By Stephen Hennessey
To most, Carnoustie Golf Links is known as the toughest test in the Open Championship rota. You know the Barry Burn—that snaking ribbon of water that has bitten winners and losers alike, from Paddy Harrington in 2007 and Jean Van De Velde in 1999. Do you know much about the course beyond that?
Though Allan Robertson is credited with the first layout at Carnoustie around 1842, golf in this area dates back to the sixteenth century, so it’s not farfetched to consider golf has been played on the ground of Carnoustie for 500 or so years. That’s serious history. Like most Scottish courses, Old Tom Morris is part of Carnoustie’s history. The legendary groundskeeper and course designer extended the original 10-hole layout to 18 holes in 1867. Prominent tournaments were held here in subsequent years, though it wasn’t until five-time Open winner James Braid came to Carnoustie in 1926 to make some updates. Five years later, Carnoustie hosted its first Open Championship.
You might know Ben Hogan won the 1953 Open here, in what’s considered to be one of the best years in major championship history (he won three majors, and all five tournaments he entered). But the early major history is impressive—Tommy Armour in 1931, Henry Cotton in 1937, Hogan in 1953, Gary Player in 1968 and Tom Watson in 1975.
Carnoustie measures just 7,402 yards from the tips, but when the wind blows over this Angus links, it truly becomes one of golf’s toughest tests. Here’s a look at some of the most notable features of what is often referred to as Carnasty.
A view from the Carnoustie Golf Hotel looking down the par-4 first hole ‘Cup’.
The first hole plays to a blind green that requires a shot over a high mound.
The par-4 second hole, nicknamed ‘Gulley,’ has a narrow landing area, demanding accuracy with your tee shot.
A delicate pitch is required over the stream known as “Jockie’s Burn” at the third hole. This flow of water comes into play on four of the first six holes at Carnoustie.
A view of the approach to the green on the par-4, third hole ‘Jockie’s Burn’.
The approach to the green on the par-4 fourth hole ‘Hillocks’.
The approach to the green on the par-4 fifth hole ‘Brae’ hole.
A view from behind the green on the par-4, fifth hole.
A more zoomed-out view from behind the green on the fifth hole.
A view of the approach to the green on the par-5, sixth hole ‘Hogan’s Alley’.
There are a number of “Hogan’s Alleys” in golf, most notably Riviera Country Club, site of Hogan winning three L.A. Opens, and the 1948 U.S. Open. And there is Colonial Country Club, where Hogan won the Colonial tournament five times in his career. But the sixth hole at Carnoustie is quite literally called “Hogan’s Alley,” an ode to his 1953 Open title. His knee so ravaged from his near-fatal car accident, Hogan didn’t even play a practice round—instead of walking the course backwards from the 18th green to the first tee, to get a look at it.
The tee shot at the par-4, seventh hole ‘Plantation’.
Behind the green at the par-3, eighth hole ‘Short’.
A view from behind the tee on the par-4, ninth hole ‘Railway’. As the story goes, Jack Nicklaus pointed to a large mound in the middle of the fairway as being unfair. When the Open was back seven years later, a bunker had replaced that mound.
A view of the approach to the green on the par-4, 10th hole ‘South America’.
According to local knowledge, ‘South America’ comes from a local caddie who was intent on making it to that faraway land. Armed with a bottle of Scotch whisky, this caddie made it only as far as the 10th hole, thus the hole’s name.
The tee shot at the par-4, 12th hole ‘Southward Ho’.
A view from the left side of the fairway at the 12th hole.
The par-3 13th hole ‘Whins’.
A view of the approach to the green on the par-5 14th hole with its ‘Spectacles Bunkers’.
A view of the approach to the green on the par-4 15th hole ‘Lucky Slap.’
A view from behind the green on the par-4 15th hole ‘Lucky Slap.’
A view from behind the green on the par-3 16th hole ‘Barry Burn’.
Though James Braid is credited with the current layout, the club’s greens chairman in 1931, James Wright, created the design for the final three holes—and you’d be hard-pressed to find three tougher finishing holes in golf. That starts with the demanding par-3 16th hole. It can play as far back as 248 yards.
A view from the tee on the par-4 17th hole ‘Island’.
A view of the approach to the green on the par-4 17th hole ‘Island’.
A view of the approach to the green on the par-4 finishing hole.
From Van de Velde and Johnny Miller—who failed to get up and down from one of the bunkers at 18 to get into a playoff with Jack Nicklaus and Jack Newton in the 1975 Open, to Paddy Harrington, who held on with a double bogey to force extra holes, the 18th hole has decided many a fate at the Open, and likely will again on Sunday.
A view from the Carnoustie Golf Hotel, overlooking the ‘Home’ hole (right) and the par-4, first hole (left).