Bruising. Tough. Brutal. Just some of the superlatives used to describe the Championship Course at Carnoustie. And they’re probably all true... but that’s not the whole story.
The Championship Course is like no other links. Every golfer worth their salt is well aware that the R&A believe this to be the toughest course on their Open rota of links, and they’re right. There isn’t a test like it. This place stands proudly alone.
The course has been designed, tweaked and overhauled by some of the greatest golf course designers in history, with Allan Robertson – golf's first notable professional – Old Tom Morris and James Braid all having put their own stamp on the course at one point or another.
In modern times, the course has been toughened up by both Martin Hawtree and Martin Ebert, both under the auspices of the R&A working template for an Open course to test the best. And it invariably does.
Carnoustie isn’t quirky as such – until the finish, perhaps – but it does make you sit up and realise you’re in a fight. As with most world-class links, the severity of the test is largely dictated to by the weather. Get it on a good day and you’ll find a tough test and have the time of your life. Get it on a rough day and you’ll have a REALLY tough test but, you know what, you’ll absolutely love it.
Don’t believe all that you read about Carnoustie and its severity. Instead, think of it as a world-class examination of your golf game. You will discover what you’re made of when you play here, and you will be thankful for it.
As you might have guessed, it isn’t an easy start. With out of bounds down the left of the first fairway – which is pretty easy to find, by the way – you're better of favouring the right side of the hole, even though that gives you a tougher line into your first green. That’s called tone setting. Get used to it.
The third, Jocky’s Burn, is a short par-4 at 350 yards that might tease you into being aggressive. Be sensible here and play the percentages, because even if you find the fairway, the green is small, very sloping, and guarded by bunkers and a burn at the front.
There are few better par-5s in Scotland than the sixth, Hogan’s Alley, a 580-yarder that yours truly has experienced the glory of an eagle putt. I missed, but got the birdie.
There isn’t much fanfare about the turn at Carnoustie, but I love it. Ten, 11 and 12 are excellent holes that lead you into the 13th, a beautiful par-3 that’s often protected by the wind. Good luck.
Former R&A boss Peter Dawson said the closing holes at Carnoustie were built for drama and he’s right. Sixteen is a filthy par-3 where many players during the Open fail to find the green. Don't beat yourself up too much about that, because the next two holes will do that for you.
The 17th is a fun hole if you get a good drive, and if you don’t have the fear whilst standing on the 18th tee then something isn’t right. I’ve had the opportunity to break 80 on two occasions at Carnoustie and have failed both times thanks to 18.
I’ve accepted my fate.
Don’t be fooled by the ‘Carnasty’ tag. The good folks at Carnoustie don’t like that tag and that’s because it’s not fair. Yes, it is tough. Yes, it is brutal. And, yes, you will face an examination of your game that you will not have experienced before – but it’s the best golf course in the country by some margin.
For me, fun outweighs ferocious. You will love the test and the mix of holes, from short par-4s to seemingly impossible par-3s and a closing hole where it feels like your only option is to just to throw it down the fairway.
Just the one? That hardly seems fair because this is the finest test in the land and I can’t pick just one. I love 14, a long par-4 off the standard tee with out of bounds left and two massive bunkers before the green (hence the name, Spectacles). It’s all about your approach here, and it’s not uncommon to miss the green. Take it, because if you find either of the Spectacles bunkers, you’re in even bigger trouble.
Also, I love 16. It’s brutally long if the wind isn’t playing nice but the feeling of finding the green is unmatched.
Did you know?
Tiger Woods has played Carnoustie 12 times as a professional in competitive action and only brokepar on four occasions.
And another thing...
Need more proof how good Carnoustie is? At the World Golf Travel Awards in 2019, it was voted World’s Best Golf Course, Europe’s Best Golf Course and Scotland’s Best Golf Course.
The shoulder months you can expect to pay £192 but in high season it’s £270. There’s an impressive online booking service that’s accessible 24hrs, which means no phone calls.
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