20 Links Parade,
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12 miles E of Dundee
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Seven times an Open Championship venue, Carnoustie was the penultimate Scottish golf course added to the Open Championship rotation – Turnberry was the last.
Carnoustie is a big natural seaside links and is widely considered to be one of the world's most difficult golf courses. In fact, according to the results of a Top 100 survey, Carnoustie is the toughest golf course in Britain & Ireland.
The first record of golf being played across this links land dates back to 1527; a 10-hole course was laid out in 1842 by Allan Robertson. Fifteen years later, in 1857, an 18-hole course was fashioned by Old Tom Morris. James Braid extended the course in 1926 and it has hardly changed since.
The main A930 road passes through the town in an east-west direction, running parallel to the railway line as it approaches the town centre. Shortly after turning off the main drag, the road narrows considerably and you’ll cross under a litle railway bridge, allowing you to reach Links Parade and the car parks next to the hotel at the back of the 18th green on the Championship course.
Much has been written about Carnoustie over the years. The finishing holes are especially brutal at this eight-time Open Championship venue and many consider that it has one of the greatest back nines in championship golf. Others will recall John Van de Velde’s barefoot paddle in the Barry Burn at the 18th hole during the 1999 Open Championship. Bernard Darwin perhaps had Van de Velde in his mind when, in 1910, he wrote in his book The Golf Courses of the British Isles: “he had got burns badly on his nerves… there really is some justification for the nervous golfer who has water on the brain after a round at Carnoustie.” You have to cross the snaking burn no less than five times whilst playing the closing two holes. We mustn’t forget to mention wee Jockie’s Burn—the young son of Barry—he comes in to catch your approach shot to the 3rd green.
In addition to burns, Carnoustie has some of the most formidable bunkers to contend with. There’s a plethora of them and some are alarmingly cavernous. The par five 6th measures 520 yards from the white tees and is regarded as one of the world’s best holes. Named, “Hogan’s Alley”, after the immortal Ben Hogan who won the Open Championship in 1953. Two fearsome looking bunkers lie waiting in the middle of the fairway and a third bunker to the right hand side ensures that the tee shot is daunting.
The 15th, 16th and 17th are considered the world over to be three of golf’s very best closing holes. “Lucky Slap”, the 15th, is a 460-yard par four, where the fairway slopes from left to right into the path of two waiting bunkers and the approach shot must avoid a cluster of three bunkers sited to the right of the green. “Hardest par three in golf; downwind it is difficult, into an easterly wind it is practically impossible”, according to the yardage guide. We won’t argue because the 16th, called “Barry Burn”, measures 245 yards from the white tees; for the ladies it’s a short par four measuring 212 yards. The 17th is a complete conundrum, called “Island” because the Barry Burn snakes in front of the tee and then loops back, cutting across the fairway. Into the prevailing wind, it is tough to know what to do on this brutal 400-yard-plus par four.
After winning at St Andrews and Royal Liverpool in 2005 and 2006 respectively, Tiger Woods was chasing a rare treble. He tried to emulate Peter Thomson (1954-1956) by winning a third consecutive Open at Carnoustie however Padraig Harrington had different ideas, claiming his first Major title, pushing Woods back to 12th place in the 2007 championship.
Carnoustie isn’t the most scenic golf course—rarely do you catch sea glimpses—but it is incredibly tough, even from the forward tees. Bring your “A” game here and pray for the weather to be kind. But be aware that should you plan to play Carnoustie in the winter (Nov-Mar), mats are required on the fairways and the first cut of rough.
Architect Martin Ebert kindly supplied the following update at the start of 2017:
Mackenzie & Ebert made recent changes to the 3rd hole on the course, where we have created fairway to the right of reconfigured central bunkers to tempt golfers into being more aggressive from the tee. Previously, the only option was really a 6-iron shot to the corner and then a pitch to the green in stroke play though a few players tried to drive the green recently in The Amateur match play stages.
Each time we play golf in Scotland it feels as if we are playing a game of Russian Roulette with the weather. To date, we’ve been for the most part, lucky. At Carnoustie the gun finally went off and shot us point-blank between the waterproofs. This is already an uninspiring location but at least the horrible weather wasn’t ruining any beautiful views (I like to think my glass of rainwater is half full). And the setting does allow you to focus on the golfing challenge in front of you (by now said glass was full of rainwater).
On the first tee we were paired up with 2 young French lads. At Carnoustie. I couldn’t believe my luck. The opening drive is nothing special, but your second shot blind down into the hidden green is an early & unexpected introduction of mild quirkiness. As I walked to my ball I couldn’t help think what touring pros make of it. After enjoying another nice green complex on the second, the drive on hole 3 was another early highlight. Here you decide which central bunkers to take on/avoid. Left proved ideal for the preferred angle on the next shot (I went right), but there’s also water protecting that side.
