A Detailed Guide to Carnoustie Golf Links
We all remember the epic collapse by Jean van de Velde on the 72nd hole of the 1999 Open Championship. There’s even a plaque that simply reads “Jean van de Velde, 1999” near where Barry Burn intersects the 18th fairway, citing where it all went haywire for the Frenchman.
If you were old enough, you surely remember watching it unfold in sheer horror. But do you remember where that all went down, where that catastrophe was taking place?
The answer is Carnoustie Golf Links, home of multiple Open Championships and one of the most famous golf courses in the entire world.
Landing on this page means you are about to learn all sorts of interesting facts about the historic golf club in the council area of Angus, Scotland.
After telling you about who is responsible for the opening, we’ll go through the track in great detail. This includes uncovering the most well-known holes and explaining why players have such a hard time avoiding big numbers.
We’re going to run through the most unforgettable moments at Carnoustie as we recap the all the British Opens that have been contested here.
If you plan on going to the 2018 Open Championship or one of the future events at the Links course in Carnoustie, you’ll enjoy our final segment where we reveal some tips and advice to consider when scheduling that trip.
There’s no need to take any notes, folks; you can bookmark this page and come back whenever it’s convenient. Just sit back and relax as you delve into one of the most revered golf courses you’ll ever encounter.
Carnoustie Golf Links- Key Facts
- Carnoustie, Scotland
- Year Opened
- Owner/Operated By
- Carnoustie Golf Links Management Committee (CGLMC)
- Course Designer
- Allan Robertson, Old Tom Morris, James Braid
- 72 for public play, 71 for the Open Championship
- 7,421 yards (2007 Open Championship)
- Host To
- Open Championship (1931, 1937, 1953, 1968, 1975, 1999, 2007, 2018). 2011 Women’s British Open, The Senior British Open (2010, 2016)
- Official Website
The Early Days at Carnoustie Golf Links
The exact opening date of Carnoustie Golf Links is a bit confusing, mainly because there really is no formal date that marked the beginning of play. Here is what we can confirm.
We know that in 1834, an author from Edinburgh by the name of Robert Chambers had the original idea to build a golf course. However, it wasn’t until 1839 that Carnoustie Golf Club was officially formed. Three years later, in 1842, Allan Robertson came along and designed the first 10 holes.
Things picked up in 1867 when Old Tom Morris was brought in to create a regulation golf course, consisting of 18 holes. The clubhouse was constructed in 1898, and the starter’s box came in 1909.
Then, in 1926, five-time British Open winner James Braid was brought in to make the course more challenging. The plan worked, because just five short years later in 1931, Carnoustie hosted its first ever Open Championship.
As you will learn below, this was just the first of many trips for The R&A, as they have returned to the championship golf course at Carnoustie to host a plethora of Major Championships in the years since.
We will be sure to cover each on in great depth, especially the ’99 and ’07 Opens. Just because Jean van de Velde and Sergio Garcia have haunting images from those Championships doesn’t mean the rest of us have first-hand memories that we can relive and reminisce about.
But we’ll make sure you know so much about this course’s fame and feel that it’s like you’re there yourself.
Before that, why don’t we paint a picture of the golf course and take you on a tour through the most treacherous holes?
A Stern Test of Golf
If you have played Carnoustie, you know exactly how demanding of a links course it is. If you have just watched the tour pros at the Open Championship, you at least have an inkling of how challenging the holes are, even when the sun is shining.
Throw in some inclement weather like sideways rain and 35 mph gusts, and you’ll be lucky just to get out unscathed and with your heart still inside your chest. When the going gets tough at Carnoustie Golf Links, it’s not just about being ultra-skilled or extremely talented. It’s about having a preserving attitude and keeping your emotions in check.
Before we start telling you about the course, we should make you aware that there are such things as good rounds at Carnoustie. Just ask Tommy Fleetwood, who fired a course-record 63 during the second round of the 2017 Dunhill Links Championship.
So for the record, great rounds can be shot at Carnoustie; it just doesn’t happen too frequently.
The opening hole may seem like a generous par 4, measuring just over 400 yards from the back tees. Players will need to get off to a solid start because it won’t get any easier after this. If the winds are up, all we can do is wish you good luck making your way down the sixth hole.
The par 5 nicknamed “Hogan’s Aller” is where things really get tough. We’re talking about 580 yards that will play back into the prevailing wind.
