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Carnoustie Championship Course©

Carnoustie has been called "Car-nasty" for good reason. It's a monster! Difficult, petulant, vindictive and it's also long--VERY long. On a windy day, which is a typical day here,it will exhaust you. But if you brought along your game, it can also be among the most exhilirating Scottish links golf experiences of your life.

On many days Carnoustie is too much golf course for the average golfer or even many above-average golfers. The visitor's tees are almost 6,700 yards so, unless you are an extremely long hitter, if the wind is blowing it will wear you out! The entire golf course is not for the faint of heart. Better to play from the short tees which are "only" 6,405 yards. (Even the ladies' tees are 6,127 yards, which is as long as many men's tees on other Scottish golf courses.)

A trio of nasty Carnoustie pot bunkers on this difficult final qualifying course for the British Open
Three nasty pot bunkers on the 6th--a long par 5. If you get in one of these beasts, don't try to get too fancy, just get out.

But the stark yardage doesn't tell the entire story. Carnoustie is located at the northern tip of the Tay estuary, where the Tay River rushes into the North Sea. It's virtually always windy, which means many holes will play much, much longer than they normally would and, of course, some will play shorter.

Diabolical wind makes a difference

I believe that wind always hurts more than it helps. At the end of the day it costs you shots. On this course, for example, when the wind is in your face you will have to club up 1 to 3 clubs--or more. A par 4 easily turns into a par 5 and a par 5 into a par 6. Plus, when it is blowing from either side you also have to compensate. That's always tricky because you can feel the wind at ground level but it can be much stronger at the higher level your ball travels. Or you can just plain misjudge the wind, resulting in a lost ball. It's only when the wind is behind you that it can help. But how much help can it give you? No matter how strongly it's blowing, it hardly ever gives the mid-handicapper a chance to get to a par 5 in 2--especially when bunkers are fronting the green. So there's no advantage on any par 5. And it'll never be blowing hard enough to get you to a par 4 in one. Plus, often on the par 4s the ball needs to be placed in a certain position on the fairway to have the best shot at the green, so the wind behind is not that much help in either event.
The wind is a diabolical influence on Carnoustie. It's always present and demands to be taken into consideration on every shot--even your putts!!! For example, if you have a long putt and the wind is howling behind you, the ball will roll and roll and roll on these manicured greens. Then, after rolling way past the hole, the tendency will be to hit the next putt short and with the wind blowing at you, you may not even get there.

A round of golf at Carnoustie

The day I played Carnoustie we had to play from the championship tees--I'm not really sure why but that's what the starter told us to do and, in Scotland, you don't question the starter (not if you want to start, you don't). The wind was really howling with gusts up to 35 MPH. We were clubbing up and down 2 and 3 clubs all day. I'm pretty accurate but not the longest driver in the world (I'm very happy with a 225 yards drive). To give you an example of how this kind of wind can affect your game, on the 520 yard 6th, the wind was smack-dab in our faces. I hit what I thought was a really solid drive (at least it felt like it) and then a solid 3 woods and a 4 iron and I was still 50 yards from the green. That was typical of the day. It seemed every time the wind was behind us we were facing a par 3 or a short par 4 where we didn't need it. In fact, the wind was constantly shifting. Did you ever have a day when the wind always seemed to be blowing at you? (You feel like Rodney Dangerfield--"you don't get no respect!") Carnoustie is like that--a typical links course and links courses are usually windy. But unlike some other links courses such as St. Andrews, which are "out and back," Carnoustie is played around the perimeter of another course--the lesser known Burnside Course (a fine course, by the way) and so the wind should always be coming from a different direction. (That's the theory, at least. When we played we counted 12 holes where the wind was directly in our face on the tee. Go figure.)

Looks Are Deceiving

When you stand on the first tee and look out on the course you wonder "what's all the fuss?" Ben Hogan reportedly was disappointed when he saw Carnoustie for the first time because there were no hills or trees. But links courses don't need hills and trees. Their challenge is the undulations in the fairways, the positioning of the greens, the punishing rough, the "bomb-crater" bunkers, and the wind…always the wind.

