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.
After the round at New Course for the Eden Tournament I drove to Carnoustie to see the new Club House, Indoor Center and spend the afternoon with my good friend Colin McLeod who after 15 years leading the Golf Department decided to take a voluntary retirement. He is the kindest person the Golf Industry has put in front of me, the proudest men of his job I have met and a great character. In a sunny windy afternoon, could I ask for a better farewell round with him? No.
After the morning round where I struggled to putt and score at New Course, I felt like a different player at Carnoustie and played maybe my best round of my 5 times there. But the highlight is not my score (who cares!) but being able to spend all afternoon with Colin, give a revision of his 15 years there, all that was achieved, the improvements to the golf center (the indoor part is awesome!) and how the course has kept the highest standars in all the services involved with oturist golfers: arrival, proshop, bar/restaurant, practice facilities, the starter and the entire experience at Carnoustie are World Class and although I will miss him I trust Carnoustie Links will keep the same.
The course played very soft as it had received that massive rain a couple of days before (It was totall flooded 2 days before), greens rolling as usual (perfect) and with a sunny windy afternoon you can’t ask for more enjoyable conditions to play there. The challenge is there, one of the most demanding courses for your tee shots, the 3 par 3s demand very precise shots (I carry five 3s on 16th, never a bogey! Well … maybe until my next visit) and some approach shots require precision and intelligence.
One thing that doesn’t change is the fantastic views of the hotel from almost every corner of the course, in a sunny day it is one nice picture after another.
Carnoustie Championship has the look of a public golf course; in the United States it reminds me of course owned by a local town or municipality. It is wild and unkempt looking in spots. So by that definition is does not compare to the other great links course in the UK or Ireland because it lacks the beauty,
However, it is by far the most difficult of the links courses. Perhaps only Trump International Scotland or Royal County Down can rival it for difficulty on a windy day, but even those fall short.
Built on a flat piece of land, it feels as if the only rise on the entire course is the 5th green with its back tier.
Much like Ganton, the bunkers are perfectly placed and there are a lot of the beginning with the second hole. On the many times I have played Carnoustie, I found the first hole to be relatively benign as long as you find the green with your approach shot. Without wind, it is an easy two shot hole, on a windy day it becomes trickier.
As mentioned, the second hole gets you to think about where to hit the tee shot given the five fairway bunkers, more to the right. Then there is a series of bunkers at the front of the green which is actually wider than it appears but is also 60 yards deep. It is a hole designed to "wake you up" for what is to follow.
The third hole is a birdie opportunity at only roughly 350 yards although you must carry the burn fronting the green. I did not find the green to be too difficult here.
The fourth hole is a gentle dogleg right. As long as you avoid the fairway bunkers, the second shot becomes pretty easy given it is a shared green with 14 and a relatively flat green. There are four bunkers at the front of the green.
The fifth hole, another dogleg right is one of my favorites on the golf course due to the fairway bunkers perfectly placed opposite each other and the marvelous green. It is a hole that requires some thinking about whether your game is in good enough shape that day to take on the right side of the fairway to get farther down closer to the green. The green is one of the three best on the golf course.
The sixth hole, famous at Hogan's Alley is not that difficult other than the tee shot. Go left and you are out of bounds. Hit a weak tee shot or pull it to the right and you are in a bunker. If the wind is up I actually don't mind hitting just to the right of the fairway bunkers into the rough. I have never found the rough to be that difficult that I should be able to advance the ball down to within 130 yards or less. You do want to get your second as close as possible given the bunker complex surrounding this green, perhaps the best use of green side bunkers on the golf course. It is a very fine golf hole.
The seventh is always more difficult than it appears and is one of my favorites given the out of bounds to the left with the fairway bunkers on the right designed to catch any shot hit slightly off line to the right. It is a very fun golf hole and requires some thinking. The green is not very difficult.
The 8th is fabulous, a 157-187 par 3 that has out of bounds left and four bunkers to the right and left that make saving par a very difficult proposition. The 8th also has one of the better elevated greens on the golf course due to the false front. and run-offs on the edges.
For me, the 9th is one of the weaker holes on the golf course, a par 4 that has some good bunkering off the fairway but the fairway always appears relatively wide to me. The green is flat although large. Play well on this hole because life is about to get a bit harder.
The 10th is a very memorable par 4 of some length, not the longest but every time I have played it I have played into the wind, or even if in a cross-wind it still is hurting. The fairway bunkers on the right must be avoided and for the fourth hole in a row, there is out of bounds to the left. It takes a well struck straight tee shot to give yourself a fighting chance at par. There is a burn about 30-40 yards short of the green that wraps up the right side. There is also a tree on the right that will either knock your ball straight down or back into the burn. Then two bunkers front left are there to remind you that you can't bail out to the left. It is a long green that although somewhat flat is tricky to read.