Forget about the number on the scorecard, because when it blows at Carnoustie, this thing can literally play close 700 yards. The right side of the fairway is pinched in by large pot bunkers, not to mention a creek that sneaks up and runs down the right side of the hole as well.
Forget about bailing out left, because there are white out-of-bounds stakes lining the entire left side of the hole. Any drives pulled left of the fairway, and players will be reloading from the tee box.
While most players are licking their chops when they’re heading into a par five, it is usually quite the opposite as they walk off the fifth green at the Championship course at Carnoustie.
Once you arrive at the 10th tee and the start of the back nine, it’s time to buckle up and hang on for dear life. How would you like to play a 466-yard hole that only has a sliver of green grass that runs up the middle up the fairway in between massive bunkers on both sides?
If you stripe your tee shot, you then have to decide if you want to carry the Barry Burn river that cuts in front of the opening to the green. Yeah, forget about running up an approach shot to the 10th green; it’s all forced carry over a water hazard.
Believe or not, every single hole on the entire back 9 presents some sort of challenge, many of which are unique from others. For example, try stopping your ball on the par-3 13th if it’s howling downwind like it typically is.
Chances are that even a well-struck mid-to-iron will leave you over the hour-glass-shaped green. And sorry to break it to you, but chipping and putting is no bargain at this hole, either.
We wish there was an easy hole to tell you about, but we are describing Carnoustie, ladies and gentlemen, not your local muni.
If you can find a golf course with a tougher finishing stretch of four holes, please let us know, because we have yet to come across anything like it. The 15th hole will take two perfect shots just to reach the green, even for the scratch handicaps.
You are looking at 472 yards with the wind beating back into your face. Most players won’t even be able to reach the hole called “Lucky Slap” in regulation, where the real problems actually start.
Even if you can smack two good ones up somewhere near the front of the green, you’ll have to negotiate four pot bunkers that are strategically placed to swallow up any balls that try chasing in.
Don’t count on seeing many birdies at the 15th. Expect to see plenty of bogies and doubles, as they will be coming in bunches.
You’ll need to hang on for dear life on this back nine. Part of that is because of the 248-yard par-3 16th. With the 16th playing back into the teeth during the final round of the 1968 Open, Jack Nicklaus was the only player in the field to hit a tee shot beyond the hole.
This is basically a mini par 4, folks; it just says “3” on the scorecard.
The 17th at Carnoustie is a really cool hole for a variety of reasons. The Barry Burn River winds itself around the 17th fairway like a rattlesnake entangling himself around a branch.
Parts of the burn intersect both the right and left sides of the hole, and you must carry the burn two separate times by the time you reach the green. As crazy-difficult as this par 4 is, it’s only a warm-up for the finishing hole.
The “Home” hole, as it’s referred to, is as brutal as it gets. You won’t find a golf course in all of Scotland that has a tougher finishing hole, and you may not encounter one anywhere at all.
There is a cluster of fairway bunkers that eat up any tee ball that’s not down the middle. If you hit it left, you’ll have to hope it stays inside the white out-of-bounds markers that line the left side.
And the Barry Burn didn’t go anywhere. It coils itself around the hole and cuts back across the width of the fairway some 30-40 yards short of the green. We haven’t seen a lot of good here at the 18th at Carnoustie, but we have seen our fair share of bad.
Start reading about the British Opens that have been hosted here, and you’ll see what we mean.
The Open Championships at Carnoustie
The 2018 British Open is the 8th time the R&A has decided to use the 18 Championship holes at Carnoustie as the location of the Open Championship.
We have told you about the brutally difficult finish the players face. It’s time to dive right into the past Opens and recount the memories!
The first Open Championship at Carnoustie was one by Tommy Armour. The tournament was four rounds, with the final 36 holes being played on Friday, June 5th.
Tommy used a final-round 71 to storm from five shots back and win by one over Argentinian José Jurado. Armour received £100 for his efforts.
The tournament was played at 6,701 yards, which was incredibly long given the lack of equipment back then. This helps explain why the 36-hole cut fell at 15 over par.
After such a success in the inaugural Open Championship at Carnoustie, the tournament returned just six years later. Although once again no man was able to break par, Englishman Henry Cotton was the last man standing after 72 holes and a total of +2, 290.