To give you another example of how the wind affects this course and how it can shift, during the last day of the Open Championship in 1968, Jack Nicklaus hit a driver and wedge on the 14th, which at that time measured 454 yards. (His drive went 345 yards and that's with a persimmon driver.) On the par 3, 245 yards 16th, (that's right, a 245 yard par 3) he was the only player to get the ball past the green all day--and he used a driver! There's not that much difference in the orientation of the holes either. The 14th plays west to east and the 16th southwest to northeast. The problem was that the wind shifted drastically in only two holes.

Carnoustie's excellent yardage book

Be sure you get yourself a yardage book. Carnoustie's yardage book is one of the best I've seen and will be a great aid to you. It not only has a plan of how the hole is laid out and the distances, it also tells you how to play each hole.

Here's a sample from their yardage book :

HOLE 10 - 466 Yards - Par 4

This hole is one of the most demanding holes on the course. A long drive is required that avoids sand. The approach is to a green protected in front and to the right by Barry Burn. If your ball is to avoid a watery grave a positive full shot is required to the heart of the green. If your tee shot was not your Sunday best, laying up short might be the best option.

[Hole 12 offers hope:]

HOLE 12 - 506 Yards - Par 5
A tough drive over gorse. The tee aims slightly down the right side of the fairway so take care. The bunkers short of the green can be penal, avoid them. A shallow green awaits. Birdie chance
[Or how about this for irony. Keep in mind the yardage book was published before the Open Championship was played there in 1999.]

HOLE 18 - 516 Yards - Par 5
A truly great finishing hole. Aside from the sand traps from the tee, this long hole is made all the more difficult by the meandering Barry Burn. It creates the necessity for an accurate tee shot and an approach that is perfectly struck. This hole will prove to be your own 'friend or enemy': perhaps it will determine The 1999 Open Champion?…and many more to come…
(Emphasis added.)

Play smart when you play Carnounstie

Don't be like "almost Open Champion" Jean van der Velde. Follow the advice in the book. Play smart when you play Carnoustie. If you don't, it will slap you down and penalize you severely. An 8 or 9 on any hole is a possibility, as Monsieur van der Velde will attest.
(I didn't play the 18th at all well, but got away with a par when I hit a 3 wood on my third shot that bounced over the Barry Burn and rolled onto the green. Certainly one of the luckiest shots I've ever hit.)

A Word About Hazards

There are only two rules for getting out of the gorse, the rough or a pot bunker. Memorize these two rules:
Rule #1: Just get the ball back in play.
Rule #2: If you think you can hit a great shot and get the ball on the green, see rule #1.

Nothing can get you into more trouble at Carnoustie (or for that matter at any links course) than trying to do too much when you are in the rough or in trouble. There are times when the best play in a bunker is to hit it backwards rather than forward. (As David Duval should have done at the 17th at St. Andrews during the 2000 Open Championship.)

If you are in trouble, don't get fancy, JUST GET THE BALL BACK IN PLAY. Take your bogey and be thankful it's not a snowman or worse. There was a young man playing in our foursome who was extremely long off the tee. He played to a 4 handicap but, like many teenagers, did a terrible job in managing the course. Wasting 3 shots in one fairway bunker trying to do too much with it, he finally hit it into deep rough and then took 3 more shots trying to hit a career shot rather than just getting it back onto the fairway. So upset with himself, he next fluffed his approach and ended up with an 11 on a par 4. His father was in the same bunker off the tee but realized it was too dangerous to try to hit it forward so he hit it out backwards. To his son's dismay he then hit his approach shot within 10 yards of the front of the green and chipped in for a par.

The verdict in playing Carnoustie

My advice is if you are going to play this course, check out the weather. If it's going to be cold and/or very windy, wait for another day. You will be exposed to the raw elements since there are no trees or hills to break the wind coming off the North Sea. If it's the only day you can play, dress warmly and in layers and be sure to wear a good, waterproof windbreaker and pack your rainpants.

