There is very little to be said about the magnificent Carnoustie Golf Links that hasn’t already been spoken or written before. You only need look at the drama of the many Open Championships that it has held – after all, who can ever forget the sight of Jean Van de Velde standing in the Barrie Burn with his trousers rolled up to his knees in 1999! Alas, few remember the eventual winner just so well, Scotsman Paul Lawrie. Carnoustie was the scene of the 1975 victory by Tom Watson. Not only had Watson never played Carnoustie before, but it was also his first ever experience of links golf, one that was to stay with him all his life. Often referred to as ‘Carnastie’ a moniker often repeated after the brutal rough of the 2007 Championship, it is unquestionably the toughest of Scotland’s Open rota courses. That Open saw the first ever all-European playoff for the title. Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Irishman Padraig Harrington battled it out of the closing holes, the latter finishing victorious. In 2017, the first ever Italian to lift a Major title do so at Carnoustie, when Francesco Molinari hoisted the Claret Jug.
Evidence of the game being played in Carnoustie dates back to 1560, but it wasn’t until 1839 when the Carnoustie Golf Club was formed, and Allan Robertson created a ten-hole layout. It was then not until 1867 before the hands of Tom Morris Snr extended that ten to eighteen holes and 1926 before James Braid made his mark. Carnoustie is made up of four individuals golf courses; The Championship, The Burnside, The Buddon and the six-hole Nestie course. The Burnside is very much in the shadow of the Championship Course, but it is famously where the legendary Ben Hogan managed to qualify for the Open in 1953, shooting 70 in the process.
Part of Carnoustie’s difficulty is that no two consecutive holes are running in the same direction, meaning that you play the elements as much as the golf course at all times. Similar to The Old Course in St. Andrews, many of the named parts of the golf course have become infamous in themselves. You only have to mention ‘Jockie’s Burn,’ ‘Hogan’s Alley’ and the ‘Spectacles’ to know that someone is referring to Carnoustie.
There are too many highlights on Carnoustie to mention them all, so we’re going to pick out our favorites to mention. After a reasonably straightforward opening hole and straight yet narrowing Par-5 second with its 60yard long green, the third, ‘Jockie’s Burn’ presents your first real challenge. The Burn as mentioned earlier runs across the front of this undulating green, and particular attention needs to be given to the pin placement here, and again on the 5th, where the green slopes severely from back to front. The 6th hole at Carnoustie is ‘Hogan’s Alley,’ renamed in 1999 by recently crowned Open Champion Paul Lawrie to recognize Hogan’s victory in 1953. A brute of a Par 5, consistently played into the prevailing wind, with out of bounds lining the left side from tee to green, a walk-off par here, is good all day long, every day.
The first of the Par three holes comes at the 8th, and the wait does not disappoint. Typically, the crosswind keeps balls away from the out of bounds fence down the left, but two greenside traps await anything not hitting the putting surface. The 10th provides your first encounter with the Barry Burn and starts as challenging a nine-hole run as you will find anywhere in golf. There are two very testing Par three’s, the 13th requires absolute accuracy and the 16th, at almost 250yards is as tough as they come – Tom Watson tried to record par here on five separate occasions in 1975 and failed on each. The 14th is all about the 2nd shot and whether or not you can navigate over (or around) the Spectacle bunkers! Do so, and you could end up like Gary Player in 1968, his eagle on fourteen all but secured him the title. The finishing two holes are not for those of a nervous disposition! The 17th requires you to avoid the Barry Burn which snakes its way over and back again down the fairway, find it and your card could ultimately be destroyed, avoid it, and you will do what many before you have not! Then finally, if you have survived all of that which has gone before you, your finishing hole is no less complicated, nor no less impacted by the Burn which crosses your path twice and manages to edge its way up both the left and right side of the fairway for some of the hole. You will likely not find a more difficult finishing hole in Championship golf than the 18th at Carnoustie, but it will top off a memorable round of golf, and one that will live long in the memory.
No golf vacation to Scotland is complete with a round at Carnoustie, and we at the Consummate Pro will be only too delighted to help it become a reality for you.