Celebrated and feared in equal measure, there are few holes more revered in major golf than the ‘Postage Stamp’.
Housed on the front nine at Royal Troon – the venue for The 152nd Open, in 2024 – it is the shortest hole used in golf's original Championship at just 123 yards.
Put quite simply, Phil Mickelson – the Champion Golfer of 2013 – said: “The Postage Stamp is a perfect example of how you can challenge the best players in the world.”
It was designed by Willie Fernie, who won The Open in 1883, and was Christened by Willie Park Jnr, a two-time Champion Golfer in the 1880s, who wrote of it in Golf Illustrated: ‘A pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp’.
Troon’s fabled 8th hole has witnessed some truly glorious moments as well as some horror shows over the years and it will no doubt come into focus once again as golf’s original Championship makes its way back to the famous Ayrshire track for the first time since 2016.
Finding fairways and greens is a tried and tested strategy in golf, but locating the putting surface at the Postage Stamp really is crucial.
Protected by five bunkers – the rectangular trap that guards the left edge is rather menacingly known as ‘the coffin’ – any deviation off the tee will more than likely lead to trouble.
“The Postage Stamp is great architecture," said Paul McGinley, the only man to hit two holes-in-one at The Open.
“It's not about distance, it's about course management, it's about shaping a shot, it's about touch and feel.”
There aren’t many better exponents of shot-shaping than the legendary Gene Sarazen, Champion Golfer in 1932, who enjoyed a fairytale conclusion to his Open career by sinking a hole-in-one at the Postage Stamp during his final Championship appearance in 1973, aged 71.
He hit his tee shot a few yards short of the pin and watched with bated breath as his ball bounced three times before rolling triumphantly into the cup. A fitting finale for one of the sport’s true giants.
Dennis Edlund wrote himself into Postage Stamp folklore 24 years later when he found an ace of his own.
The Swede hit a high tee shot into the green but applied an adequate amount of back spin which allowed the ball to zip back and sink into the hole at pace.
The most recent Championship ace at the Postage Stamp came from Ernie Els, one of the game’s modern-day greats and twice a Champion Golfer, in 2002 and 2012.
The Big Easy’s hole-in-one arrived in 2004 when he punched his tee shot a few inches to the left of the pin. Aided by the requisite spin, much like Edlund, the ball soon found its way home for another magical Els moment.
While aces have been rare, many players have been agonisingly close to achieving their own piece of Troon history; in particular Ian Woosnam, Paul Azinger (both in 1997), Charles Howell III, Sandy Lyle, Kenneth Ferrie (in 2004) and Martin Kaymer and Mickelson (2016) who all came within centimetres of joining Messrs Sarazen, Edlund and Els on an elite roster.
The Postage Stamp is respected by professionals the world over, and not just because of its unique length; it tests golfers like no other hole can.
“It’s the possibilities,” said Paul Casey. “The variation in score, the chance of a double bogey or a birdie, right there, just a millimetre difference.”
Even the titans of the sport are not immune from the Postage Stamp’s pitfalls as 15-time major winner Tiger Woods found when on the fringes of contention in 1997; a triple-bogey six in the final round putting paid to his chances of following up his Masters victory from three months earlier.
And the Postage Stamp would have featured heavily in the nightmares of Hermann Tissies following his epic struggles in 1950. The German amateur took five shots to get out of a bunker on his way to a scarcely believable 15.
On any given Championship day, the Postage Stamp could play host to the sublime and the ridiculous. It is why it is loved by players and fans alike.
Henrik Stenson was the last man to lift the Claret Jug at Troon, when he got the better of Mickelson in a magnificent final-round duel on his way to a record low score of 264.
Despite faring so well on the course in 2016, Stenson retains a huge deal of respect for its most famous hole.
He said: “You hit a good shot, you make two, you hit a bad one you can walk away with a five. You can have a three-shot swing on a pitching wedge.
“If you're the kind of fan that wants to see carnage I can highly recommend going out to that 8th hole and sitting in that grandstand on a difficult day.”