Already an advisor to most of the Open Championship venues, noted English architect Martin Ebert has some ideas for the others—including the Old Course
What influenced you to pursue a career in golf course architecture?
Martin Ebert: I had led a Cambridge University team on an amazing tour to the United States in 1989 to celebrate the 100th Varsity Match against Oxford. We were fortunate to play at Pine Valley, Merion, Shinnecock Hills, and National Golf Links to name a few. That gave me the ambition to make a career in golf.
Other than St. Andrews, what is your favorite course on the Open rota?
ME: I’d have to say both Turnberry and Royal Portrush. I have been fortunate to have made significant input to both, but that is only partially the reason for my choice. Mackenzie Ross’s Turnberry, with its mixture of rocky and dune coastline, is majestic, and Portrush is of the highest class with its wild undulations over which Harry Colt did such a fine job of routing.
Can the Old Course hold up to today’s big hitters?
ME: Generally, winners at the Old Course have been players who plotted their way around the links, avoiding the bunkers and reducing the number of three-putts. It will be interesting to see if power will be employed and be rewarded this year.
If you could set up the Old Course for the Open, what would you do?
ME: The wonderful huge greens provide for a great variety of flag positions, and that is the best way to challenge the field. One addition which could be made is the restoration of the bunker in the middle of the 1st and 18th fairway! “Halket’s” was a large bunker that existed until around 1840. Apparently, it was filled in as part of a project to reclaim the 1st fairway.
What’s the most underrated hole on the Old Course?
ME: The 2nd is a great par four, thanks to its tremendous green shared with the 16th. The shapes are so beautiful and pose such a challenge. It might be even better if the flat plateau to the rear were converted to be part of the green.
What changes to other courses on the Open rota do you see coming?
ME: There are reasons for making minor adjustments, from making the challenge appropriate to today’s game to making the venue work better for the Open. However, in the case of the latter, great care is taken not to reduce the playing qualities or scenic values of holes. The playing challenge must come first. We have just been appointed to advise at Royal Birkdale, so it will be interesting to see what will come from that review exercise, and we are reviewing the course and infrastructure at Portrush with the R&A before its next Open in 2025.
What other projects are you working on?
ME: We are just completing a renovation of Hamilton Golf & Country Club in Canada. The first 18 was designed by Harry Colt in 1914 and, despite the fact that he made only one visit, he left a wonderful layout on a great site. The detail was a bit lacking as his involvement did not continue, so hopefully we have made up for that. Our most exciting new project is at St. Andrews Bay. The site is clifftop and enjoys stunning views down to St. Andrews. We will have eight holes on the edge of the cliffs producing some great holes and vistas.
What great courses have never hosted an Open but should?
ME: Wales deserves an Open and I would love to see it go to Royal Porthcawl, but the course would need to be strengthened quite a lot to test the best. Portmarnock should perhaps be considered after the huge success of the return of the Open to Ireland at Portrush.