The 11th hole, a shorter par 4 feels like it should be a breather but again it is well bunkered in the fairway and by the green. The green has some undulations to it. If you miss the green on either side with your approach, you will definitely struggle to save par as the chip must be judged perfectly.
The 12th has always given me fits as it is a long par 4 with a lot of bushes to the right and some gorse as well. The green is partially hidden and it is large. You might make the green and have a 100 feet putt with a few levels as well. It is a very difficult hole and well designed.
On 13 a friend made an ace. Others in the same group all made five such is the genius of this mid-length par 3 with perhaps the best green on the golf course. The bunkers are deep on this hole with the green slightly elevated. One might think the safe play is to go long to the back of the green but if you roll off it is a very difficult chip.
The 14th has the famous spectacles bunkers as well as a shared green. It is a short par five where the tee shot must find the fairway as there is a lot of gorse here. If you find the fairway you should make a par, possible birdie or for the long hitter, have a chance at eagle. It is one of the easier greens to read on the course. Go into the spectacles and you might be looking at double bogey.
People rave about 16-17 but for me 15 is a brilliantly designed golf hole, a slight dogleg left with bunkers down the right side. It is a longer par 4 so to have a chance at par you need to hit a long tee shot that finds the fairway. There are four bunkers, three on the right guarding the green. The green is one of the better ones on the course.
Next comes the long par 3. When I first played Carnoustie in 1993, this was the longest par 3 I ever played at 245 yards. Now, there are many par 3's even longer as technology changed the game. It is very good par 3 not just for the length but primarily because the green is so good with a false front, run-offs on the sides, different levels. A par feels like a birdie here but even a double bogey does not demoralize you.
The 17th is probably the most famous golf hole at Carnoustie Championship due to the combination of length and having to cross a burn twice. Downwind, playing from the correct tees, a ball hit down the left side can make it over both burns. Into the wind, there is no reason to take on the second burn with your tee shot unless you are a very long hitter. Then comes an approach shot to a narrow opening due to the bunkers at the front of the green. Once on the green it is pretty level and easy to read but getting there is very difficult. I have made 4 here several times but have also made triple bogey. I think every foursome probably has that range of scores on this hole.
Finally you are at the Home hole, probably weary and exhausted. I have stood on this tee so many times and marveled at the view of the hole with the hotel now behind it. When I first played Carnoustie there was an old metal shed to the left of the hole, where we changed into three layers of clothing it was so cold that day (in late August!)
If you hit it straight off the tee, the hole is simple as the second time the burn crosses in front of the green there is actually about another 25-30 yards to the green. The green is well bunkered left and right but the green itself is flat and should be no worse than a two putt. It is a tremendous finishing hole.
Carnoustie Championship is a must play. Most of the fairway bunkers are deep and penal, although the green side bunkers are not difficult to get out unless you are against one of the side walls.
What makes Carnoustie so difficult? The routing makes you play every which way into the wind, BUT you actually rarely feel like the wind is your friend due to the placement of the bunkers and their depth. The burn comes into play on several holes, and the wind usually blows pretty strong here.
If during the Open they would to set up the course with high rough (which they have done before), the winning score would likely be level par. Without the rough, the pros are so long and so good out of the bunkers that it is no surprise the winning score is in the double digits under par because the greens are relatively simple. If Carnoustie had the greens of other Open championship courses, it would result in a higher score by 3-4 shots per player, but it would also make the course unfair and perhaps unplayable for the average player.
Once your round is completed, you know you have faced one of the sternest tests in golf.
Carnoustie is a brilliant course in a less than ideal setting when compared to many other well known links in Scotland. It was a wonderful part of the first golf trip I ever took and even though not every hole is etched in my memory it's amazing how many I can still remember. What a testament to the course itself. I played it on a windless day so didn't face the Carnasty Monster that many people have seen. One thing is certain, it's a serious test of golf for the strong player but given the soft conditions and fact I played from the medal tees I managed the second best score of the 10 rounds I played on the trip.
That's a bet I wouldn't be willing to make if I were to repeat my trip there so many years later.
Love to get back here one day soon as well.
Clearly an outstanding golfing experience. Open Championship setting with long difficult holes, bunkers, fescue and all that links golf demands. Great reception area with indoor driving range boxes. Unique links golf setting in traditional layout. Caddy service really recommended as layups and driving directions are difficult to see.
Great finish with hole 18 and the history of Open Championship
I've played Carnoustie a number of times, and it can be an absolute brute. Great opener, beastly second and it goes from there right through to the famously exacting final three holes.
Some houses border the course at the far end, but otherwise it's a surprisingly natural Links for such a famous course. Walk back to the Championship 18th tee and thank God you'll never need to thread a drive between the OOB and the Barry Burn with the World watching !
Visiting tips - If you get your dates right you can play the full course without mats at the Winter rate, and excellent packages are available with Montrose, Monifieth and Panmure staying at the course hotel.
