Rightly deserving of the accolade as the toughest Open venue of all, Carnoustie is not pretty, nor does it offer scenic views but it is one heck of a golf course. And, unlike other links layouts such as St Andrews, it has no hidden bunkers or blind shots – the challenge is very clear to see from the tee and the only question is whether you have the game to meet it.
Nick Faldo has said that he used to be exhausted by the time he reached the 15th because of the need to constantly weigh up the best shot needed and then see if he had the skill to execute it.
The only breathing space comes at the par four 4th but apart from that, it is a severe test, with the toughest closing three holes in championship golf.
There are two other courses, the Burnside Links, which many regard as an excellent test, and the shorter, Buddon Links.
After playing five holes of the championship course at Carnoustie you could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. The holes are all par fours, only one of which (the second) is over 400 yards and, if you’ve managed to avoid bunkers you could be in pretty good shape and feeling rather pleased with yourself.
And then you’re staring down the barrel of Hogan’s Alley – the 500-yard, par five sixth that was re-named in 2003 on the 50th anniversary of the one time the great man played our national championship – which of course he won. The tee shot has to be threaded between bunkers in the right half of the fairway and OB left. The lay-up needs to be equally accurate because a burn snakes in front of the green and down the right side of the fairway, and the final approach has to negotiate a gruesome pot bunker, guarding a green with such a steep swale in it that you need crampons just to walk to the flagstick.
After that, the course gets tough with one of the most difficult finishes on any tour event.
If you play Carnoustie on a relatively still day and manage to avoid sand, you will proclaim to all and sundry that it’s a good, fair test of golf. But as soon as the breeze gets up it’s a completely different ball game, as it is on any Scottish links but especially so at Carnoustie. The reason for this is the course configuration, which involves you playing to any and all points of the compass within a few holes – this is not a ‘straight out and straight back’ layout where you can rely on the wind being consistent and because the holes rather tack to port and starboard, the wind seems as if it’s always changing direction whereas in fact it’s you and not the elements that are capricious.
Believe it or not, it was almost the nineteenth century before a long sleep on the Carnoustie links (forced on an exhausted joiner who was making his way home to Barry after a long day's work in Arbroath) kick-started the growth of the town.
Centuries later, Carnoustie is widely acknowledged as the hardest links in the world. Six Open Golf Championships have been staged at Carnoustie and the seventh will be held there in July 2007. Although there have been countless moments of golfing drama in every one, the near-pantomime at the 18th hole in Jean Van de Velde's final round in 1999 will never be forgotten. Carnoustie's finishing stretch is recognised as the stiffest in the British Open rota; there is no point within any of the six closing holes at which a golfer can allow himself the slightest feeling of complacency.
In July 2007, the greatest golfers in the world will return to Carnoustie in the hope that they might (for once) put a dent in its reputation as a "Tiger" golf course which takes no prisoners.
Many of the short holes would grace any links course anywhere with the 5th and 14th in particular providing dramatic challenges for the player who strives to gain his par 3.
The finish is also strong with the 17th proving to be one of the hardest par 4s that can be found anywhere in golf and many a score has been ruined by the out of bounds fence at the 18th.
As would be expected given its location, it is an excellent example of links golf. Although shorter than the Burnside it still packs a pretty hefty punch around the turn with the 7th, 9th, 11th & 12th holes all testing the players accuracy and control.
The Buddon Links is a fine complement to the Championship course and it is worth a player considering 18 holes over the Buddon Links as an introduction to links golf prior to tackling the more demanding Championship course.
I played Carnoustie Championship Course 18 months ago and what a tough course it is. As it says above, its not pretty and that is a good thing because you do not have any time to look at anything apart from the next shot.
It just tests everything you have, from driving accuracy, long iron play, difficult approach shots, outrageous bunker shots and difficult putting. After 18 holes on most courses, I want to go back for more, but not after that round. But now that I have recovered, I want to go back.
Last Played: 15 September 2010.
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