Carnoustie continues in this vein - engaging shots and quality green complexes - until you reach the 6th. This hole was right up my alley - with staggered fairway bunkering & out of bounds all the way up the left side liable to leave you flustered with indecision. I Gareth Baled out (i.e. my ball disappeared - albeit by choice, I’ll have you know), But a decent hybrid back into play from a friendly lie, followed by average short iron into the green, and then a satisfying long 2-putt for my first par of the day almost removed the fire hose soaked grimace from my face. History does prime your senses when a playing “famous” hole, but this is a clearly a good one.
One side note to what is potentially already a side note: Regardless of the extraordinary feats of Bionic Ben in the Open of 1953, my thoughts briefly turned closer to home. I do not come from (anything approaching) a golfing family, yet there is one obscure exception. My Grandad’s Uncle - the fantastically named Bill Branch - played with Hogan on property here during Open qualifying on the Burnside that week. Unfortunately it didn’t work out for him on that occasion, but he had at least finished 13th in the 1937 Carnoustie Open. Amazing what the family tree can throw up. I found walking in these footsteps more poignant than those of anyone else who may have navigated Carnoustie - Ben, Jack, or Tiger (may the Greek goddess of Victory forgive me). I guess no one is immune in seeking out historical connections with this game. Next up will be a photo on the “Bill Branch Bench” at Ganton…
Carnoustie then continues on in the vein of this start, with quality & engaging hole after hole. A stoic beauty that the torrential rain was doing it’s best to obscure. The conditioning was & remained great throughout, with the greens in particular running beautifully. They were also noticeably quicker than the Old Course where we’d played a few days earlier. Not quite how quick because we’d left the Stimpmeter back in our hotel room (the night before we’d been been measuring the distance which Tunnock’s Teacakes would roll across our carpeted room).
The Gallic Golfers making up our flight had insisted on playing the back tees, so we were spending more time getting wet than absolutely necessary. Their self-flagellating approach searching for lost balls in the rough did allow me to take a few photos and start with the Jean van de Velde comments a little earlier than anticipated. I managed to mention the 1999 Open meltdown on every hole from the second onwards. As for this famed difficulty, I came within a whisker of breaking 90 whilst playing in scuba gear. Nevertheless, choosing the right tee boxes is even more important when the heavens remain open for 4 hours.
The finish at Carnoustie was magnificent. Holes 13-18 are tremendous in their variety, challenge, & perhaps notoriety. Still not a view in sight but a memorable closing stretch demanding full focus. The setting is dour (and the weather still dire), but the holes were so enjoyable. And anyway, what kind of golfer wants to be looking at the mantelpiece when there’s a fire to be poked? On the 18th I made an admirable attempt to convince our French companions into an impromptu photo shoot in the Barry Burn, but unfortunately they declined. Probably for the best because on this day it was a literal raging torrent that may have carried them all the way home. As we finished up on the golfing icon that is the final green - my own playing partner securing a memorable birdie - I began to collect my thoughts on the course.
Rating courses is one thing, but I don’t envy those at Top 100 who need to put them all into an actual ranked order. That is often comparing apples & pears, elevators & stairs, tables & chairs, skinny jeans & flares. If you rank Dornoch or Turnberry ahead of Carnoustie because of the respective settings, I can understand this. But the quality of this course surely stands shoulder to shoulder amongst the creme de menthe of links greats? Carnoustie is probably more of a Portmarnock Pomme than a Ballybunion Poire, but no less worthy for this. Many of us have our bucket full of water lists and are always excited to see the next course. The Madness Gene is after all what got our forefathers out of Africa to fulfill our species’s evolutionary destiny of inventing golf in the first place. But despite this human longing for new experiences, Carnoustie joins a very select backlog of courses that I would prefer to play again in lieu of risk-chasing new experiences.
A friend asked me just yesterday for my top 5 courses played, in ranked order. This is like asking which child you prefer, so I gave him an unranked squad of 11. Carnoustie makes the cut. This course was simply brilliant and even the worst weather Scotland could throw at us did not put a dampener on things.
Great review really enjoyed reading that
Carnoustie could perhaps be the world’s best tournament course and may well be the most deserving of all of the courses currently on the Open rota. It’s a course that provides the best and fairest challenge of the professionals, particularly in testing their nerve as they come down the infamous closing stretch. There’s also a tonne of strategy off the tee with narrow fairways and precisely placed bunkers to test your guile that makes this a beautifully designed course over what is otherwise a flat piece of ground. Carnoustie is a course that’s ultimately going to appeal more to the scratch golfer than the mid-handicap hack.
