Carnoustie Championship Course

The Carnoustie Championship course is ranked in the world’s top-50 and an established Open Championship venue. It is usually regarded as the toughest golf course on the R&A’s Championship rotation of courses, and if you’re ‘lucky’ enough to encounter it in a stiff breeze, it can be brutal

In sport, as in life, we often find that things can crudely divide into two camps in the pursuit of the same objective. On the one hand we have the elegant technicians, the craftsmen that are all style and panache. On the other side we have the raw and less flashy artisan who through belligerence and determination is able to establish parity. It’s normally the case that the easy-on-the-eye former, are the first to come to our attention, whilst we gain an understanding of the latter over time as our knowledge grows and we come to fully appreciate their more under-stated virtues equally. A free scoring offense that comes up against a brutal defence is one obvious example. They talk of course about ‘boxers’ and ‘fighters’.

The Carnoustie Championship course is the longest of the courses on the Open roster. Mission Carnoustie (should you choose to accept it) is likely to be the hardest assignment that we set. Having said that, you only get the one chance and we’d implore you to seize the day and give it your best shot


Founded 1850
Yardage Championship course white tees 6941 yds
Par 72
Golf Digest world ranking 31st in the world
Handicap Restrictions Gentlemen 28
Ladies 36


Carnoustie Championship Course

The Course itself

Mention the word ‘Carnoustie’ and watch seasoned professionals respond by developing an immediate and mysterious injury at the very hint of its name. Not without good reason did American commentators dub the monster on the Tay, “Car-Nasty”. Put simply, the course is an arresting brute that doesn’t do sentiment. Ask Sergio Garcia. As a rising star of the game, the then 19-year old Spaniard who had been weaned on manicured and relatively windless courses, was destroyed by the unexpected difficulties of the Carnoustie links, and its spiteful weather in 1999. Completing rounds of 89 and 83 he went straight to his mother’s arms crying.

Talking of the infamous Open of 1999, our favourite quote has to go to Sports Illustrated who noting that this was Carnoustie’s first open since the 1975 triumph of Tom Watson described the course as “a nasty antique that was brought down from the attic after 24 years. Last week the holes were longer than they were when Watson won there; the rough was deeper; and the R&A made the fairways as narrow as an eel’s appendix scar”.

“I don’t think there’s an individual in the R&A who could break 100 on this course,” said Phil Mickelson, who shot 79-76 and missed the cut. Surely this can’t be the same Phil Mickelson who appears on Carnoustie’s website years later quoted as saying;

“I didn’t realise what a wonderful golf-course it is. It’s terrific” – Phil Mickelson

He’s in good company though, as the course seems to have had a few other converts too.

“The golf course is hard, but its fair. I think it’s a fantastic test” – Tiger Woods

“Its got length and its got great bunkering. You’ve really got to have your wits with you to play this golf course. It’s probably the best bunkered course that you’ll ever find anywhere” – Ernie Els

It might be interesting to hear what Jean van der Velde would have added to the resume? For there is a twisting mamba that slithers and snakes its treacherous way round this course otherwise known as the Barry burn. Unlike St Andrews’s Swilcan burn, this one plots an altogether more devious path turning at sharp angles across the fairway, and can rear-up and strike you. An unplanned visit to this water hazard is a true score destroyer

Well we’ve mentioned his name once, but put simply no account of Carnoustie can possibly be complete without Jean Van de Velde. In 1999 the Frenchman stood on the 72nd tee with a three shot lead. As he withdrew a driver from his bag people looked on with incredulity. He duly hit a wayward shot that he ‘got away with’, surely he’d learnt his lesson? Nope!!!. The next club he took was a 2 iron!!! He hit the grandstand and with a wicked bounce had a horrible lie in deep rough. Not to be deterred though he duly turned concern into disaster and chipped into the ‘Barry Burn’ in his attempt to reach the green rather than playing laterally. Assessing his worsening predicament Jean decided the only answer was to go fishing, and began the torturously slow process of theatrically removing his socks and shoes!!! In truth, it was probably this animated act that cost him the Open. Why? let us explain.

