One revet. We are talking about one revet.
If you stirred in the middle of the night to tune in to the second round of The Open and checked the usual golf media types on Twitter, you’d have been greeted with news that the R&A had ordered an adjustment to the bunker maintenance at Royal Liverpool. It prompted both outcries on players (or “pampered f**ks”) imposing their will on the R&A but also praise for the organization’s move.
This is all admittedly niche golf nerd stuff but the bunkers have been a hot topic this week. We started hearing about it early in the practice rounds from both the players and particularly Brad Faxon on Golf Channel. The maintenance of the bunkers at Royal Liverpool for the 151st Open, most likely with intent and by design, had created a hazard that was more flat than bowled. These are already the traditional pot bunkers you see at The Open with high faces and a significant penalty. Making them flatter had the effect of balls not rolling or funneling more often to the middle, leaving more balls near those edges and faces and making it even harder to get a stance and/or get the ball up, out, and moving forward.
The players, who notice the impact of every little detail, were quick to mention it. Scotsman Richie Ramsay, not a stranger to links golf and these pot bunkers and who went out in the first group of the championship, came in and discussed how the flattening effect impacted play in the first round.
“It’s heavily, heavily underrated how much of a difference that makes,” Ramsay said of the flatter bunker bottoms. “I got caught today on one sort of leg, knee up on the side. It’s just part of links golf. You’ve got to take it on the chin. But you’re very wary of hitting into a bunker knowing that you could be like a foot from the face with seven feet in front of you. So you’re going to see a lot of guys — like I say, maybe right up against the face trying to hit it as hard as possible. Matt had one today where he did well to get out, and it just popped out with a bit of forward spin and it got over the lip of the bunker, but he wasn’t far off playing that out sideways. I think over the course of a tournament, it’s worth at least an extra shot, make it harder.”
The “Matt” that Ramsay referenced in that quote is Matt Jordan, who played with him in the first group and has also been a Royal Liverpool member since he was a kid. In all his years playing the course, Jordan said he’d never seen the bunkers like this. “I don’t know who’s annoyed the green keeper, but yeah, to have them — they’re just so flat and they’re so penal,” Jordan added. “You just can’t hit it in any bunkers whatsoever. We know how penal fairway bunkers are, but even the greenside bunkers this week you can drop two shots just like that.”
We heard a lot about these “flatter” bunkers keeping fewer balls from running to the middle of them.
Here’s early leader and Royal Liverpool member Matthew Jordan at 11 with a lie nearly up against the face, and demonstrating an escape route. pic.twitter.com/KYRcm3O3kp
— The Fried Egg (@the_fried_egg) July 20, 2023
We saw this play out repeatedly in the first round, both in fairway bunkers and up around the green.
More pot bunker fun pic.twitter.com/mtXS8mbmrt
— The Fried Egg (@the_fried_egg) July 20, 2023
The featured portion of coverage ended with both Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm pitching backwards or sideways at the 18th green after their approach shots ran to bunker faces and stuck there.
Could this be a pivotal moment?
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 20, 2023
The R&A responded to what they saw with a change. Geoff Shackelford tweeted Friday morning about Sky Sports showing some maintenance efforts in the bunkers and Sky’s Jamie Weir reported that the R&A had told him they’d altered the approach. Shortly after, we got an official statement:
It’s just one revet, per their note. But adding a little bit more “bowl” has multiple effects. It…
1. keeps fewer balls from running up against those faces to absolute death
2. creates a bit of a slope that also makes it easier to pop the ball up and out from a tough spot near the face or front of the bunkers.
Ramsay also noted this double impact a ramping or slope might have. “If there’s an element of rise at the bottom of the face, it works twofold,” he said. “If the ball goes up, it’s obviously giving you loft straight off the back, but when the ball comes down it obviously will feed in more into the middle of the bunker.”
We saw both McIlroy and Justin Rose execute this kind of escape from a moderate slope in a greenside bunker at the fifth hole on Friday. Rory hit his shot to three feet. Rose hit his shot to five feet. Both made birdie.
Up and out to 3 feet for birdie. pic.twitter.com/LFXE8RdEha
— The Fried Egg (@the_fried_egg) July 21, 2023
Would such a route have been available on Thursday or with a flatter bottom of the bunker?
As far as I can tell, there were three camps of reactions to the R&A “softening” the bunkers on Friday morning. They were …
1. This is a travesty! We are giving the players and the threat of their whining too much power. Will the R&A use preferred lies when it rains next?! Absurd coddling.
2. This is a proper adjustment and the flat-bunker maintenance was a contrivance cooked up by the greens staff ahead of this major and not in line with the course’s setup history.
I'm not sure what anyone thinks but these traps at 18 at @RLGCHoylake are ridiculous …there's links golf and there's artificially tricking it up .
— chubby chandler (@chubby6665) July 20, 2023
3. It’s fine, but they should have waited until Saturday to do it. The R&A’s statement notes how the bunkers dried out in the afternoon on Thursday, which would more negatively impact the later tee times. Keep it the same for both sides of the draw and then make those changes for the weekend.
Again, this is niche stuff and we’re parsing revets. It’s an interesting enough debate, however, on a choice that can have a real impact. These pot bunkers are meant to be real hazards, unlike the gentle, even preferable bunkers with standardized sand requirements on the PGA Tour. There is supposed to be a penalty. It’s in this championship’s and especially this club’s DNA.
— James Woods (@Stymied69R) July 21, 2023
But how far is too far of a punishment and when does it become contrivance? The softening change will have an impact in some places and zero effect in others. But you can be sure the players will notice it—they’d been all over the original conditioning choice. It’s certainly injected a fun bit of drama and debate at this Open.