I thought the opening three holes had a lovely variety whilst the 14th, Spectacles, might be one of my favourite par fives I’ve played. I did enjoy others too, but some of the oddities or charm that I search for from a GB&I top ten ranked course perhaps weren’t quite there across the middle segment of the course for me to rank Carnoustie amongst this esteemed company. That being said, to walk the same footsteps and test yourself across the same piece of property that has created more stories per inch than most of its peers is something every amateur should make the effort to experience. And if you manage to plot your way around whilst successfully avoiding the Barry Burn, then you’re a far more skilful golfer than I will ever hope to be.
My son and I have just finished a 7 day tour of Angus, Fife and Lothian. The courses we played in order were: Old Course St. Andrews, Elie, Carnoustie, Dumbarnie, Kingsbarns, North Berwick and Muirfield.
I'll use the same preface and tour summary within each respective course review. Hopefully, our informal ranking(s) might provide some comparative context and help in deciding where to play.
So to Carnoustie - my late father's favourite course so a bit of a pilgrimage for my son and I.
The shortened version - my son thought the course was outstanding.
We started the first in full wet weather gear and the rain abated by the 4th fairway. The wind was behind on the 6th which was reachable with two good blows and avoiding the bunkers.
I've never liked the Par 3 seventh - out of bounds too close for comfort on the left with a right to left wind.
And the 9th always feels like it could be at home on any heath land course.
My son loved the 10th - possibly because the heavens opened again and flooded the green - and wanted "Carnasty" and all that the heavens could through at us.
Time to regroup at the halfway house for a pie and drink and some relief from the rain. 10 minutes later, the rain had gone and the greens and fairways drained of any evidence of inclement weather.
And the wind had completely switched so that by the time we played 14, 15 and 16, it was helping.
With natures help, I managed what Tom Watson hadn't on 16 when he won in '75.
However, the par 4 17th was played dead against the wind.
A good driver just made it over the Barry Burn, followed by a well struck 2 hybrid and a low punched 6 iron from 100 yds into the green.
By comparison, my son hit driver and 60 degree wedge on the down-wind 18th. What Jean Van-de-Velde would have given for that finish!
Carnousite, despite the weather, was in superb condition (this round took place on 29th October). The run-offs surrounding the greens were as quick and good as any greens we played at other courses at this time of year.
And the greens were firm true and fast. A real pleasure.
With Carnoustie - you get what you pay for. It is a superb quality championship layout in fantastic condition. It is also a fair but hard test of golf and not for the faint-hearted. There's a reason it was my Dad's favourite and it's quickly become my son's too.
Not quite the setting or scenery for 6 balls.
But a solid and enjoyable 5 and a half.
I said I'd provide a ranking from our 7 day tour as a comparison guide. My son and I had a lot of fun talking about various criteria for what "best" was.
In the end, I have settled on 2 rankings: "most fun & visually inspiring" and "most keen to make a score on". These probably equate to those who are playing the game as a game and want to take time to smell the roses, and those who take it a bit more seriously where it's the satisfaction of attaining a score on a quality course.
My "most fun & visually inspiring" ranking from our little 7 day tour was:
1. North Berwick (1st, 2nd, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th ...you get the idea)
2. Elie (10th, 11th, 12th, 13th)
3. Dumbarnie (stunning panaromic views across the course and to the shore)
4. St. Andrews Old Course (just the atmosphere and the courses hsitory and locale within the town)
5. Carnoustie (6th, 10th, 13th, 16th, 17th, 18th)
6. Muirfield (solid golf hole after golf hole)
7. Kingsbarns (hampered by atrocious weather)
The courses I'd "most like to make a score on" ranking was:
3. North Berwick
4. Old course, St Andrews
If I had just one course to play - North Berwick - it's just a great walk.
If I had just 3 courses to play - North Berwick, Carnoustie, St. Andrews (looks, quality, history)
I hope my totally subjective reviews give others some insight.
It was a memorable tour, and the list of quality courses in the area we didn't play (Leven, Lundin, Crail, Scottscraig, Castle, New, Jubilee, Panmure, Montrose, Gullane etc etc) serve to show what a fantastic region of Scotland this is to play golf.
What to say about Carnoustie. Well, after a pedestrian start, the third hole is excellent. A short par 4 with bunkers down the middle and a burn down the left and in front of the green leaves you with a decision. Lay up short of the bunkers or take them on leaving a short pitch onto the green.
After that the course idles on by until you get to Hogan's Alley. And again the course just idles on until you get to the finish and those last 4-5 holes are brutal. 459yd par 4, 437yd par 4 235yd par 3, 421yd par 4, 421yd par 4 (yellow tees). Oh and there are excellently placed bunkers on all of them, with the burn being in play on 17 & 18 too. When you get off the course you feel like you've fought through 18 holes of golf.
Hole interest beside, the course was running hard and fast when I played it which meant hitting the tight fairways was a challenge and although the rough had been cut right back, made it a lot more challenging to stop the ball on the greens either, forcing you to run the ball on.
