Designers: Alan Robertson, Old Tom Morris, James Braid
Throughout the storied career of Old Tom Morris, perhaps no moment had a more lasting impact on golf than a trip he made to Carnoustie alongside the game’s first true professional. Although golf dates to the 15th century here, when local gentlemen “exercisit the gawf” for the first time, it was in 1842 that the members of Carnoustie Golf Club officially brought the game to their links. The club hired Allan Robertson of St. Andrews to lay out their 10-hole course, with the work at least partially carried out by his twenty-one year old apprentice. This would be then young Tom’s first exposure to golf course architecture; a turning-point that would eventually yield some of the most celebrated courses in the game.
Tom would return fifteen years later to extend the links to a full 18-holes. It wasn’t until 1926, however, when James Braid was hired to make the course a championship test worthy of The Open, that Carnoustie as we know it began to emerge.
Of course, what we know of Carnoustie is a mixed bag of acclaim and notoriety. It was here that Ben Hogan capped his trio of majors in 1953, by winning the Claret Jug in what would be his only start in The Open Championship. Yet it’s the vision of Jean Van de Velde standing in the Barry Burn that has come to define both the 1999 Open as well as Carnoustie. The course humbled the world’s best players that year and has struck fear in them ever since. For very good reason.
Carnoustie is a gritty links, mostly without the benefit of coastal views to help soften its hard worn edges. Instead the stark landscape presents eighteen holes that are each capable of afflicting the intimidated or uninitiated golfer. From a brilliant par-5 at “Hogan’s Alley,” to the daunting spectacle bunkers ahead on the 14th, the test – especially off the tee – is relentless. It’s the closing trio of holes, anchored by the par-3 16th, that is sure to leave the lasting impression of Carnoustie. This is partially thanks to the wandering Barry Burn, which we must play across five times on the final two holes alone.
The carnage of 1999 prompted one Scottish writer to coin the phrase “The Carnoustie Effect,” which he defined as “the degree of mental shock experienced on collision with reality by those whose expectations were founded on false assumptions.” Allow us to ensure that these “false assumptions” are kept out of your golf bag. At Carnoustie, you can expect to be tried, teased, and taxed from the 1st tee to the 18th green. But you can also expect to never forget it.
Perfect Pairing with golf at Carnoustie: lunch in the clubhouse of the Carnoustie Golf Club. Try the fish & chips & mooshy peas. And don’t forget to remove your hat or you’ll buy drinks for the house.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
Your guide to the greatest golf holidays in Scotland