Carnoustie Golf Links (Championship)

What we say

Golf World Top 100 Editor Chris Bertram reviews Open venue Carnoustie’s Championship Course and explains why it ranks so highly.

Don’t believe the lazy label. Ignore the notoriety. Few courses have a reputation as ill-deserved as Carnoustie Golf Links’ Championship Course. Its legacy took four days to earn but has taken much longer to shed.

The infamous Open of 1999 is of course the reason for Carnoustie’s reputation, a much-anticipated week that fell victim to unfortunate circumstance and questionable set-up.

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Having not hosted the championship for nearly a quarter of a century, there was much excitement at the Angus links ahead of that week in July. But with the rough especially lush after a warm, wet spell of weather and the R&A opting to pinch in the fairways to little more than 10 paces wide at some points, it proved an absolute beast.

A cold wind added to the difficulty and with scores in the high 70s and beyond, the ‘Carnasty’ moniker was born.

That Carnoustie provided the stage for one of the most memorable finishes in the long history of The Open was forgotten amid the barbs, the sneers and the suggestions it could be another quarter of a century before the championship was back in Angus again.

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Perhaps acknowledging its part in creating Carnoustie’s unenviable new reputation, the R&A were not swayed by the criticism and took The Open back within a decade. They were rewarded with a splendid championship, another thrilling climax and even another champion from Great Britain & Ireland. They’ve been back again since then, too.

“There isn’t a player who didn’t enjoy the test. Credit to Carnoustie, it’s one of the best in the world,” said the 2007 champion, Padraig Harrington.

That week was more representative of Carnoustie; it is unquestionably a magnificent links and the class of the course was certainly not the reason for The Open’s 24-year absence from 1975. A lack of infrastructure was, and even now the accommodation, transport and space is only just adequate.

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Talk of infrastructure is tedious to the golf fan of course, but anyone driving through this modest, grey east coast town will quickly realise why it matters when one remembers thousands descend on an area for The Open. Yet, once you turn off the claustrophobic main street and head for the coast by passing under one of the many narrow railway arches, you are greeted by links utopia; one enormous blanket of idyllic seaside turf punctuated only by gorse, a few trees and fluttering flags.

Parking next to the Carnoustie Golf Centre – relatively new yet relatively unfussy, in keeping with most things here – there is an eagerness to get on the ‘property’. The hotel, built for the 1999 Open, is your marker post; we all know if you find the clock on its front, you have found the 18th green and arguably the game’s iconic closing hole.

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There is a masochism to looking down this fearsome finishing hole. Everyone expects to make a mess of it – some may even be disappointed if they do not find the Barry Burn at some point – but most of us will take it all in with a smile of nervous expectation and relish the challenge that awaits four hours hence.

This expanse of seaside terrain has been enchanting golfers since Edinburgh author Robert Chambers laid out a rudimentary track in 1834. The town developed rapidly with the addition of the railway line four years later and so, in 1839, Carnoustie Golf Club was formed. Three years later, Allan Robertson created a 10-hole course.

Old Tom turned it into an 18-holer of 4,565 yards in 1867 and then James Braid crafted the championship course in 1926. Five years later, Tommy Armour won the first Open at Carnoustie.

Armour and all champions since have had to be mindful of the Barry Burn that winds surreptitiously throughout the course. It is a frequent and costly hazard but it – and brother Jockie – are by no means the course’s only defence.

Off the white tees it is 6,945 yards and even forward on the yellows you only save yourself 250 yards and cost yourself two shots to par. The SSS is 75 and 74 respectively. The 7,421 it played in 2007 simply does not bear thinking about…

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In addition, there is out of bounds to worry about on a handful of occasions as well as drive and greenside bunkers that are as frequent as they are penal.

Then there are the subtle challenges that don’t appear on a scorecard or even in your eyeline from the tee. The narrow or shallow nature of some greens. The angle those greens are often set at. The difficult-to-detect borrows in them. The greenside slopes that mean only precision chipping will succeed.

This, admittedly, all sounds like the ‘Carnasty’ of folklore, and you will probably walk off happy to have come within six or seven shots of your handicap.

Yet most who play here love, unremittingly challenging or not.

It is true there is little respite. Even on the easier holes such as the 13th, a par 3 of merely 141 yards, you can get into all sorts of trouble if you miss the narrow, figure-of-eight shaped green and find one of the deep bunkers or have to chip over them.

Or you might look at the shortest par 4, the 3rd, and think you should be able to do something with it. It’s downhill and just 331 yards off the yellows, after all. But then you note bunkers on the inside and outside of the corner of the dog-leg and Jockie’s Burn in front of a green that is shaped like a tee peg. The slim entrance is narrowed further by the bunkers that eat into the sides, with the left-sided one especially awkward due to the large knuckle that sits above its riveted face.

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Coming on the back of the stellar par-4 2nd, where you must drive over the top of Braid’s Bunker in the middle of the fairway and then try to steer a 3-wood onto the long, narrow well-bunkered green, it is a tremendous start.

Two more par 4s follow, both shaping left to right with Jockie’s Burn reappearing across the fairway of the 5th, and then comes the most famous hole on the front nine, Hogan’s Alley.

