IT is known as the Sands of Nakajima - the most notorious golf hazard in the world, where countless players have seen their Open dreams disappear. In 1978, Tommy Nakajima of Japan famously took five shots to get out of trouble.

But the sands of time have run out on the Road Hole bunker on the Old Course in St Andrews. To the anger of traditionalists, it has been altered to make it less terrifying. Two feet have been taken off its height and the trap has been moved farther from the 17th green.

Even the amount taken off the height is in dispute, with one party claiming two feet have been removed and another saying 18 inches.

The Road Hole is known as one of the hardest par fours in the game, largely because of the deep and dominant bunker that protects the green at the end of a narrowing, undulating fairway. In recent years, it has trapped and embarrassed such champion golfers as David Duval and Ernie Els.

David Malcolm, a former captain of the New Club at St Andrews, said: ''The whole town is in uproar. Tampering with the bunker is going too far and its loss is a tragedy.

''This is a bunker with a story longer than any saga and more colourful than a Hollywood epic. It has provided unparalleled entertainment for thousands of onlookers in the ringside seats behind the 17th green.

''A lot of players have cursed it through the years, but a lot more will mourn its passing like a dear and familiar old friend. The old bunker was eight feet wide at its base and gathered errant shots from twice that width.

''It has been replaced with 32ft of gathering area to a pot bunker set four feet back from its original greenside setting. The crest has been lowered and the face reduced by some two feet.''

Gary Wilkinson, of Wilkinson Golf & Leisure, 80% of whose business is sending clients to the Old Course, said he was ''surprised'' by the changes.

''The Road Hole sand trap is part of folklore. Why there is a need to move it I don't know. It seems to be change for change's sake.''

Jamie Gardner, secretary of the Scottish Incoming Golf Tour Operators' Association in St Andrews, said any change on the course was going to generate controversy.

''It reminds me of the time in the 19th century when they filled in Sutherland's bunker on the 15th fairway. Locals went out at the dead of night and dug it up again.

''The Road Hole sand trap is a hideous little bunker to get out of. There might be a few locals saying a prayer of thanks, but not being too open about it.''

Mark Rigg, of Links Golf, said he was remaining neutral. ''There will be arguments both ways.''

While the change might please the professionals, St Andrews Links Trust said the changes were mainly intended for the thousands of amateurs who play the course.

The trust, responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the course, said the work simply restored the bunker to its condition of 30 years ago.

Peter Mason, the trust's external relations manager, said there had been ''mutterings'' from professionals that it was no longer a fair test.

''We want to return it to being reasonably playable for the ordinary golfer and a good bunker test for the stars. This is golf's most precious hole in the world and we are not about to ruin it.''

The changes included lowering the lip by about 18 inches - it is now between five-and-a-half and six feet - which would also have the effect of gathering more balls from the green into the bunker, he said.

''It will also be made slightly smaller in circumference. If you look at pictures from the time, it will be pretty much what it looked like 30 years ago.''

He said the trust comprised representatives from both the Royal & Ancient Club and the St Andrews club itself as well as the local council.

''It's nowhere near finished yet, there is a long road to go before it is completed yet.''

Mr Mason added: ''The committee is going to have a look at what the greenkeepers have done so far this afternoon. They will then be sitting down to decide what whether they think it's right for the hole. There will also be a course walk with the R&A vis-a-vis the 2005 Open, and no doubt they will give their views.''

Peter Dawson, secretary of the R&A, said: ''I would not disagree that there are some indignant people on the subject. It is always difficult to see what a concept is like until it has actually been done. But we did not ask for these changes and we have no doubt that they have changed the nature of the hole.''

''I am not sure that anyone likes it very much. The changes have been noted and we will be in discussion about them. We will be walking the course next week to look at many things.''

Those trapped by the sands of Nakajima

IN 1978, Japan's Tommy Nakajima, or Tommy Nakajimmy, as he became known affectionately to Scots supporters in the home of golf, took seven shots to get out of the Road Hole sand trap. The shots cost him the Open lead.

The most famous golf hazard in the world also caught Costantino Rocca in its net in 1995 when the hapless Italian took three during his play-off with the eventual winner John Daly.

In the 2000 Open, David Duval's hopes of catching Tiger Woods vanished when he took four shots in the notorious bunker.

His eight at the Road Hole cost the American (pounds) 172,888.89. The world No 2 arrived at the 455-yard par four tied for second place with Ernie Els and Thomas Bjorn on 11 under. When he eventually walked off the green, he was back in joint 11th place with a cheque for (pounds) 37,111.11 instead of (pounds) 210,000.

It has also trapped and embarrassed the likes of Els in recent years.