He trailed leader Reg Whitcombe by 3 shots entering Sunday’s final round but used a 71 to surge past Whitcombe.
Similar to the 1931 Open, there was a 36-hole qualifier to determine the field, which was increased to 140 men after only allowing 100 golfers the first time around.
This Open was especially tough due to the cold and consistent rain that fell through the entirety of Friday’s final 2 rounds. Once again, £100 was awarded to the victorious golfer.
The Open returned to Carnoustie in 1953, but this time the Championship golfer of the year wasn’t only going to be paid £100. The 1953 Open Champion would be receiving a check for £515, and the name that was written on that check was none other than legendary Ben Hogan.
The significance of this victory was enormous. This capped off the career Grand Slam for Hogan, who became just the second player at the time (Gene Sarazen was the first) to accomplish the remarkable feat.
Even more impressive, “The Hawk’s” victory at the 1953 Open at Carnoustie was his third straight Major Championship victory of the season, after winning both the Masters and U.S. Open earlier in the year.
The only thing that stopped him from winning the PGA Championship in ’53 was the fact that he didn’t even enter the tournament.
While Ben Hogan was the second man to achieve the career Grand Slam in golf, the third man was a South African gentleman by the name of Gary Player. After completing the slam in 1965, Gary had gone three full years without winning another Major.
He got to taste victory again at Carnoustie in the 1968 Open, edging out Bob Charles and the Golden Bear himself. This wasn’t the first time that Gary would battle the great Jack Nicklaus down the stretch at a Major, and it sure wouldn’t be the last.
Player finished the ’68 British Open at +1, which was good enough to take home the £3,000 (about 7,200 American dollars) that was now the amount of the first-place check.
What is interesting to note is that very same week across the pond in Wisconsin, the Greater Milwaukee Open was being held, and the winner was taking home a whopping $40,000!
The 1968 Open also marked the beginning of an additional cut being utilized after 54 holes, trimming the field for the final round. This lasted through the 1985 competition.
Tom Watson has become synonymous with the British Open, thanks to his five victories and numerous other times he has gotten into contention. It all started in 1975 at Carnoustie, the site of Tom’s first Open Championship.
He got it done in a playoff over Australian Jack Newton, although many remember that it was Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller who came in at -8, one shot short of the playoff.
Watson and Newton were not only tied after 72 holes of regulation, but they were also tied after the first 17 holes of the playoff the following day. When Newton splashed his third shot from the greenside bunker to about 10 feet and missed his par putt, Watson was crowned Champion.
The weather was terrific the first three days, as evidenced by all the low scores and all the birdies that were made. However, Carnoustie came alive that July 12th Sunday afternoon, and suddenly pars were hard to come by.
Watson prevailed, and this was just the start of his Open Championship heroics that would last all the way into 2009.
Now for the most famous British Open at Carnoustie and quite possibly the most unforgettable finish we’ve ever seen at the Open.
Jean van de Velde had the British Open in his fingertips as he walked off the 17th green on Sunday, only to see it all slip away in horrific fashion. All Jean had to do was make a double-bogey on the 18th hole, and the Claret Jug was his.
And then came the 72nd hole of the Championship. Watch and listen as van de Velde talks us through what he was thinking as it all transpired.
After hitting his tee shot into the right rough, Jean had a choice to make. With a two-shot lead, he inexplicably took out his 2 iron and attempted to reach the green, a decision that he has had to live with for the rest of his days.
His ball sailed well right into the grandstands. If it dropped down into the rough, no big deal. Jean would have had no trouble making a 6 or better, and he would have won the Open.
Instead, his ball caromed off the metal railing and back into the rough. He then chunked his ball into the Barry Burn. After toying with the idea of going into the hazard and hitting the ball, he took his penalty drop.
Again, he chunked it short, this time landing in the bunker. He was now laying five and needed to gee the ball up and down for a triple bogey just to force a playoff.
The gutsy Frenchman pulled it off, only to lose in a playoff to Paul Lawrie (Justin Leonard was also in the playoff). Unthinkably, Lawrie started the final round 10 over par and 10 shots behind the leader before firing a gritty 67 and posting +6 in the clubhouse.
He waited for hours before learning his fate that he would be in the playoff. His 10-shot comeback is still the largest final-round comeback in any Major.
And we aren’t holding our breath for that record to be broken.
