The club professional's take on Royal Troon
In the long and storied history of Royal Troon Golf Club there have been only six club professionals, the first of whom, George Strath, was appointed in 1881. The present incumbent is Kieron Stevenson, who was made Professional to the Club at the start of 2008.
“Among the five who came before me was Willie Fernie, who won The Open in 1883,” Stevenson says. “I’m honoured to follow in his and the others’ footsteps. Most have averaged around 30 years in the post.”
Here, Stevenson, an Ayrshire man through and through, assesses what lies in store for this year’s competitors at The Open and gives a unique insight into the best way to play the course.
Q. What can the players expect of the course this year?
A. “It depends on the weather during the week, but the course is likely to become quite fiery. It’s June and the greens are already very firm.
“We’ve had an agronomy programme here for the past four or five years and have put 400 tons of sand on the greens and they are in stunning condition, rolling beautifully. If the course is running fast it will also bring the fairway bunkers into play, so course strategy is going to be vital.”
Q. Where’s it going to be won and lost?
A. “You generally have to make your score on the front nine and cling on for dear life on the inward nine. Anyone who is four or five strokes back with nine holes to play is unlikely to make up those shots. The player in front may come back to you, but if there’s a prevailing wind on the back nine, you will have to play well just to cover those holes in par.
“The greens at Troon are tiny. We’ve got the smallest green ‘footage’ of any of the Open venues, so accuracy off the tee and the second shot are vital. You are playing long par fours mostly into the wind – the shortest is 430 yards, the others range from 460 to 499 yards - to greens that are tiny.”
Q. Which is the best approach to take?
A. “You have to be fairly aggressive. If the weather conditions are benign, then you can take a driver on the front nine with the knowledge that the ball isn’t going to be too affected by the wind.
“With the long par fours on the back nine – and particularly into the wind – you might have little choice but to use the driver. You can’t hold back. On the front nine you can plot your way through. The challenge really comes alive on the back nine.”
Q. In your opinion which are the three key holes. And why?
A. The 11th, the 17th and the 8th.
The 11th, The Railway
“Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus said it was the toughest hole they played in the Open. There is no margin for error. The carry off the tee is 277 yards. If you go left, you are in the bushes; if you go right, you’re on the railway line. It’s a fantastic hole.”
The 17th, Rabbit
“It measures 220 yards off the back tee and it comes at a pivotal moment in the round. Depending on the wind, players may use anything from a 5-iron up to a 3-wood.”
The 8th, The Postage Stamp – where Kieron got a hole in one in 2009.
“It was down wind, which is unusual,”
“It was a wee flick with a 52 degree wedge. It took one bounce and in it went.”
“The Postage Stamp is a real nerve jangler. If the conditions allow, there are plans this year to shorten it to under 100 yards on one of the days, which is really cool. Normally it plays to 123. It will be really exciting.
Q. The last six Opens at Troon have been won by Americans. Do you think this is more than coincidence?
A. “Actually, I think it is pure coincidence. It’s the nature of links golf. The last two or three Opens here have been played in calm weather, which tends to bring more players into the mix.
“When it’s windy it brings the best players to the top of the leaderboard. There have been non-Americans in contention in each of the last two or three Opens at Troon and they’ve either lost narrowly, or been beaten in a play-off.
“That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if an American player won it again this year. Jordan Spieth, for example, has the perfect game for Troon.”
Troon’s six of the best
George Strath, 1881-1887
One of three golfing brothers from St Andrews, the eldest of whom, Andrew, won The Open at Prestwick in 1865.
Willie Fernie, 1887-1924
Won The Open at Musselburgh in 1883 and was runner-up in 1882, 1884, 1890 and 1891.
Duncan McCulloch, 1924-1953
Born in Troon in 1894, he won the Scottish Professional Championship at Nairn in 1930 and represented Scotland in matches against England and Ireland on ten occasions.
Bill Henderson, 1953-1970
Affectionately known as Willie John, he was born in Brora and was renowned for his excellent teaching. A rear gunner in the RAF in the Second World War, he was shot down and spent four years as a prisoner of war.
Brian Anderson, 1971-2007
The longest serving professional to the club, he was a Scotland international at junior and senior level and finished third at the Scottish Professional Championship in 1967.
Kieron Stevenson, 2008-
Qualified at a professional at Turnberry after two spells at Oakmont Country Club in the United States, venue for this year’s US Open.