Nets protect drinkers from stray balls after 'world's toughest golf hole' becomes even harder

Scaffolding has added additional obstacle at notorious 'Road Hole' at The Old Course - increasing risk of injury from stray balls

Scaffolding at the five-star Old Course Hotel has added to golfers' headache
Scaffolding at the five-star Old Course Hotel has added to golfers' headache Credit: Stuart Nicol/Stuart Nicol photography

It has been described as “bizarre” by Colin Montgomerie. Tony Jacklin, the most successful British golfer of his generation, admitted he was “intimidated” by it.

The 17th hole at the prestigious Old Course in St Andrews, which is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of the sport, has a reputation as one of the most feared golf holes in the world.

But while its unconventional design and tight fairway, not to mention an obstacle in the form of a major hotel, is enough to give even the most skilful professional a headache, the Road Hole, as it is known, has now become even more treacherous.

Eight feet of scaffolding has been put up on the five-star Old Course Hotel, which players have to shoot over, while it undergoes a major refurbishment. 

The added obstruction - in addition to an influx of beginner players who are taking advantage of more opportunities to play on the famous course due to restrictions on overseas travel reducing tourist numbers - has placed the rising number of patrons who prefer to sit outside due to Covid-19 in danger.

The rising risk of errant golf balls straying into the hotel’s Jigger Inn beer garden and causing injuries has prompted hotel managers to instal a 14 metre long and five metre high safety net.

Nets protect drinkers in the hotel's Jiggers Inn Credit: Stuart Nicol/Stuart Nicol Photography

Hotel sources played down reports that Scottish golfers, who it was claimed were more likely to hit the hotel than more competent American tourists, were being blamed for the need to take action.

However, they acknowledged that there had been a “change in the type of golfer” playing the course, who were more likely to hit wayward balls, because of the pandemic.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Scottish, American, or any other nationality, it’s a notoriously difficult hole whether you’re a pro or an amateur,” the hotel source said. 

“But the main change has been the scaffolding for the new roof, which is putting some people off their shots and means the roof is eight feet higher than it was previously. That’s what’s causing the problems.

“So we thought it would be sensible to take additional steps to protect our staff and customers.”

A planning application for the safety netting, which was approved by Fife Council this month, states that the barrier will remain up until at least the end of November.

In the application, Neil Gray, the agent acting on behalf of the hotel, said: “The development is solely required to provide physical distancing in response to Covid 19 – i.e. the customers seated outside are being directly placed in risk of stray golf balls.

The building work means the notoriously difficult hole has become harder Credit: Stuart Nicol/Stuart Nicol Photography

“It is proposed to erect a safety netting fence system… to protect visitors and staff from injury by wayward golf balls whilst seated outdoors at the Jigger Inn bar under the Covid-19 social-distancing measures.”

Known as a risk reward hole, players who take on a more dangerous initial shot have the chance to significantly shorten their approach to the green. However, those who take the gamble are at risk of hitting the hotel, which could sound like a “gun going off” inside according to hotel workers. Once the building work is complete the scaffolding will be taken down and the roof will remain at its original height.

Describing the challenges of the Road Hole, Montgomerie, who won a record eight European Tour Order of Merit titles, said: “You start by hitting over some railway sheds, parts of a hotel, then you land on a sixpence because the fairway narrows considerably. It’s bizarre in many ways, yet it’s superb in others.”

Jacklin, who in 1970 became the first British player to win the US Open in more than 70 years, said: “It’s intimidating, in part because you’ve got to fire straight across the hotel. 

“Any time you don’t see where your golf ball is intended on landing, you get a little bit uptight. If you go too far you’re on the road itself. It’s one of the great holes in golf.”