The 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie was the site of another meltdown of sorts, though not nearly as dreadful as van de Velde’s eight years prior. Spaniard Sergio Garcia entered Sunday’s final round in 2007 holding a three-shot lead.
The world-class player, who was 27 years old at the time, was in search of his first Major after coming so close so many times.
Garcia stood over an 8-foot left-to-right par putt on the 72nd hole that would have given him the Claret Jug. The putt lipped out, and Padraig Harrington pounced on the opportunity.
The Irishman used three pars and a birdie in the four-hole aggregate playoff to defeat Sergio, earning his first Major title. Clearly, Paddy used this as some serious momentum as he propelled this win the next season.
He defended his title, winning the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale, as well as winning the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills just weeks later. Once again, Sergio was his bridesmaid in Bloomfield Hills, finishing second to Harrington there as well.
You have read about what happened the last two times the Open was at Carnoustie – all hell broke loose. We all remember the unbelievable finish to the 2017 Open when Jordan Spieth decided to go “superhuman” on us for the last 5 holes.
Add that up, and we are in store for one heck of a ride this year. Frankly, there is way too much to cover leading into the 2018 Open Championship to try and jam it all into this dedicated guide to Carnoustie Golf Links.
We will be adding posts to our blog in the lead-up to the tournament, though, so be sure to check them out.
Don’t Forget About the Ladies and the Seniors
Carnoustie has been all about the Open Championships, but don’t forget about the two Senior British Opens that were played at Carnoustie.
Bernhard Langer’s 5 under par total in 2010 was good enough to get it done for his first Major Championship on the Senior Circuit. Clearly, Bernhard was just getting started, as the German won 8 Majors from just from 2014-2017 alone!
The next time the Senior British Open returned to Carnoustie was in 2016, and this time it took a score of 11 under par to seal the deal. Englishman Paul Broadhurst used exquisite rounds of 66-68-68 to rebound from an opening-round 75. Langer finished 7 shots off the pace after reeling off four consecutive 71s.
The one time the ladies came to Carnoustie was for the 2011 British Open. The tournament was played over a par-72, 6,490-yard layout, but somehow this didn’t bother them.
Just ask defending champion Yani Tseng, who had no trouble whatsoever navigating her way around the track en route to shooting -16 and coasting to a 4-shot victory.
Getting to Carnoustie
If you are an avid golf fan who has been thinking about making the trip to Scotland, there’s nothing to really think about. If you can set aside the time and money, you should seriously consider making the trip.
Dundee Airport is located just 25 minutes or so from the course, although you won’t find international flights that land there. If you are traveling from another country, your best bet is to book something into Edinburgh or Glasgow, although it’s a bit of a trek.
You are looking at about 70 miles from the airport in Edinburgh and closer to 100 miles from Glasgow. If you plan ahead of time and schedule some more links golf along the way, the commute will turn out to be a complete non-factor.
When you aren’t looking for your ball in the wispy grass at Carnoustie, think about checking out House of Dun or the Signal Tower Museum. Scottish castles can be found all over the countryside, and they are absolutely worth stopping by.
Stirling Castle and the Dunnottar Castle are just a couple to keep in mind.
Wherever you are in the world, there are ways to get to Carnoustie. It’s up to you to make it happen.
A Quick Recap
Carnoustie Golf Links isn’t the 28th-ranked golf course on the entire globe for no reason.
The pure beauty and sophistication of the design make Carnoustie one of the best Championship tracks in the world, and certainly in Scotland. Scotland is considered the home of golf because of historic places like Carnoustie.
We introduced the beginning days at Carnoustie before we transitioned into a detailed description of the course. The final four holes at the Championship course are as severe a finishing stretch as a golfer will ever play.
This is part of the reason why the R&A loves coming back to Carnoustie to host the Open Championship. It’s hard to find a golf course that has all the characteristics that Carnoustie possesses.
The famous Barry Burn that intertwines itself throughout the course is a reminder to stay on your toes. The course can jump up and bite you in an instant if you aren’t careful.
With the difficulty of the course combined with the pressure that the players face trying to win a Claret Jug, it’s no wonder we have seen the crazy finishes we have witnessed over the years.
The bottom line is that as long as British Opens are being played at Carnoustie Golf Links, we can count on staying glued to our seats until the very end.
As we learned in 1999 and 2007, the Open Championship isn’t over until the fat lady sings. Especially when it’s being played at Carnoustie!