Royal Troon’s Postage Stamp remains one of golf’s great holes

Postage Stamp, Royal Troon Golf Club
The Postage Stamp is the shortest hole on The Open rota. Credit: Royal Troon GC

It may well be the most celebrated short hole in Open Championship golf.

At 123 yards, the Postage Stamp hole at Royal Troon should, on the face of it, pose no problem for the world’s best golfers, let alone you and me.

The 12th at Augusta National has Rae’s Creek and the swirling winds of Amen Corner, the 17th at TPC Sawgrass is engulfed by water, and the 7th at Pebble Beach is flanked by sheer cliffs. But the genius of the Postage Stamp is that, at first glance, it looks, well, pretty easy. Straightforward. Enticing. And yet it is that very feeling of comfort that has lured many a great player to their doom.

Postage Stamp, Royal Troon Golf Club
The Postage Stamp was originally called Ailsa. Credit: Royal Troon GC

Royal Troon’s 8th hole has become the stuff of golf folklore, having borne witness to some magical moments down the years, as well as some real horror shows. Hermann Tissies, the German amateur, carded a catastrophic 15 here in 1950, having taken no fewer than five shots to escape one of the bunkers. More recently, the great Tiger Woods made a triple-bogey six in the final round of the 2016 Open. But what makes the Postage Stamp hole such a fearsome test, and why does it continue to cause some of the best golfers so many problems?

Troon’s Postage Stamp: The Beginnings

The 8th at Royal Troon was not always known as the Postage Stamp. Originally called ‘Ailsa’ in honour of Ailsa Craig, the iconic granite rock which sits 10 miles off the South Ayrshire coast and is visible from the tee. That all changed in the 1800s when Willie Park Jr., the two-time Open Champion, said of the hole, “it is a pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp.” Park’s comparison between the putting surface and a postage stamp took hold, and from that moment on, the 8th at Royal Troon has always been known as the Postage Stamp. The putting green is, at least, relatively flat. Although the challenge of holding it is not straightforward.

Royal Troon Golf Club Course Layout
Royal Troon Golf Club Course Layout

The tee is an elevated one, perched as it is on top of a sand dune, while the green is protected by five bunkers. The most famous is the rectangular trap, known as the coffin, which guards the left edge of the putting surface.

The Coffin is a long and narrow bunker, with golfers often struggling to find a comfortable stance. Two more bunkers await on the other side of the green, which means an escape which overshoots its target can end up in another bunker. It all means the green looks like a tiny target from the tee, even if it’s only 123 yards away.

History of the Postage Stamp Hole

The Postage Stamp has barely changed in more than a century. Royal Troon was designed by Willie Fernie, the Scot who won the Open Championship in 1883 at Musselburgh. The Postage Stamp was shortened to its current length by James Braid. It has barely changed in more than a century – it hasn’t had to. The last time the Postage Stamp underwent any significant changes was in 1909 when the hole was shortened. Willie Fernie, who designed Royal Troon, had originally designed the hole to be played over a large sand dune, a blind shot, with the green located to the left of where it sits today.

The decision to shorten the Postage Stamp was bold but it was also brilliant and has led to this tiny stretch of South Ayrshire coastline becoming famous the world over.

Problems with the Postage

The best players will rarely need more than a wedge here, but the wind means anything is possible at this classic links. The prevailing breeze tends to come off the sea and into your face at the Postage Stamp, but sometimes it will come from your right and, when it’s strong enough, might mean you and I trying to punch anything from a 5 or 6 iron under the breeze.

We have already touched upon some of the disasters here, but it was also responsible for a change in the rules of golf. At the 1950 Open, the Italian Roberto de Vicenzo found his ball plugged in one of the greenside bunkers at the Postage Stamp and so difficult was his lie that he declared his ball unplayable and, per the rules at the time, went back to the tee and played his tee shot again. He found the green, almost making a hole-in-one, and putted out for a par, much to the disgust of the golf world, and the rule was changed.

