St. Andrews to leave the 700-year-old Swilcan Bridge alone

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — What was shaping up as one the biggest controversies in golf this year also turned out to be the shortest one.

The Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole at St. Andrews will be left alone.

The outrage, bordering on horror, began with social media images of the St. Andrews Links Trust extending the start of the bridge to include a circular patio of stones that did not look like they had been there for 700 years.

“The ongoing works are solely focused on the turfed approach area to the bridge, which regularly falls into disrepair due to the significant foot traffic by tens of thousands of golfers and countless other visitors seeking to have their photograph taken at the landmark,” St. Andrews said in a statement issued Sunday.

Golf Digest met with Links Trust officials on Monday. Laurie Watson, the external relations and media manager, told Digest the area in front of the bridge was a quagmire just three months after the British Open. Watson said the Links Trust has tried using artificial turf, rubber rocks and turf seeding, and yet nothing has worked.

“So this is the next step in trying to find a potential solution,” Watson told Golf Digest.

And then it wasn’t. A few hours later, the Links Trust, which oversees the Old Course and six other public courses in the Scottish town, said it was abandoning the plan.

“The stonework at the approach and exit of the bridge was identified as one possible long-term solution, however while this installation would have proved some protection, in this instance we believe we are unable to create a look which is in keeping with its iconic setting and have taken the decision to remove it,” said an updated statement issued Monday.

The bridge, regarded as the most famous landmark in golf, was originally built to allow shepherds get across the small stream. In recent years, shepherds have given way to the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods, all of whom have been photographed crossing it for the final time at the home of golf.

His PGA Tour debut was largely unnoticed until deep in the weekend at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and only then because the same question kept coming up.

Who is Paul O’Hara? And how did he get in Pebble Beach?

The short answer would be the player with the largest collection of titles in the field.

O’Hara is a 36-year-old from Scotland, the younger brother of Steven O’Hara on the European tour. He is a PGA professional who cleans up on the regional Scottish PGA circuits (36 wins in the last five years, 62 overall) and that doesn’t include his play on the Tartan Tour.

One of those regional events was at Skibo Castle, and his amateur that week was Colorado developer Patrick Hamill, a regular in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He raved about O’Hara to Pebble Beach officials.

Steve John, the tournament director, was even more impressed with the letter O’Hara wrote seeking an exemption.

The Monterey Peninsula Foundation offered him an exemption, and John laughs at calling O’Hara to give him the news.

“He said, ‘Can I come tomorrow?’ It was snowing in Glasgow and he couldn’t practice,” John said.

O’Hara arrived a full week before the tournament, so early that no courtesy cars were available, so John let him use his own car to play and practice at Monterey Peninsula (“He’s practically a member now,” John said) along with Tehama Golf Club and other courses around the peninsula.

O’Hara had never made the cut in seven European tour events dating to 2017. And then he came to California for his first PGA Tour event and made the cut on the number.

He played the final round alongside three-time major champion Jordan Spieth.

Alas, his memorable week ended with a double bogey on the ninth hole, dropping him to last place among 75 players who made the cut. He made $17,550.

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