Just the other day on this very website, a writer (okay it was me) penned a mildly tongue-in-cheek piece detailing the case for a new Grand Slam of golf, a new group of four major championships that would include the Australian Open. It may not ever happen (okay, it almost certainly won t), but the premier events played in the southern hemisphere this year, a month-long stretch of top-class golf climaxing here this week at Royal Sydney – deserve a lot more attention than they currently attract worldwide. I say this as a proud Scot born and bred in the land that gave golf to the world – but there is so much for the rest of us to learn from watching the best players competing on the best courses Australia has to offer. The philosophies that pervade so much of the course architecture are examples that should be followed more closely elsewhere, especially in the professional game. Sadly, there is too often a mind-numbing sameness to tour golf across the globe, particularly in the United States. Yes, the top players are asked difficult questions; but they are the same questions almost every week. They stand on a tee and are simply asked to kick the ball through the goalposts, formed by a combination of long rough and bunkers on either side of an overly narrow fairway. Don t get me wrong; that s fine now and then. But after a while it gets tedious and dull, the complete lack of strategic thinking emphasised by the fact that the players faced with only one viable option mindlessly swing as hard as they can. For them, distance is everything; positioning means little or nothing. It’s not that way down here though. On so many of the holes I have seen at Royal Melbourne and Royal Sydney, the player is given options ranging from an obviously dangerous line that will offer up an advantageous angle into the flag for the next shot, to a much safer play away from any trouble, one leaving a more difficult approach. It’s so simple to the brave goes the bigger reward – yet so beautifully ingenious. Even the hazards are different down here. So many of the bunkers are designed so that balls will almost certainly finish in a flat lie in the middle of the sand. In other words, the player will then be faced with a difficult shot from an easy lie. Almost everywhere else in the world, the opposite is true; it is the lie of the ball that creates the difficulty rather than the more thoughtful combination of bunker and green design I see so much of in Australia. The same contrast in philosophies is true around the greens. On professional circuits around the world but again especially on the PGA Tour long grass is grown close to putting surfaces. But in Australia, short grass is seen as a more compelling and challenging hazard. Just last year, I watched as Tiger Woods missed the green on a par-3 at a tournament in the States. The hole was maybe 190-yards long. When his ball jumped off the putting surface and into the rough, Woods replaced his club in his bag and immediately reached for his 60-degree wedge. Even from such a distance he knew exactly what club he would need and what sort of shot a high flop he would play next. There was certainly no need for any thinking inside the box, never mind outside. Happily, there won t be much of that nonsense here at Royal Sydney over the coming days. When players miss greens, they will more often than not have a clean lie from which they will have a variety of options – shots they can play with a variety of clubs. The high lob will still be a possibility, but so will a putt, or a chip-and-run with a 6-iron. In other words, we will see players thinking their way out of tricky situations using imagination, flair and creativity, attributes that are too often almost useless in the aforementioned tour golf. So there is much to take in at this Australian Open. Watch carefully and learn from some of the best players on the planet. And be proud that the all-round challenge typically presented in this country is invariably the most interesting they will face all year.
Author: John Huggan at Royal Sydney Golf Club