It was one of those top-10 lifetime moments you never forget, one that occasionally rises from your memory and brings a smile to your face.
The sun was beginning to set as I checked into the hotel, and after a long night and day of travel, I was ready to find my room, order a single malt Scotch and hit the sack.
I dropped my suitcase near the bed, went to the window and drew back the curtains.
And there, right below my window under the day’s last light, was the 18th green at Carnoustie Golf Links.
Frozen at the sight, my mind drifted back to July 2007, when Sergio Garcia’s 6-footer on the 72nd hole to win the British Open slid just past, and Padraig Harrington finished him off in a playoff. I recalled 1999, and Jean Van de Velde’s stunning tripe bogey collapse on the 72nd hole of a British Open he owned. And I thought of all the other greats who had carved their own history on these famed grounds, where golf has been played since the 1500s: Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tom Watson … on and on.
Seven Opens have been conducted at Carnoustie, which officially opened in 1850 and which was renovated by Old Tom Morris in 1926. The historical significance makes this is a must play on any traveling golfer’s list, but there are several other reasons as well, not the least of which are possibly the three toughest closing holes in golf.
The round starts simply enough. A small starter’s shack standing next to the first square tee box is where you receive your marching orders for the day. Then you fire away to the large fairway and toward the first green that is completely hidden, one of the very few blind shots on the course. A tough, but manageable par four sets you on your way.
One consistent theme of Carnoustie is evident off the second tee box: Hit the fairway, you have a chance; miss the fairway and you have no prayer. Mounds, dips and rough, often knee-high and thick, make a simple pitch back to the fairway a challenge.
The course offers variety, and you will remember every hole. But the teeth are truly bared on the closing three. Number 16 is the toughest par 3 I have ever played. At 245 yards into a prevailing wind, most player can’t sniff the green on their first shot. Just pray you don’t find a revetted bunker. Oh, and there is the green complex – elevated, undulating and firm. There is a reason Watson failed to make a par in his five attempts during his ’77 Open victory.
While No. 16 is named Barry Burn, No. 17 brings the Barry Burn into play on two occasions. It is called the Island Hole, because the landing area is an island resting in the middle of the winding burn. If your tee shot on the 433-yard par 4 finds the fairway, you are left with a testy approach shot to a large, sloping green guarded by gorse and bunkers.
And then there is the 18th, “Home,” 433 yards of your worst nightmare. The snake-like Barry Burn is in play for the drive to the right and left of the fairway, and also short. Fairway bunkers right of the landing area can ruin your day, as they did Johnny Miller’s on the 72nd hole of the 1975 Open, when he took two swipes to escape. The burn also crosses right in front of the green and it poses a huge obstacle for the second shot into a prevailing wind. And the bunker on the right is no fun at all.
It is a terrific close to 18 wonderful holes of golf, especially if you are watching from your hotel room window.
Side notes: For a less severe but still fascinating round, try Carnoustie’s Burnside Links, which runs alongside the Championship Course.
A must on your trip to Carnoustie is a tour of one of the world’s oldest course, Panmure Golf Club, located just minutes from Carnoustie Links. This lovely little test of golf is as full of intrigue as it is historical significance.
Although not exceptionally long by today’s standards, Panmure requires accurate driving and iron play. The greens are generally small with subtle borrows developed over more than 100 years of play. Panmure, a favorite of Ben Hogan’s, served as a final Qualifier for the 2007 Open at Carnoustie.
The Carnoustie Golf Club