Wednesday 21 March 2018

Rainfall deluge could take bunkers out of play, admits R&A chief Dawson

Bob Rotella keeps a close eye on Padraig Harrington yesterday
Bob Rotella keeps a close eye on Padraig Harrington yesterday

Karl MacGinty

FEARS of disruption to this week's British Open could not be discounted by R&A chief executive Peter Dawson amid fears of further heavy rainfall today and tomorrow at Royal Lytham and St Annes.

Though the sandy soil of this famous old links drains quickly, the unusually high water table in Lytham makes many of the 206 bunkers on the course susceptible to flooding after one of the wettest summers in history.

When Seve Ballesteros lifted the Claret Jug here in 1988, one day of play was lost to flooding and the championship did not finish until Monday -- making the legendary Spaniard the only player to win the Open on a Saturday (1979), Sunday (1984) and Monday!

It's sobering to note that just 10 days ago, the bunkers at Lytham were full of water. If that happened during the championship, clearly it would cause serious problems.

"The issue is the water table is very high," said Dawson. "They have a pumping station at the far end of Lytham which pumps everything out into the inlet."

The pumping station had to be switched on yesterday after seven millimetres of rain fell in the morning and, in Dawson's words: "Now it's pumping furiously."

"We've never had a summer like it," he went on. "Yet this course has proved itself able to recover from rain very quickly. The water table can be higher than the floor of a couple of bunkers here. If that's the case, you pump it out and if it just comes back, we'll have to see what we get.

"The rules are written for such circumstances. You can drop in the bunker, drop it back at a penalty or you can declare a bunker out of play. I hate all three options, especially the last one. It's not fair on the guy who hits it straight."

It's a measure of just how well Lytham drains that after three successive dry days, greenkeepers actually watered several sun-parched greens on Sunday night.

Yet between five and 10 millimetres of rainfall is forecast for today, with further heavy outbreaks expected tomorrow and some showers early on Thursday, before the weather turns fine and stays that way through Saturday.

If the immediate outlook is not great, Dawson said: "We are all very confident that we will be playing golf. We have rain, a wet week but we will cope with it."

He insisted crowds of 50,000 and above expected to flock to all four days of play at the Open would not endure the same parking chaos as at the recent rain-soused British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

"Our car park contingency is very strong," he said. "There is only one of our car parks that could be a problem and we have hard standing contingency elsewhere, so we are not into a Silverstone situation.

"We lost a day's play in 1988 at Lytham but drainage here is much better now," added Dawson, though he wasn't making any promises after a long wet summer. "I'm not sitting here saying we are not going to have a problem. We might."

Meanwhile, Masters champion Bubba Watson may have missed the cut at the US Open, but it served a purpose -- as he revealed: "I learned a lot about strategy."

"There's so many bunkers around here. You're a little off, you're chipping backwards. It's just about executing, and doing the right shot at the right time. Around here it looks like we're going to hit a lot of irons off of tees, try to play safer, smarter -- whatever you want to call it."

Irish Independent

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