Royal Troon’s, ‘Railway Hole’, the 11th
The Postage Stamp might be the hole that catches the media attention, but it’s Royal Troon’s, ‘Railway Hole’, the 11th, that is ranked number one by stroke-index. At 490 yards from the Championship tee, this is a tough and penal par 4. The ‘Road Hole’ at St Andrews generates more bogeys, and a marginally higher average score (there’s not much in it). The ‘Railway Hole’ however, generates significantly more doubles, triples, or worse. It is the archetypal score wrecker. You don’t just drop a shot here if it goes wrong. You blow your card up instead! that’s why it ranks as arguably the most feared hole on the Open Championship rotation. The eleventh is one of those rare breeds of holes that always makes it into any composite course nomination without argument. Rather than attempt to extol its virtues ourselves however, Faraway Fairways thought we’d allow Jack Nicklaus to introduce you to it.
“The eleventh hole at Troon, ‘the Railway’, oh this is a tough, tough, golf hole. Right along the railway, gorse on the right, gorse on the left, very little fairway to play to. There’s out-of-bounds to the right on the second shot. The wind is usually sweeping left to right across the golf hole, it’s a very, very, difficult hole. You play it just off the tee and usually think… just how do I survive, the hole? The first Open Championship I played there in 1962 I got in the gorse and I didn’t know how to get it out. Or what to do with it. I made a lot of strokes. So that hole has always been a very difficult and frustrating hole for me, and a very dangerous hole.
You really don’t know where the left edge of the fairway is, and don’t know where the right edge of the fairways is, so when you hit it, your first reaction is, did it carry? Yeah it carried. Did it stop? Because you’re playing at an angle through the fairway. And even if you get it in the fairway, you’ve still got this long shot into a green that’s right against the wall that goes to the railway. So you’ve always got a chance of hitting the green and bouncing over the wall out-of-bounds. I think it’s probably the most dangerous hole I know in British golf”
– Jack Nicklaus
Jack was possibly still carrying the scars from 1962. “A lot of strokes”, actually translates to ten in total. Arnold Palmer would go onto lift the claret jug, but Troon had left a mark on Jack. He would later recount how this new kind of golf (links) had beaten him up, and that he had better find a way of doing something about it, or this was going to continue. He resolved there and then to learn links golf. Credit to Jack. Other visitors haven’t been quite so charitable when being subjected to such a chastening baptism. I think we can safely say, Jack did pretty well by the end of it though
So let’s take a look at the hole
The Championship tee is on the right. The safer, shorter line, is to the left, but it leaves a longer second. Not only that, but the fairway undulates more as well towards the left. The lie and stance for your second can’t be guaranteed
As Jack says, the tee shot is intimidating, played over a sea of gorse into the fairway beyond. If you err towards the left, (yellow dotted line) the shot becomes easier to control due to the shorter distance. It only postpones your problem however, as your second shot is now longer. Modern equipment has drawn some of the sting, and allowed players to adopt a braver route (the white line). If you bite off too much though there is a real chance that you fall short and hit the gorse. Perversely, there is also a danger of over-hitting it and going through the fairway that you intersect at forty-five degrees. This can result in bouncing into a gorse ambush on the other side
The second is all about accuracy and distance. You will normally have a stiff breeze snapping at you from the left to contend with now
Assuming you’ve found the fairway, your next decision is selecting the right club for the amount of distance you’ve got left. Provided you get this right, you still need to execute a well hit full-blooded shot.
More often than not you’ll also have a cross-wind pushing the ball towards the railway line to contend with too. There is possibly something psychological about this? Very few players actually end up on the wrong side of the tracks. Plenty over-compensate though and end up down the left where even more gorse awaits.
The out of bounds runs right along the green
The green itself isn’t without its tricks, or certainly the surroundings are. It’s slight raised on a plinth which means that you really need to hit it from the vertical. Trying to roll onto it risks being taken by the swale and a horrible up and down scramble.
The railway line ensures that a terminal out-of-bounds is snarling at your right flank throughout the flight. Just for good measure, there’s a perimeter stonewall on the right-hand side of the green too, with devious contouring designed to help anything that fails to apply the brakes from running into it. As you might imagine this leaves a borderline unplayable third (shades of the Road Hole at St Andrews) but without the option of playing a feasible ricochet. A heavy hit on a shallow angle, with a hard bounce can be equally as fatal. The wall isn’t necessarily big enough to prevent you bouncing over it and onto the railway line.
The temptation to err down the left (the preferable bail out) has been anticipated though. A nasty pot bunker awaits with tapering designed to draw your ball in like a moth to a light. Even if you get a flyer and run through the green (few do, or even can) then there is another jungle waiting behind the putting surface.
Jack Nicklaus isn’t the only legend to have come to serious grief at Troon’s ‘Railway Hole’. Having put a field to the sword by a staggering twelve shots at Augusta a few months earlier Tiger Woods made his Open Championship debut at Troon in 1997. For the first ten holes he strode around with the air of a king awaiting his coronation. Let’s be honest, the custodians of links golf were nervous. They didn’t really want someone shredding the course. As he came forward to address his tee-shot on eleven, they got some relief. Like Nicklaus before him, Tiger was about discover that gorse respects no reputations. “Tiger in the Jungle” the British tabloids led with the next day. Tiger hacked out of the gorse and into the long rough. Eventually he hacked back into the fairway, and by the time he’d finished he would be signing for a triple bogey seven. The courses honour had been restored, and Troon’s ‘Railway Hole’ would claim another illustrious scalp
Playing from the non-championship tee is no less a daunting prospect. The treacherous gorse and railway are still in play.
Those who play the links of Troon have long suspected that gorse is a cunning collusion between nature and golf ball manufacturers. By the time Henrik Stenson was adding his name to the plinth on the claret jug in 2016, another notable winner was the ‘Railway Hole’ which had further cemented its legend in the tapestry of Troon. Once again it ranked first by stroke index and yielded an average score of 4.559. Despite the R&A bringing the tees up after the opening day this pernicious par 4 had taxed the golfer’s a total of 61 double-bogeys or worse. New names added to its victims included; Bubba Watson (7) Dustin Johnson (7) Danny Lee (7) Rickie Fowler (8) and Louis Oosthuizen (9). We should give a shout out to both Brandt Snedeker (-1) and Andy Sullivan (-2) who were the only golfer’s under par all week. They must have wondered what all the fuss was about?
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