The focal point of the trip was of course the main championship course, a notoriously testing links that has hosted The Open Championship on seven occasions and will do so again in 2018, however, as I was to discover the two supporting courses shouldn’t be overlooked on a visit here either.
In terms of value for my £200 I would say this is a reasonably priced package deal and I certainly won’t be asking for my money back in exchange for the experience of playing across one of the most famed golfing grounds in world golf along with two other genuine links. That said, it didn’t overly exceed expectations and there are a couple of things that niggled me which I need to get off my chest before I start to talk about the course.
Firstly, the condition of the greens was not at all good on my visit which was well into the golfing season, just a few days short of June. The putting surfaces were slow, bumpy, wobbly and didn’t run anywhere near as true as you would expect for any decent course let alone an Open venue. I realise the conditions of the day can be hit and miss and the course is holding the Senior Open Championship in a few months time so maybe there was some aggressive maintenance practice going on ahead of this and if that’s the case then this is more understandable. However, what cannot be forgiven is the quality of the hole cutting that we were confronted with. I’m not sure how many days it was since the cups had been moved (I noted they were newly cut the following day) but the edges were shoddy, overgrown and frankly unacceptable for a course of this ilk. On a trip of eight golf courses in Scotland the greens on the Championship were by far the worst we putted on. In the spirit of fairness it should be noted at this point that the putting surfaces on the Burnside were good although the Buddon were bobbly too (except two new greens).
My second main gripe is that you are not allowed to play from tees suitable for your ability on the main layout. Everybody, regardless of whether you’re a scratch golfer or a 28 handicapper, must play from the yellow tees. I appreciate the Trust have a difficult task in this regard and need to ensure golfers get around the course in a timely fashion but I personally came away not fully appreciating the links because of this rule. In fact it got to a point where I simply started hitting irons off the tee because it was just too easy to bomb a driver over fairway bunkers that are clearly strategically placed at optimum driving distances. I could see the strategy of each hole with my eyes but failed to experience it and I fear others will find themselves in the same boat too. As much as I would have loved to give it a go from the very back Open tees I realise this is never going to happen but to play from the yellows was deflating. I’m not sure what the exact cut-off point should be, because there’s no doubt this isn’t an issue for the vast majority of visitors, but my gut feel is that category one golfers (maybe slightly lower, ie: 3/4 handicaps) should at least be given the option of playing the course longer than the 6,595 daily tees; for the record the whites are 6,948 yards and would have sufficed. I know myself and a fellow one-handicap colleague didn’t feel we got the true Carnoustie experience on our visit because of this.
That said the links itself 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.
One day I hope to write my first experience of Carnoustie to the history books and right the wrongs but for now I'll still savour fond memories of this honest links even if it is with a tinge of regret.
Read the review of Carnoustie (Burnside) here.
Read the review of Carnoustie (Buddon) here.