Will You Be Licked by Postage Stamp?

It may be the shortest hole on the Open Championship rota, it may be stroke index 18 on the scorecard, but these days no one takes it lightly. The brilliance of the Postage Stamp hole is that if you hit a good shot, you could make a 2, but hit a bad one, or even an ordinary one, and you might make a 5, 6, 7… you could really make anything here. And in the age of 350-yard drives and 220-yard 7-irons, there is something deeply satisfying in knowing that this wee beastie can still challenge, confound, and – let’s face it – terrify the world’s best golfers.

Royal Troon Golf Club Scorecard

Royal Troon Golf Club Scorecard
The scorecard for the championship course at Royal Troon

Postage Stamp Hole: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the history of the Postage Stamp hole at Royal Troon?
The Postage Stamp hole, officially the 8th at Royal Troon Golf Club, is one of the most famous and challenging par-3 holes on the Open Championship rota. Measuring just 123 yards, it features a small, well-protected green that demands accuracy and distance control. Originally named “Ailsa” because of the view of a rocky islet of that name from the tee, the hole earned its nickname from Willie Park Jr., a two-time Open Champion, who likened its tiny green to a postage stamp. The hole has been a fixture of Royal Troon since its redesign in the early 20th century and has seen many memorable moments down the years.

What is the best way to play the Postage Stamp hole?
The best way to play the Postage Stamp hole is carefully, with a shot to the center of the green – wherever the flag is placed – the only way to approach it. The tee sits above the height of the green, with two bunkers protecting the left side of the green while a large crater bunker shields the approach. On the right of the green, are two more pot bunkers with near-vertical faces. The wind will play a key role in how golfers will play the Postage Stamp, with a slight misjudgment leading to a challenging recovery shot.

What are the best strategies for Royal Troon’s Postage Stamp?

  1. Club Selection: Distance control is key. The tee is above the green, so may play one club shorter. 
  2. Wind Management: Be mindful of the wind, which can be deceptive and often blows into the golfer.
  3. Target the Center: Don’t be tempted to go for the flag. Aim for the middle of the green to avoid bunkers. 

Have there been famous moments at the Postage Stamp hole?
The Postage Stamp hole has witnessed many famous moments, but the most famous was created by a true legend of the game. In 1973, at the age of 71, the great Gene Sarazen made a hole-in-one during his final appearance in The Open. “I selected my 5-iron as I was determined not to be short,” he said. “When the crowd roared and I realized the ball was in the hole, I felt there was no better way to close the books on my tournament play than to make a hole-in-one on the Postage Stamp and call it quits. For many years, the Postage Stamp haunted me. I feared it, so when I walked onto the tee and faced the wind, I must admit I was somewhat nervous.”

What’s the experience like when you play Royal Troon’s Postage Stamp hole?
Playing the Postage Stamp hole is a memorable experience due to its history, challenge, and scenic beauty. Golfers often feel a mix of excitement and nervousness due to the hole’s reputation. Successfully landing on the tiny green provides a great sense of accomplishment, while the deep bunkers and challenging conditions can make for a thrilling test of skill. Overall, it is a highlight for many golfers visiting Royal Troon.

How much are Royal Troon Golf Club membership fees?
Royal Troon Golf Club is one of the world’s great clubs and, as you would expect, that doesn’t come cheap. The last information we had on Royal Troon Golf Club membership fees was that annual subscriptions were around £2,800 to £3,000 with a joining fee of around £5,000. Members who have been at the club for five years or more can propose or second candidates, but members cannot propose, second, or support any immediate family members. The process of becoming a member at Royal Troon is overseen by the committee.

Claire's career as a journalist has seen her regularly write about some of the best restaurants, hotels and destinations in the world. She has also interviewed the past three Prime Ministers and has been a Digital Editor overseeing a number of newspaper titles. She is the founder of the content marketing company Smiths & Sons.

Latest from Golf