We promised that the Eclectic 18 UK was going to have plenty of quirk, so here we have our second of back-to-back one-shotters. This one is a drop-shot par 3 with a tiny green and a name that says it all: “The Postage Stamp.” Most golf fans know this name from watching Open Championships held at Royal Troon. Over the years, golfers have begun to refer to any hole with a small green as a Postage Stamp. None, however, live up to the original.
The 8th hole at Royal Troon Golf Club from the tee
Royal Troon may not be your first stop on a trip to Ayrshire. Prestwick is just on the other side of the dunes and the trailer park, and other Ayrshire staples include Trumpberry and Western Gailes. But having a crack at Troon’s do-or-die 8th is certainly a thrill worthy of tolerating the first four holes. This Open rota course gets much more interesting as you enter the southern half of the property on its mostly out-and-back routing, and No. 7, the par 4 that precedes the famous par 3, is quite good.
A Google Earth view of the 7th (top) and 8th (middle) holes at Royal Troon
What you probably didn’t realize from watching the hole on TV is how pretty it is. Before William Park coined the term “Postage Stamp” in a 1909 issue of Golf Illustrated, the hole was called “Ailsa” for its stunning views of the giant rock 10 miles offshore. Also, a Harry Rountree painting of the micro-green, surrounded by deep pots and backed by an elephant of a dune, adorns the cover of Bernard Darwin’s Golf Courses of the British Isles.
The hole tops out at 123 yards, and there is no good place to miss. (If you must miss, however, we recommend way, way right!) The green has a bit of length but is barely 10 paces wide between the bunkers, and it is on this sliver where you will often find the hole cut.
But your shot needs to be even more precise than the size of the green suggests. Since Royal Troon is on the west coast of Scotland, the wind is almost always going to make matters worse. Plus, you are hitting from an elevated tee across a gully to a green tucked into the side of a sand hill. All of these factors mean you will have difficulty predicting the effect of the wind on your ball. In the end, there is little chance that a stock pitching wedge will be your best option. A chipped 7-iron is often the better way to attack this little devil. (A 71-year-old Gene Sarazen famously holed out in the 1973 Open with a 5-iron!)
While the Postage Stamp may have five intimidating bunkers, the “Coffin Bunker” is best known for ruining rounds and killing Claret Jug dreams. This sandy grave got its name because of its depth and narrowness, and because after trying to get out of it, you might be tempted to lay yourself to rest in it! A full swing is barely possible, and good luck if your ball doesn’t stop directly in the middle of it. The high, vertical, revetted walls play defense like Dikembe Mutombo, stuffing shots right back where they came from. Often the only way to get out is to play away from the hole, but who wants to do that?
Incidentally, given the punishment they take on a daily basis, I bet the revetted faces of the Postage Stamp’s bunkers have to be rebuilt more regularly than any bunker walls in the world. All credit to Royal Troon’s grounds crew.
Some of the most memorable holes in golf are also among the shortest. As we search for ways to make golf courses more difficult for elite players, perhaps we can learn from diminutive demons like No. 8 at Royal Troon. A slender green, a bit of wind, and hazards not meant to be fair—that combination will always strike fear into the hearts of even the best golfers. More importantly, though, it will continue to provoke tears of both frustration and laughter from those who travel to Ayrshire to take on the Wee Beastie.