Meanwhile, which of the club’s juniors will not be visualising some kind of a pre-’24 Open event on this new stage in which they might get involved?
Royal Troon would not want to copy what happens at Augusta (the Par 3 Contest or the Drive, Chip and Putt), but no one would be surprised were they to come up with a flash of innovation on a par with the copycat hole itself.
By Lewine Mair, Global Golf Post: Seeing Double with Royal Troon’s Postage Stamp