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The Road Hole at St Andrews: Why people hit balls over a hotel on No. 17 at the Old Course

The Home of Golf looks very much like it did when the game was first played six centuries ago. But there’s one hole at St Andrews that has made plenty of alterations.

Peter Karmis of South Africa plays his third shot off the road on the 17th hole during the first round of the 2018 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on The Old Course at St Andrews on October 4, 2018 in St Andrews, Scotland. Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

When watching the 2022 Open Championship this week, as the best players in the world tackle a course that remains much as it was 600 years ago, you might see players driving the ball right over... a hotel?

Yes, this is a thing and it is on purpose. Welcome to the Road Hole at St Andrews, the infamous No. 17 that makes or breaks majors, as well as windows on occasion.

So how did one of the most revered courses in the world end up with a man-made building making it look like a mini-golf contraption on the way to a clown’s mouth cup?

What stands there now is a replica of a shed that stood before the 175-room, five-star resort hotel was built in 1968 on the grounds of an old railway station. The words “OLD COURSE HOTEL” in capital letters provide the aiming point, and the further to the “L” in hotel you fly the tee shot, the bigger risk and reward you take.

And that’s just the first obstacle. The Road Hole Bunker guards the front of a narrow green that slopes away from the approaching player, and it steals at least a stroke from anyone that puts a ball in it. And if you fail to hold the putting surface with your mid-iron? There’s fringe, rough, gravel, road, and a wall behind it.

This is why the Par 4 played to a stroke average of 4.66 at the 2015 Open Championship, and expect more of the same in 2022.

So how do you play the hole? It’s all about how far right do you want to fly the ball over the shed so as to get the best possible second shot from the fairway. And if your approach is off the green, or on the road, or even worse near the wall .. well .. your scrambling abilities are about to be put to the biggest test in the game.

And about that wall .. it’s considered an obstruction that marks the course boundary. Thus a player with a ball there does not get relief under the Rules of Golf. Fun!

So you will likely see many adventures on the Road Hole during the 2022 Open Championship at St Andrews. And for the eventual Champion Golfer of the Year, navigating them will be one of the biggest tests they’ll need to pass to take home the Claret Jug.