HOGAN’S ALLEY, CARNOUSTIE’S 6th
Every now and then as the Open Championship rolls around, a media company will get some respected players to compile their best 18 holes from the rotation. In the past Jack Nicklaus, Colin Montgomerie, and Padraig Harrington have all put their names to personalised selections. Whereas St Andrews (17) Troon (8 & 11) and St Georges (4) were fairly predictable inclusions, another hole that all three nominated was Hogan’s Alley, Carnoustie’s 6th
Hogan’s Alley is a relatively new name. Carnoustie’s 6th hole was only formally christened in 2003, but the name has its origins in the Open Championship of 1953. Back then it played as a formidable 565-yard, par 5. In those day’s it was brutal. Today, modern equipment has perhaps tamed it a bit. The hole is perhaps less heroic now and more strategic, but whereas top professionals can score on it with greater frequency, the rest of us aren’t perhaps quite so enthused by the prospect of tackling Hogan’s Alley.
From the tee, the most immediate threat comes on your left, an out-of-bounds fence that runs the length of the fairway. Get used to it, it’ll keep you company for the next 500 yards! The most intimidating thing about it is that it isn’t really there to gather up a wayward shot, it’s quite capable of claiming a respectable, but slightly miss-hit drive
The out of bounds is shaded beyond the fence (left). The Hogan Line between the fence and fairway bunker (red) is the brave route. The yellow line involves playing short of the bunkers, but ensures you won’t be reaching the green in two. The line to the right (pink) is the safest, but it commits you to a par 5 approach
In the middle of the fairway lies two bunkers; “big enough to hide a cow in”. Land in one of these and you’ve already abandoned any hope of getting out with anything better than regulation. Laying up short of the bunkers and you’ve pretty well conceded that you won’t be reaching the green with your second. You’re putting your faith in a strategically placed iron shot to give you a chance of wedging your way onto a putt
So what of a drive down the right? Well this leaves you blocked out with your second with little prospect of going for the green in two as well. Leak it too far to the right and you might even find Jockie’s Burn, which patrols the starboard riparian.
The out of bounds is still a threat to a seriously errant shot, but only on the Hogan line (red) can you go for the green. Having played short of the bunker (yellow) your second commits you to advancing to your yardage for a pitch into the green with your third. The shot down the right (pink) is now requiring to play on a slight angle back into the fairway in order to line up a similar pitch
In short there are no really enticing prospects, but this is where legends are born. In 1953 Ben Hogan playing in his only Open Championship came to Carnoustie amidst much expectation. On the sixth he spotted a narrow opening. Threading the line left of the fairway bunkers and right of the out-of-bounds fence would open-up the green in two shots. It was an audacious shot. Not only was this ‘alley’ narrow, and flanked by penalty on both sides, it sat on a prohibitive distance and required a full flaying off the tee to reach it. To some extent you might say it was foolhardy. More risk than reward seemed to be involved, but the great players can do things that good players can’t.
The story of what Hogan did is clouded a little bit in myth and counter-myth. It might be more helpful to concentrate on what he didn’t do. We know he didn’t go out of bounds, nor find the bunker, so that kind of reduces the options a bit. It hasn’t stopped some people reporting that he didn’t play the fabled line however, which does somewhat invite the question of where his ball landed otherwise? With the fence, the bunkers, and the alley eliminated from this account, we must assume he carried the fairway bunkers from the tee, as once again we do know that he was able to go for the green with his second shot. Some say he hit four consecutive shots through the alley. Others say he only performed the deed twice on the same day (they played two rounds on the final day in 1953).
The ‘alley’ is marked by the yellow arrow
Having extolled the Hogan line, it is perhaps worth looking at the challenges posed by the player who elects to put their faith in the accuracy of the third rather than their drive. Having played short or to the right of the bunkers their choice is restricted. The out of bounds shouldn’t really come into play unless carving a horrible hook. The burn that runs down the right does begin to cut into the fairway before consenting to flow away again, but this is manageable. Perhaps the greater threat is now posed by the green complex itself, and particularly a flag placed to the back on the right. If you’ve been able manoeuvre a position where you can come on a glide path from the left, then the green opens up for you. If you’re further to the right however, then your shot is much harder. The landing strip is much narrower with next to no prospect of bouncing your way in. You’ll need to come down vertically with precision placement
The wider angle (yellow) opens up the green allowing you to bounce your way in. The tighter angle (pink) is a risk and reward proposition. The safest line is to play to the front, but this leaves a horrible long putt. Playing more directly means having to come over a phalanx of bunkers that guard the front
At Faraway Fairways, Hogan’s Alley has always given us reason to pause a bit and consider the legitimacy of fairways bunkers. Are they fair penalties? Should a golfer really be punished for hitting a straight-drive? It’s a difficult one. The obstacle is there, it’s a part of the course. The challenge the golfer faces is to navigate their way around it. If bunkers are there to penalise errant shots, does it matter where they are? If you drive into a well-marked bunker then, isn’t that an error of thought, and by definition, punishable? By the laws of ying and yang, the creation of a penal obstacle also offers a reward by virtue of avoiding it. The fairway bunker conforms with this. There shouldn’t perhaps be a sense of entitlement that just because you hit a straight-drive. The good shot is framed by your ability to control power and accuracy and reconcile this with judgement. The only concession we would probably accept is when the execution becomes just a little bit too random and luck is allowed to take a hand beyond that with which we’re comfortable.
Hogan’s alley needn’t have racked up the body count that other notorious tests have. It is after all a par 5 and in championship play considered a birdie opportunity. It played to 4.908 in the 2018 Open. It can however bite, and when it does it tends to leave a scar. In the 2018 Open it was Jordan Spieth who perhaps felt its teeth most when he took a final round double-bogey here which began to unravel his round. He lost the lead and never recovered it. The day previous Rickie Fowler managed a triple-bogey which finished his challenge too. Rory McIlroy is another who has drive out-of-bounds in the Dunhill and found himself signing for a score that eats into the psyche. There aren’t many feelings worse than standing on a tee-box in expectation of a possible birdie, and then finding yourself walking off the green 12 minutes later with a double or worse, and trying reconcile yourself to what you begin to feel is a three or four shot loss
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