In the Open of 1953, Ben Hogan drove between the out of bounds fence and the two bunkers in the fairway on all four rounds. Mere mortals are wise to hit short of the traps then advance their ball up the right, although care must be taken to avoid the ditch that cuts in from that side where your lay-up is likely to finish.

The acutely-sloping green is set at an angle and surrounded by further typically awkwardly-positioned bunkers.

The first short hole doesn’t arrive until the 8th, notable for the out of bounds running to the left and two bunkers to the right, in the shape of peanuts hugging each other. The out of bounds continues down the left of the 9th but this straight hole, lined by tall pines to the left, offers a greater feeling of being able to open your shoulders.

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The back nine starts as it ends; being dominated by the Barry Burn. You must take advantage of the relatively wide landing zone off the tee with a solid drive because your fairway wood approach must clear the burn that snakes across ‘South America’ 50 yards from the green.

The exacting challenge begins its climb to the summit on the 14th, where the famous Spectacles – fearsome bunkers set into a ridge across the fairway 50 yards from the green – almost hypnotise you as you stand looking at them (rather than the pin) in the fairway.

A downhill drive gives you a fighting chance of getting up in regulation on the 15th (442 yards off the yellows). It is a beast, but the difficulty is actually cranked up on the next, where many of us will need at least a 3-wood off the yellow tee to cover the 236 yards to a narrow green with steep, deeply unforgiving sides.

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Make a decent fist of those three and you will be racing to the 17th tee to have a go at locating the ‘island’ fairway created by the wandering Barry Burn and then (probably with a wood) the shallow, angled green. The alternative scenario is that by the 17th, you are mildly beaten up. But it is difficult to imagine anyone not raising themselves for this penultimate test and then the iconic conclusion (see opposite page).

If you’ve struck the ball solidly and sensibly plotted your way round this great old links, you’ve probably still hit more shots over 18 holes than you have for years. Yet you are also likely to possess a significant sense of satisfaction and as a result, might well already be wondering when you will be able to get back to Angus for another go at this sometimes maligned but always magnificent links.

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  • Course Summary

  • Costs 4 out of 5
  • TG Rating 5 out of 5
  • Players Rating 4.8 out of 5
  • Address
    Links Parade, , CARNOUSTIE
  • Tel 01241 802270
  • Website

Course Information

Course 72 par
Course Style -
Green Fees £160
Course Length 6,941 yards (6,347 metres)
Holes 18
Difficulty Hard 0-10
Course Membership Other

Course Features

  • Course has: Bar
  • Course does not have: Buggy Hire
  • Course has: Driving Range
  • Course has: Practice Green
  • Course has: Pro Shop
  • Course has: Restaurant
  • Course has: Trolley Hire
  • Course does not have: Dress Code
  • Course has: Club Hire
  • Course does not have: Handicap

Your Reviews

  • 4.5 out of 5 The Best Golfing Experience I have ever had!

    By hindmarshsl

    What a place! The history, course, people, hotel and … weather! However despite our fair share of the Scottish "Sunshine" the course was in top nick the greens running fast and true. The staff were so friendly in fact on my whole trip I met no-one who wasn't prepared to help! Everyone was pleasant and one was greeted with a smile! The course itself is a true corker! The 1st is actually one of the easier holes however the impossing hotel makes it tough indeed. The second is often a forgotten hole but actually is one of the best! Holes 3,4,5 were excellent but from Hogan's Alley onwards there are no weak holes culminating in the best finish in golf!! Will definately return again just to meet the starters who were like something out of the last of the summer wine!!!!

  • 5 out of 5 Goood Course

    By Anonymous

    Good course but its just tooooo EASy, I shot -2 gross and it isn't as good as the old course of St andrews.

  • 5 out of 5 top course

    By piginthebunker

    A fantastic experience everyone was so friendly and helpful. Playing in open year made it especially special. Stood on the 18th thinking a 6 to win the open like VAN De VELDE and then actullay getting it superb. Playing the course as a package with the other 2 great courses here is great value to.

  • 5 out of 5 Great Experience

    By James7urner

    Loved every second of it. The fairways are undulating and the bunkering is superb. The rough was generous (seen worse). If you're straight off the tee, you're in with a shout of reaching GIR. If not, forget it. Definitely worth getting the stamp in your golf passport.

  • 5 out of 5 Not so nasty!

    By Craig6

    Probably the best links I've ever played possibly even better than the Old Course at St. Andrews. Best finishing stretch anywhere!

  • 5 out of 5 Quality

    By Anonymous

    Absolutely stunning course / could not fault in anyway. The other 2 courses ( burnside / buddon links ) were also great . Buy the special 3 course greenfee and make no1 on your must play list

  • 4 out of 5 An experience!!

    By Anonymous

    A superb course that lives up to its reputation in all ways. Unfortunately we met the course on a day when it was blowing a 40mph hoolie. Despite the conditions however, the actual course was challenging but fair. The rough was nowhere near as savage as it will probably be for next year's open. The clubhouse is awesome, but very welcoming. The people were vey friendly and full of good tips ("you could have picked a better day!" etc.). We paid for the day, and was not cheap (£105 for the round), but you can get a package playing the other course as well and seemed good value for money. Definately a must play course however.

  • 4.5 out of 5 How hard?

    By Anonymous

    Amazing in all ways - but how hard is this course. Forget the score and enjoy the experience. Condition is amazing