20 Links Parade,
- +44 (0) 1241 802270
12 miles E of Dundee
Contact in advance - not Sat/Sun am
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 recent 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 seven-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 Championship at Carnoustie however Padraig Harrington had different ideas, claiming his first Major title pushing Woods back to 12th place in the 2007 Open 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.
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!
I admit to being biased having grown up in Angus. However, having played the full top 100 in Scotland and debating all the courses at length in terms of my own thoughts Carnoustie is often on top.
Deceptively due to the hosting of The Open the course often feels smaller and almost normal when you play it, like any other classic links but the accumulation of 18 great holes and in particular the finishing four holes the course challenges you with every shot and seems to stand above the rest for me.
The turf here, as with near neighbors, Panmure and Monfieth, isn't your normal sandy links, it is more of a peaty soil, hard to describe but it plays well.
I have enjoyed every round I have played here and have played off the various tees and in very different weathers. I have always relished the challenge and have never quite cracked the course.
A quirk of the course, which I find similar to Royal Troon is that despite the grand reputation both courses surprise me in their tightness and in particular the small green sizing, which just adds to the challenge.
A tip for booking is to get our very early or later in the day, to try and avoid slow play which I am afraid the vast amount of visiting 4 ball groups can create.
The course is definitely an equal to Muirfield/Royal Troon and Turnberry but I would say it takes more cunning to avoid all the course hazards and make a great score and for this, it is my number 1.
One of the very best. It’s bigger, grander, more majestic than almost everywhere I’ve played. There are no weak holes, then you get one of the best finishes in the world. Before my visit I’d overlooked 14 with the Spectacles, and the long dogleg 15th with the solitary tree. That was an error on my part.
I found it surprisingly scoreable too. The fairways are fairly wide and don’t have many hanging lies. The routing changing directions means you’re not getting beaten up for 9 holes, then helped on 9 holes. The greens are perfect. There’s only one blind shot.
It’s also very friendly and laid back, of the few Open venues I’ve played it’s the most welcoming and had the most helpful staff. I was even given a history buff of a caddie, because I’d emailed ahead and said I had an interest in past Opens.
Despite making a Van de Velde 7 on the last, I left the course content in the way that only a couple of other courses have managed. It’s a special place that whilst impressing so much, is some how understated and organic as well. It’s easily in my top 3 courses.
I’m a member so admittedly this is a biased take. But off the Open/Hogan tees this is the best of the best. It’s not pretty, it’s not easy and it might not be some people’s idea of fun but as an actual golf course the only place that rivals this for me is County Down
I played here in the early 90s and was very unimpressed, it was unattractive and difficult for the sake of being difficult. The club has since removed thousands of pine trees (planted for some reason after the war) and revealed a beautiful links that keeps your interest throughout. Excellent variety and design.
A very good golf course set amongst a quite modest hotel / clubhouse which is common in the UK. I have played it 7 times over the past few years and its a great experience and a must play on a golf trip over several days in that area. I give it a 5 rather than a higher score because I find that the weather plays too much of a role in the experience here even relative to other links courses. When its calm (somewhat rare), its not as good a test of the game as other Top 40 courses in my view and when the wind and rain are really in full force (not rare) the course can be almost unplayable for even mid single digit handicappers.
Along with Muirfield and Royal St Georges, Carnoustie is right up there as one of the toughest golf courses I’ve played. It’s long, the ‘Barry Burn’ snakes throughout the whole course and the rough can be thick. Having said all of the above, I really enjoyed my round here, the layout is great, and you can feel the history throughout the course.
The bunkers are really well placed off the tee to make players think, therefore presenting a variety of options. The greens are surrounding areas are great, meaning run up shots are always possible, but need to be well judged due to the slopes.
On the front, I loved the short 3rd, and the 6th is brilliant. ‘Hogans Alley’ gives players the option to hit driver on this par 5, but knowing that it gives them a particularly small landing area.
Coming home, another par 5, ‘Spectacles’ is famous for its cross bunkers. This means if players are going for the green in 2, or even just laying up, serious considerations must be made. The finishing stretch of 16-18 is as hard as I’ve played anywhere, but still seems to keep enjoyment levels high. The par 3 16th has a small slopey green, made even harder by the fact it is a 235 yard hole from the yellows. The aforementioned burn runs in and out of the 17th and 18th fairways, and the 18th in particular is a great hole. It’s fun to see if you can make a better hash of it that Jean Van De Velde!
I wouldn’t say that courses as hard as this are normally much fun, but it’s the balance between challenge and enjoyment that makes Carnoustie so great. Just don’t worry about your score!
Carnoustie is exposed to the weather- and the weather is one of the key defences for the course. Play Carnoustie on a calm day and you will enjoy the chance to pit your skills against a course that asks you to think your way around the course, and avoid the many strategically placed bunkers, burns and rough.
You need to to keep yourself in the game in readiness for perhaps the biggest finish in golf- holes 15- 18 are long, hard, and fraught with danger in any conditions. But play Carnoustie in the wind and it becomes a battle of survival! Notable holes include:
- the par 5 sixth hole- 'Hogan's Alley'
- the par 5 fourteenth hole with prominent fairway bunkers- 'Spectacles'
- the extra long par 3 sixteenth hole with tabletop green- 'Barry Burn'
- the par 4 seventeenth hole with the Barry Burn winding across the fairway twice- 'Island'
- the par 4 closing hole with burn running across in front of the green- 'Home'
Over the years I have played Carnoustie is different conditions- ranging from perfect golfing weather where you can enjoy the strategy on each hole- to miserable grey days where the cross winds are so chilly that a beanie is mandatory to maintain your sanity.
Either way you know on the first tee that you will have a battle on your hands at Carnoustie, and that is one battle I always look forward to!
Carnoustie Golf Links should be on every golfers bucket list.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.