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XIII: Royal Troon

​Living on the other side of the world, to me The Open Championship tastes like coffee and feels extremely bleary eyed. Fond memories of two AM alarms posted up on the couch chased up by eight hour days in the office which felt like 18 – it’s my favourite week of television golf, compelled in part by the players but entirely by the iconic grounds on which they walk.

 

Lumpy fairways flanked by juicy rough, beautifully random bounces bringing players to their knees, the inescapable hunger of the pot bunkers, the whipping wind and lashing rain – in my mind Open Championships always felt like proper golf, an exemplification of what the sport was supposed to look like and how it was meant to be played. These early mornings, coffee in hand, only fuelled my hunger for links golf – the catalyst to chase the spirit of these Open Championships.

The iconic clubhouse of Royal Troon

It seems ridiculous that empty stands watching over the links could double your heart rate, that a bit of signage around the carpark could make your palms get a little clammy, but when it’s all sprawled with ‘The Open, Royal Troon 2024” you can rationalize it a little more in your own head. An opportunity to play Royal Troon less than two months before the best golfers on the planet go to war for the game’s oldest prize, was a cornerstone for our trip and one of those days which in a trip filled with incredible ones, just had that little bit of extra meaning to it.

 

Teeing off into ominous dark skies, with a forecast akin to many an Open Championship gone by, all we could do was hold our breath as Armageddon closed in.

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Even empty grandstands can get your heart up at times.....

For a place merely weeks away from hosting The Open, the vibe at Royal Troon was awfully relaxed – smiling staff throughout, and the starter throwing around jokes and tales of the links, followed by an impromptu tour of the weathered green starter’s hut alongside the first tee.

Troon’s opening four holes play straight out along the coastline across flatter terrain, a stern examination of accuracy and a navigation of tall fescue and multiple minefields of bunkers (20 over the course of the first two holes) threaded between the hillocks. Positioning our ball off the tee became the key to eliminating the big numbers and some subtly contoured greens and surrounds provided an additional layer of defence. These opening holes are often unfairly maligned as being mundane, however I found them to be a well-paced beginning to the round- a test of strategy and execution without overpowering players with length.

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The gorgeous 7th hole became a site of madness

Traditionally, the elevated seventh tee is where the layout at Royal Troon really launches itself into another gear- a dogleg right to a green banked into a sea of dunes, on this day however as we struck our tee balls, the weather gods decided we’d had enough fun for now. Sideways torrential rain pelted down, thunder rang across the links and bolts of lightning lit up the sky as we scurried towards the shelter on the 7th hole- links golf, now we’re talking! For 45 minutes we huddled in the hut amongst caddies and players, not a clue if we would hit another ball, talking golf, New Zealand, USA and Troon. At the smallest gap in the weather we hurtled out across the fairway!

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The Postage Stamp: Is there a scarier hole sub-120 yarder on the planet?

After an extended session in the cold and rain, there may not be a more feared and revered shot we could have faced on our return. Around the world I’m not sure there have been more words spent on a shorter hole than the aptly named ‘Postage Stamp’ 8th at Royal Troon. Surrounded by bunkers- most famously ‘Coffin bunker’, and perched atop a dune which falls every direction except toward the hole, its demeanour stretches far beyond its 120 yards- standing on the elevated tee box it felt like trying to land the ball on a handkerchief.

 

What makes the Postage Stamp so special is the range of possible outcomes- leaving some with a kick in two and others scrambling for 6, its ability to frighten the world’s best with a wedge in hand tells you everything you need to know about its brilliance.

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Aptly named 'Railway', the 11th is the scariest tee shot on the course

From the 7th tee through to the 15th green, Royal Troon reaches rare air in its variation and quality of holes. Routed through the choppiest land on the property, nestled amongst this stretch of holes is a downhill dogleg right, the postage stamp, two blind tee shots over a dune ridges, a fairway flush against a railway line, two elevated greens and a punchbowl – truly some of the best golf on the planet flooded with intriguing golf shots and options.

 

Over the space of this two hours, the rain rolled off us like water from a duck’s back, enthralled by the golf, humbled by the history and fascinated by the arrival of the next Open champion hitting these same shots.

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The ripples and contours of the 13th make it a crowd favourite!

Reaching the final three holes, it became clear that these three stern tests would go a long way to deciding the next winner. Playing straight into the prevailing wind, these holes demanded length and precision, giving credence to Royal Troon’s proper championship routing- clinging to a single shot lead with three to play was a thought best left for the pros.

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The 18th green, where the Open Champion for 2024 will be crowned!

As we fought through the last of the conditions and strolled up the 18th fairway flanked by towering grandstands, the iconic clubhouse looming over the back of the green, my appreciation for Royal Troon could not have been greater. A stern and honest test easing through the flatter land to begin, peaking through the middle with fascinating golf across tumbling linksland and closing with a brutal run of holes into the wind.

 

Despite the elements, Royal Troon had done a fantastic job of remaining compelling and playable for us battlers whilst testing the best players in the world – perhaps embodying the spirit of the Postage Stamp. We left with no doubt in our minds that anyone able to tame the elements and the links of Royal Troon will be a deserving winner!

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