It's very difficult to be unbiased with this review. Would this course deserve a 6 balls rating if I wasn't so attached to the great Open memories? I am not sure.
The course condition is OF COURSE Outstanding/Immaculate tee to green.
The design is very unique, with raw and natural ondulated fairways, and ridiculously challenging at times.
There's some magic in it. Maybe I am too emotionally attached to it. But it's worth playing it to understand the level of game the Open presents there.
Such a great course. We lucked out and had the "favourable" wind and brilliant sunshine but truly a thinking man's course. Bunkers were a challenge on most every hole except the ones where the burn came into play. Was lulled into a false sense of security by playing well on the front but the back certainly has teeth. Clubhouse staff, caddies, restaurant staff, etc. were all excellent and I'd return to this stern test in a heartbeat.
Carnoustie. One of my favourites, flattish no spectacular scenery but you are there for the golf which is testing from the very start. Excellent design because as you progress around the course it gets tougher closer to the finish by which time you should be well warmed up.
You need to plot your way around while # 6 Hogan’s Alley is a thrill to play. He drilled his four drives into the gap between the out of bounds and the bunkers on his way to win the Open in 1953- this line will give you a better approach to hit the green in two! However you probably won’t tee off beside the tee with the plaque.
There are many holes on which you can score while you travel round the horseshoe shaped course which has two par threes and four par fives the most spectacular of which is the ‘Spectacles’. The last three are very testing so you should score early and often.
Most greens have an extended ‘tongue’ which makes them long so note where the flag is as indicated on each tee box. The long par three 16th is called the Barry Burn (stream) which is not in play here but does weave its way round the course and appears with devastating effect elsewhere particularly on 17th ‘Island’ and 18th .
You cannot play the last without reminders of Van de Velde, Harrington and Molinairi who finished 7, 6 and 3. Surely you can match one of these scores or just enjoy the trip….. pd April ‘19
What a tough course, add the wind and over 100 bunkers. The back is much tougher than the front. I am not sure how they structured it so that most of the last holes are into the wind, but…..Spectacles, the 14th is one of the toughest holes in the world at 461 yards along with its famous bunkers, not to mention the pot bunkers. The 15th, Lucky Slap, is almost as tough at 459 yards.. On the second one I hit a good drive, a better 5 wood and a solid 8 iron to get to pin high! Sank the putt, too! The 16th was 245 yard par 3 into the wind. My playing partners thought I would be intimidated by this, I said this was nothing compared to Crail’s Balcomie as I did not have to worry about clearing a cliff. Number 17 is called the Island Hole, due to the Barry Burn. This stream starts on the right side of the fairway, flows towards the tee and then down the left side. It then meanders diagonally across the fairway to the right, effectively cutting the fairway in half. Surprisingly, this was the easiest of the last 5 holes (downwind) at only 433 yards, simple driver and then a 5 wood. Of course, you need a little luck to not end up in the Barry Burn as its sole purpose seems to be to confuse golfers and gobble their balls. As for 18, we all went back to where Van der Velde’s gaffe started, shook our heads and then walked up to the front tees. Still at 444 yards into the wind with water in front not an easy hole. For me, driver, 5 wood short of the water, a pitch and I sank the putt for a smooth 38 on the back. Those last 5 holes can bring you to your knees. One of the guys I was playing with was 4 over after 13 and his best score on any hole going in was a double.
Carnoustie is unquestionably a brilliant golf course. The opening six holes is exactly my type of golf and it sings a wonderful tune with just the right amount of natural land movement. And in conjunction with the correct balance of demanding and daring shots it hits the perfect notes from the off. The opening hole is superb in every sense as is the difficult second with an amazingly long green. The third gives options from the tee and the putting surface at the fifth is unbelievably good. Then you have the famous sixth hole "Hogan’s Alley" with out-of-bounds tight left and bunkering to die for; just a shame they weren’t really in play for us!
The same can be said of the wonderful closing stretch from the 13th onwards which is simply a fantastic succession of classic holes. As you would expect the robust championship demands are a little bit more dominant and these are gradually ramped up to a blistering crescendo. The two brawny closing holes at Carnoustie are etched into golfing history and require no further explanation except to say the use of the Barry Burn is as fantastic as it is daunting. You are continually dicing with disaster but despite the unceasing interrogation there's an absolute fairness to it all.
I can’t quite wax as lyrical about the middle part of the course. Things start to go gradually off the boil from the seventh and between this hole and the 12th there’s nothing that really sparkles nor anything that I haven’t seen on any number of other top links courses but it remains a stringent test. That’s not to say the centre third is poor or weak, far from it, it’s just that the start and end is so good that in relative terms this section of the course does feel as though you’re going through a bit of a lull in proceedings. The best two holes in this section are the short eighth, with a slightly upturned green, and the 10th where again the burn features prominently.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.