Good fortune had offered the Frenchman a window. Were he cute enough to seize the day, it might yet be salvaged. The ball had come to rest on a water shrub. Enough of it was clear of the water to permit a shot. It needn’t have played significantly worse than a poor bunker lie. The Barry Burn is tidal however, and it wasn’t flowing for him. As he continued the ceremonial socks and shoes routine time was ebbing away.

Van de Velde later reported that when he first peered into the burn, the ball was playable, and it was this that persuaded him to investigate. He said however that the weight of the ball had pushed down on the shrub causing it to dip below the water. No it hadn’t! What had happened is the tide was coming in. Had he got straight into the burn and played it, he would in all likelihood have escaped, and been holding the claret jug with wet feet

After much deliberation and surveillance of his stricken ball, he started to take some practise swings. Ultimately common sense prevailed. Contrary to popular folklore Van de Velde didn’t actually try extracting his lie from Davy Jones’s locker and elected to take the penalty drop. His pitch however fared little better and scurried across the putting surface before dribbling into a green-side bunker. He chipped out reasonably well, and effortlessly completed the putt a triple-bogey 7 to see him tie, but ultimately lose in a play-off.

What’s less well known is Later that year Van de Velde returned to Carnoustie to film a commercial for a putter company. He played the 18th hole using just that club. On his third try, he managed to make a 6 – the score which would have won him the Open a few months earlier. Today his exploits have been cemented into the walls of the Barry Burn by way of a tribute

The Carnoustie Championship course is a long way from being about the eighteenth. The par 5, sixth, now named ‘Hogans Alley’ after Ben, is every bit as famous. The hole has an evil out-of-bounds fence all the way down the left hand side. The fairway is guarded by two sentinel bunkers. Playing short of these won’t permit you a chance of going for the green with your second. You need to be right up on top of them, but how close dare you go before the lion’s jaws snap and devour your bouncing ball?

Playing to their right also gives you an impossible assignment. A combination of a target falling away from you, Jockie’s Burn, and the angle of approach means that you can’t reach. The only way of getting yourself in range was to try and thread a needle to the left of the bunkers and right of the fence, a narrow ‘alley’. In 1953, having qualified on the neighbouring Burnside course, Ben Hogan played four consecutive shots dead through this tiny corridor. He was the only person attempting it to do so unblemished. He would lift the claret jug in triumph on the Sunday

We perhaps need to report that the fourteenth, ‘the Spectacles’ is actually the hardest assignment by stroke index when played as a four, but is often played as a par five in the Open. Two giant bunkers sit side-by-side in the fairway of this par 5 peering down at the player, hence their name. To reach the green in regulation you need to flirt with them. To attack the hole you need to weigh up whether you can fly them (or even thread them if you feel lucky! – not advised). A visit to either is likely to see you having to make an application for planning permission to the local authority in order to escape within the month!

Another beast you need to be aware of is the optimistically assigned par 3 at the sixteenth. In 1975, the eventual winner of the play-off (Tom Watson) failed to make par here in five separate attempts. Jack Nicklaus was the only player who was able to drive the ball beyond the flagstick. The tenth is another hole that causes more than its fair share of problems. The Barry Burn curls its way around the green whilst a signature tree (as seen on the club crest) overlooks the putting surface



Buggy hire, Trolleys, Caddies and Clubs

When playing Scotland you are very much in the heartland of the sports traditions. In a lot of cases this won’t extend to 20th century inventions such as buggies/ carts. You are invited to take a step-back into history to a large extent and play a round in the manner more akin to how the game was originally conceived. This is quite normal for the top courses. Carnoustie requires a medical certificate before allowing the use of course vehicle.


Driving Range Available Yes
Rental Carts Available No
Rental Trolleys Yes
Caddies Yes – gratuity at own discretion
Rental Clubs Available Yes
Pro Shop Yes



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