Review for Carnoustie (Championship)

Reviewer Score:


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.

Date: October 02, 2019

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