The shortest distance between two points is a straight line…except when there’s a grandstand in the middle of it. Before the 146th Open Championship even teed off, there R&A implemented an unusual local rule on the par-4 ninth hole at Royal Birkdale, which eliminates a shortcut players could potentially take.
Earlier in the week, Colin Swatton, Jason Day’s caddie and coach, reportedly approached R&A officials and asked whether players teeing off on the dogleg right, could play down the adjacent 10th fairway instead. This alternative line not only would leave a wedge into the green as opposed to a shot of about 170 yards or more, but the landing area is actually flatter and wider than the ninth fairway.
The original answer was a yes, which quickly turned into a hard no with the R&A issuing this statement:
When playing the ninth hole only, a ball on or beyond the 10th fairway (defined by the edge of the closely-mown area) is out of bounds.
There will be no white stakes or lines used to define or indicate this boundary, according to the notice.
On Wednesday, Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A, discussed the issue during a press conference, and noted that spectator safety was the main concern as golfers would be aiming at or near grandstands off the tee and then would be hitting over more spectators to get to the green.
“The great thing about links golf is you can play a hole in multiple ways, and that’s one of the beauties of it,” Slumbers said. “But in this particular case we’ve been out there with our health and safety people, and the only way you can get the ball onto the 10th fairway is to drive it straight over the top of the grandstand, and then bring the ball back across to the ninth green, across two opposing groups of people. And we felt that that was just dangerous.”
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