This content is for subscribers only.
Join our club! Become a subscriber to get access to the latest issue of Australian Golf Digest, plus exclusive content and videos only available with a digital subscription.
Editor's Letter: Stamp Of Approval - Australian Golf Digest Editor's Letter: Stamp Of Approval - Australian Golf Digest

Royal Troon’s iconic par 3 is a timely reminder that, in golf, good things so often come in small packages

What’s the best definition of a great hole? 

It’s a complex question that has triggered a multitude of explanations ever since Scottish shepherds began whacking rocks with sticks. The world’s greatest architects, from Alister MacKenzie to Tom Doak, have written books about the merits of strategic design, hazard placement and the virtues of playability and shot options. 

When ranking the greatest layouts in this country, our esteemed Top 100 Golf Courses panel adheres to a strict set of criteria that takes in many of said merits. And while MacKenzie and Doak can be considered the foremost authorities on such matters, the best answer to what makes a great hole may well have come from long-time Golf Digest scribe Jaime Diaz. While analysing the unique challenge that players face at Royal Troon’s 123-metre “Postage Stamp” hole ahead of the 2016 Open, Diaz delivered this truth bomb: “One that inspires love even as it wreaks havoc.” 

In many ways, that perfectly encapsulates golf. It most certainly describes Royal Troon’s signature hole in a nutshell. As Diaz pointed out, the architecture is both harmonious and clearly defines (and encourages) the ideal shot. As you’ll see during this month’s broadcast of The Open [see our comprehensive Open Preview from page 54], the green at Royal Troon’s eighth hole sits just to the right of an immense sand-dune hillock and is framed by five bunkers, two of which will catch just about any ball that rolls off the step slope on the right. 

“You could throw it on, really,” says Colin Montgomerie, who grew up at Troon. “On paper you think of it as a birdie chance, but it’s a potential card-wrecker. Always was and always will be.”   

And if you’re after a fun little fact, the 420-square-foot green would require more than 80,000 actual postage stamps to cover it. But it’s still extremely small, only 12 yards wide at the front and 10 yards wide at the back, complete with one of the world’s most infamous hazards – the dreaded Coffin Bunker.

“[Short par 3s] are often the most aesthetically pleasing,” Diaz adds. “Because they are small, the design features are more concentrated, creating a composition that is easier to see all at once.” 

It dawned on me that some of my favourite par 3s are imitations of Troon’s tiny torture chamber. The seventh hole at Barnbougle Dunes, the 16th on the Beach course at 13th Beach, and the gorgeous 10th at Kingston Heath immediately spring to mind. Apart from being beautifully framed and incredibly short, the consequences for missing all three greens fill your veins with the type of adrenalin that keeps you coming back for more. You can’t help but love them, even when they’re beating you up.

“Any great tiny hole has to have a place you can’t miss,” says former tour player-turned course architect Mike Clayton. 

Such designs are a forgotten craft, says six-time major winner Phil Mickelson. “Challenging a player for his precision as opposed to solely length is a lost art. The Postage Stamp is a perfect example.”

Your author has battled through a love-hate relationship with short par 3s over the years. Whether it’s the club selection, ideal ball flight or simply managing expectations that I shouldn’t walk off the green with anything more than a 3, these holes have soured far too many good rounds.

In May, while enjoying a family holiday at The Dunes on Victoria’s stunning Mornington Peninsula, I fell in love with these little one-shotters all over again. In front of my wife and two sons, I managed a hole-in-one. A ONE! Picking the ball out of the cup and being swarmed by my excited boys took me back to why I started playing this great game. The joy I got from playing with my father every weekend was something I thought I would never find again. I was wrong. I’m now the dad being hounded by two little boys extra-determined to write down ‘1’ on their scorecards.

Driving ranges, mini-golf, pitch and putt, short courses, simulators – you name it, we’re doing it together in the name of fun. Like standing on the tee of Royal Troon’s Postage Stamp, I’ve come to realise that, in life and golf, it really is the little things that count.