All in all, it was an enjoyable if challenging round, the starter was excellent and gave me the history of Carnoustie as well as a few pointers, but I don't think the course justifies it's 10th place ranking. It's a good course and if you are in the area definitely worth a round, but I personally won't be seeking it out again.
Simply the best best course for me. Brutal in the wind, brutal when not in the wind, it really lives up to the hype of being the toughest around.
The golf centre is kitted out as a championship course should, you could spend hours in there before your round. Stepping into the first fee where legends of the past have been is quite a feeling, Hogan, Watson, Woods, now you.
The bunkers, fairways and greens throughout are immaculate. Best holes for me are 18, 17, 15, 6, 2, 10.... I could go on, every hole is a delight to play. side note, I have in the last aces 13! Playing the final hole with the hotel framing in the background is however a special feeling.
Get yourself to the Caledonia or Carnoustie club after for a pint, you'll have earned it by the end.
Played the Championship course last year, in 30 mile per hour winds. What is considered as the toughest track in the UK, was made even more so with the weather. That said, we loved every minute - especially the closing three holes, which are iconic in the world of golf. The Barry Burn gobbled up two of my balls on the 17th, and unfortunately, the 18th tight in front of the green. Going back next year to have another crack at it. Can't wait!
Carnoustie ranks alongside Portrush and Muirfield as one of the best tests of golf in the British Isles in my view. Every hole presents its own challenge and it’s possible to run up a big number on almost any of them, especially when the wind is up.
It is not the most picturesque course and for many it would be too difficult to consider enjoyable. Having said that, the last couple of times I have played it the rough has been relatively forgiving meaning less risk of lost balls than when I have played it in the past. It’s the other hazards, in particular the bunkers and the burn that make it particularly tricky. The fairway bunkers seem to be positioned in exactly the right spot to make you think and to catch only slightly wayward or miss-hit shots.
Given its difficulty it is not a course I would want to play every day but would relish playing a couple of times a year to really challenge myself. Definitely in the top 10 in my GB&I rankings. Play it and enjoy the experience, whatever you may score!
With a course as famous and stitched in golfing history as Carnoustie, it is very difficult to look past the awe inspiring history to complete an unbiased review. Or more importantly to do this incredible site justice. From its association to Ben Hogan and his only Open win, to the infamous Open of 1999 where ‘Carnasty’ brought some of the world’s best to tears, this course in notorious and needs little introduction.
You may not realise this if you haven’t visited, but there are many golf clubs that share the links at Carnoustie, each with their own clubhouse and rich history. It’s something I wasn’t aware of before visiting and adds to the interest and atmosphere.
We played on a blustery and cold day in mid-May after a period of unseasonably cold and wet weather. The first thing to note was that the rough had clearly been cut recently which meant the intimidation from the tee boxes was lessened somewhat, and you were able to play away from the trouble to relative safety in the rough. This was a shame as I was prepared for 18 holes of unrelenting intimidation.
Like the classical piece, ‘In the hall of the mountain king’ (the Alton Tower’s theme tune to those in the U.K.), the course starts slowly and carefully before building to a high intensity crescendo over the closing holes. Famous landmarks on the front nine are ‘Hogan’s bunker’ left of the 5th green and ‘Hogan’s Alley’, the truly frightening 6th hole par 5 with one of the tightest tee shots in golf.
The course has 3 distinct sections, the run to around the 7th, which is true links golf, then 8-13 which is slightly more treelined and sheltered before the run to the finish, which is arguably the most tasking run in anywhere in the world. It starts at hole 14, famous for the Spectacle bunkers located in the middle of the fairway. The par 3 16th is long and the green is extremely difficult to locate. Barry Burn then torments you all the way to the finish with ample opportunity for it to bring your scorecard to a watery demise at the final furlong (think Jean Van de Velde).
This is a classic links course, one of the best in the world with iconic holes and sights of some of the greatest moments in major championship history. I want to play it again when the rough is up and the ground hard to feel the full force if it’s bite. An absolute must on anyone’s golfing bucket list.
Carnoustie is just a rollicking fun day which demands your very best game for you to survive. Every hole is a study in design merits. There are a great mix of holes but predominantly the hole offers options for play. Shorter holes require mostly aerial pursuit while the longer holes offer run up options. There isn't a weak hole here. Maybe 11 isn't strong but it's not weak. This is a must play for everyone with a little game. Carnoustie Championship defines the proper way a municipal course should handle visitor play in my opinion. Drop everything at some point and get here.
As all the professionals will say.... Carnoustie is one of the hardest courses in the world, and I can very much confirm that! The greens are lightning quick and have on average about 5 different bumps and lumps per one. An absolute incredible experience which any keen golfer must do! They treat you like royalty and the course also plays like royalty. Amazing!