It is hard to think of a more demanding par three in Australia than the 200 metre 17th hole at Royal Sydney. At the 1969 Australian Open a heaving southerly hit the course just as the leader, Gary Player arrived on the tee. So heavy was the wind that Player needed an eight iron for his second shot. Almost forty years later at the 2006 Open John Senden came to the 17th needing a three to keep alive his chance of beating the reigning US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. The Queenslander hit one of the great shots, a middle iron to within a metre of the hole, made the two and then knocked another brilliant iron next to the cup at the home hole. The other memorable shot at the 17th was Aaron Baddeley s two iron into the middle of the upturned (it has since been rebuilt) green securing his win over Colin Montgomerie and Greg Norman. Into the south wind on Saturday the majority seemed to miss on the right, either in the gaping bunkers or wide of them. To miss on the left, a side defended by a steep bank covered not with long grass in the fashion of the American tour but the much more effective hazard that is short grass is to make saving three difficult in the extreme. When the wind is from the south the finish at Royal Sydney is far from onerous as the 14th, 15th, 16th and 18th are all played with the wind behind. Only the 17th is left to test the play with a long iron and few holes test that skill as well. Ryan Ruffels, 15 and one of the more interesting stories this week came to the 17th having birdied the 16th to be six under par for the round and the championship. He blew a weak hybrid to the right and into a bush and from there he was lucky to make a five and a possible 66 finished up as 68. Still, it was a terrific round and the 17th hole will add to his education this week and send him back to Melbourne with something to work on. The great Scottish designer Alister MacKenzie championed the building of holes and shots that stimulated players to improve their games and here was a hole adding to a young man s education. We hear so much of the clich make the course playable for everybody yet many draw that out to mean every shot on the course should be playable for all, even the least competent players. Yet so many of the best holes in Australia and the world feature shots that are far beyond the capabilities of the average player. The great 15th at Kingston Heath with its yawning left bunker comes to mind and in Scotland there is no harder bunker shot that the one from the Road Hole bunker at St Andrews. MacKenzie would be the first to suggest that far from being unfair they were indeed doing their job of inspiring the diligent to learn a new shot. The last group or Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy came to the 17th in the final group and despite both missing the green they saved their pars with neat chips and putts. McIlroy was inside Scott at the final green after a beautiful pitch but Scott holed and McIlroy missed leaving the local hero four shots ahead. That exchange was of real significance. Had it gone the other way a two shot lead could have been wiped out in a couple of holes. Giving four shots to a man in Scott s form is clearly much more problematic for McIlroy. The Ulsterman is one of the few capable of shooting eight or nine under par around Royal Sydney on a final championship Sunday and he will need something approaching those numbers assuming Scott s recent form continues for one more day. Perhaps the 17th will have a say in the outcome but more likely it will be the stage for one last great shot by Scott and a final memory of a month of golf few who have seen it will forget.
Author: Mike Clayton at Royal Sydney Golf Club