There are many golf courses in Scotland and the UK that are as challenging, fairer, and less expensive than Carnoustie. Still, its reputation as an Open Championship course makes it more famous than it's well deserving siblings and thus a "must play" for the average golfer visiting Scotland. But don't let your desire to play it preclude your playing the other great courses in the area just because you want to have the bragging rights of having played a British Open Championship golf course. If you do play it, try to choose a day when the wind is a bit milder than usual. If the only day you can play is a day when the wind is howling, dress appropriately. But don't blame me if you get mugged.

Note: The two other golf courses at Carnoustie -- Burnside and Buddon Links -- are both quite good courses and worth a play, especially if you want to play all day. They are also a good choice if your partner's game is not up to the rigors of the lengthly championship layout.

(Graeme Duncan, the General Manager, says if the Burnside Links were not right next to Carnoustie Championship Course, it would be famous in its own right. I tend to agree with him. The championship links wrap themselves around the Burnside Links so the topography is virtually the same. And the wind blows just as much over both courses.)

The Golf Nook rating -- BIRDIE.


Want a bonus?
If you have the time and would like more good golf in the Carnoustie area, try these two courses -- and Neither will disappoint you.
Where to Stay in Carnoustie

Guest Host

The historic Championship course is just 10 yards from the front door of this new and highly acclaimed guest house. In fact, it's the only guest house in Carnoustie offering accommodation on a B&B basis overlooking the famous and historic Carnoustie Championship Golf Course. You'll have a fantastic uninterrupted view over the 18th fairway of the championship course, and the1st tees of the 3 local golf courses are also in sight. The free on-site parking and ground floor storage facilities add comfort and ease to your stay, and a very big plus to staying here is you'll have an authentic Scottish experience.
The 4 star Linksview Guest House has 4 bedrooms, each with its own contemporary bathroom and large king bed, which can be turned into twins if desired.

Hosts June and Phil would like to welcome you to Linksview Guest House Carnoustie. We think you'll agree it's a GREAT addition to Carnoustie.

Mary-Alice suggests ...
What to Do All Day around Carnoustie
Carnoustie is about a 45 minutes drive from St. Andrews. I relish the drive as another opportunity to savour the Scottish landscape and discover some hidden delights usually unnoticed by tourists. Go over the Tay Bridge, then take either the A92 in the direction of Arbroath, watching for the sign post to turn right for "Carnoustie 2 miles," which takes you into the town centre. Or...another option is after you cross the Tay Bridge take the A920 directly to Carnoustie. The latter option takes a few minutes longer, as it passes through a few local villages on the way. But we think it's more interesting, and so we usually go one way and come back the other.

When you reach the golf course (which is clearly marked along the way), pull into the "Championship & Budden Links Bus & Car Park" on the seafront, just east of the Carnoustie Golf Course Hotel--a good place to have a meal or even browse around. The entire site, including golf course, overlooks the North Sea. As usual, you'll meet several fine dogs playing on the sands. There is a good walkway above the beach, with a stairway leading down to the sands. Go to your right (west) on the footpath and you will skirt the Championship Course. Go left (east) and you will follow the sea. It is usually very--or should I say extremely--windy in either direction, so bring appropriate clothing. Do not judge this area by the weather conditions in St. Andrews.

The BIG draw back to Carnoustie, as far as I'm concerned, is the incessant crack of rifle firings from a nearby military rifle practice range. It's more than irritating. But on the other hand, don't let it stop you from visiting this area.

Barry Mill -- just north of Barry Village, 2 miles west of Carnoustie between the A92 and the A930. You'll see sighnposts for it. Barry Mill is a working mill which grinds corn and has a large water wheel. After you visit the mill you can take a delightful walk on the footpath that runs along the mill lade. Barry Mill is open daily from April through October.