What sort of tests are in store at Royal St George's?
Last Updated: 08/07/11 3:03pm
All eyes will be on Royal St George's this week as one of the world's most iconic sporting events returns to Sandwich.
The Open Championship will be back at the Kent venue for the first time since 2003, but after a dry spring and a wet summer, just what can the world's top golfers expect?
We canvassed the views of three of Sky Sports' golf experts - Mark Roe, Richard Boxall and Bruce Critchley - to get their thoughts on the challenge ahead.
All three have plenty of experience at Sandwich so read on for their thoughts and check back next week when the trio will discuss some of the other big issues ahead of the 140th Open Championship.
skysports.com: What do you think of the course at Royal St George's? What are your own experiences of playing at Sandwich?
MARK ROE: I played there at the 2003 Open Championship and it was very tough. The rough was brutal just outside of the fairways; it was knee-deep and you could lose a ball off the first tee, as Tiger Woods did that year. But it will be nothing like that this year. The rough was cut back over the winter and because we had the driest April for hundreds of years, it hasn't grown back. They're desperately trying to water the surrounds before the championship to get a more penal length of rough, but I was there a few weeks ago and it lacked definition because of the lack of rough. It looks a very different golf course when it hasn't got that wonderful, wispy long fescue that defines it.
BRUCE CRITCHLEY: I have always liked the course because it's in the south of England and so I've played lots of competitions there, but more than most it needs some wind to make it a good test. Furthermore, the very dry Spring, I believe, means the rough is not as penal as it might be. In many instances it's not the pros' favourite because there's lots of blind shots, which amateurs and traditionalists like myself think are very much part of the game. It has crumply up-and-down fairways, which can give you a bad stance, but to me that's part of the game as well. To me it's a very good old-fashioned course
RICHARD BOXALL: Well, of all the courses on the Open Championship rota, Royal St George's was always my least favourite because there are too many blind shots. In my view, golf is hard enough and you need to be able to see your target. I know Bruce has different views, but I always found it difficult.
skysports.com: What do you think of the recent changes that have been made at Sandwich recent years?
MARK: They have changed a few things since the open was last held there in 2003. The par-5 fourth is now a par-4 and there have been some bunkers added on the left of the 18th, but they are only subtle differences. The course's defence will obviously be the breeze and without that it will become much easier. I think it will be easier than in 2003 without the thick rough. For example, the par-five 14th has an out-of-bounds on the right-hand side and when that was playing with a wind blowing from the left it was a brutally tough tee shot. But if there is less rough on the left and you can hit the ball in that direction away from the out-of-bounds then it will be far less frightening.
BRUCE: It's not a course you can lengthen too much. They've done what they can, but you can't beat the players with length now - it wasn't even an issue at Congressional, which is 7,574 yards long. As with most of the seaside courses, if you get a stiff breeze from different directions then they'll be struggling to break par, but in calm conditions then even the par-5's will be easily reachable in two.
skysports.com: So what sort of test can the players expect?
BOXY: It will only be a tough test if the wind blows. Like all Open Championships, if you don't get any wind then somebody can kill it, like Tiger Woods did at St Andrews. Modern balls go miles nowadays and no matter how you shape the fairways, links courses are designed for wind. Without that you will get lots of scores in the sixties.
BRUCE: The rain will have made it a bit softer and therefore easier and I think it could be at their mercy. In the event that the weather is benign we could see some unbelievably low scores. It's a fun course with small, reasonably well bunkered targets, but it's not the most lethal of our Open courses by any means.
MARK: Without the thick rough it improves the chances of somebody who isn't such a straight hitter of the golf ball. If the rough is less thick then some of the bombers will get more of a chance to play well round here. I personally love the golf course though. I think it provides a wonderful test and with or without the rough it will still be an exciting Open Championship.