An ancient stone cost Rory McIlroy 30 yards. Here’s why it’s there
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Rory McIlroy hit one of those magnificent Rory McIlroy Drives on the 5th hole of the Old Course Thursday. It flew 286 yards in the air, holding off against the left-to-right wind, and bounded forward. One hop. Two hops. A third hop and thud. It clanked off a dark green thing in the middle of the fairway. What was that? That green thing cost him at least 30 yards.
The green thing is merely a plastic lid covered in the type of artificial turf that you see on indoor putting greens and practice ranges. So … what’s it covering? History. Beneath those lids, which are sprinkled throughout the golf course, are ancient stones. The lids cover them from wind, rain, sand, and, well, perfectly struck tee shots.
The stones were placed there hundreds and hundreds of years ago, long before Tom Morris made this an 18-hole golf course. They marked the edge of the original property of the course. On one side, the letter ‘G’ is engraved into the stone. On the other, a letter ‘C’. Confused yet? If you’re standing on the side of the ‘G’, you’re standing on the side of the original golf course. If you’re seeing a ‘C’ you’re on what used to be called common ground. Seems simple enough, right?
The stones are in the fairway these days because Old Tom Morris extended the golf course in the 1800s when it was made into an 18-hole property, setting the standard for the game of golf to be played in 18-hole rounds. Instead of removing the stones, they were kept for their historical significance, and they occasionally continue to play a role. Caddie books will find those stones marked on the 5th and the 7th holes, mainly because those are the ones in the exact middle of the fairway. Players aim at them in the hopes of landing a shot just a sliver short of perfect. Local caddies will tell you about a practice round of Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson during the 2010 Open, in which all three players hit the stone in the 5th fairway on consecutive swings.
So McIlroy is far from alone. Viktor Hovland played a tee shot just one group after McIlroy that cozied up right next to the stone. Luckily for him, it didn’t impede his swing, so he took a rip up at the green. McIlroy might also consider himself lucky he didn’t get a worse bounce. Even though it zapped his drive some yardage, he found the fairway and was able to get up and down up by the 5th green for a birdie.