SOUTHPORT, England – Not everyone is enthused about the new 17th green at Royal Birkdale. Set into the junction of two grassy dunes, the long, narrow green slopes upward from front to back and has a massive hump above its belt line. Anything rolling onto this hump -- golf balls come to mind -– is distributed to the right or left, seemingly at random. A putt will break toward the hole, or it will suddenly veer in the opposite direction and roll off the green. An approach shot will steam into the hump, flare off to the left, visit the back of the green, reverse course, wander back down to the lower tier, stop for a smoke, check its e-mail, and finally dribble into one of the guarding bunkers.
“I think they’ll dig it up,” Lee Westwood said this morning. “It’s out of character with the rest of the course. The other greens are brilliant.”
Westwood’s view is shared by many of the pros practicing for the Open Championship, which begins on Thursday. Stephen Ames dissed the 17th green yesterday, saying, “It goes with a Pete Dye course.”
Determined to see what the fuss was about, I plodded out to the 17th this morning, head lowered and shoulders hunched against a 30 mph headwind. I stood on one of the dunes overlooking the green and watched as several groups of players practiced bunker shots and rapped putts to various spots on the green. There was a lot of laughter and head shaking. Some putts boomeranged. Others broke two ways.
A few broke THREE ways.
That, of course, is a spectator’s appraisal. The dunes and a backing grandstand crowd the 17th green, turning it into an intimate amphitheater. If I had to spend an afternoon in one spot, that would be it. The dune tops afford a perfect view of the fairway, as well. If Westwood decides to go for the green in two (seventeen is a par 5), you’ll see his ball skip onto the green, falter at the hump, and then trundle off as if someone has given it a good kick ... and then, by simply raising your eyes, you’ll see Lee drop his club and wave his arms in disgust.
It should make for some great television.
As for the “out of character” argument, the players are both right and wrong. They’re right in that the 17th green is more extreme than the other greens at Birkdale. But they’re wrong, too, because it only takes one look at the surrounding dunescape to recognize that the 17th green is a perfect reflection of the natural terrain. It’s the other 17 greens that are out of character.
I’d dig ‘em up.
(Photo: Alex Telfer/Getty Images)