Carnoustie Regarded as Toughest Course on Open Rota and a Most Memorable Venue
In 1999, the course became known as “Carnasty” after 101 scores were posted of 80 or higher during the Open Championship at Carounstie in Angus, Scotland. That included 89 and 83 by 19-year old Sergio Garcia, who was making his Open debut and cried like a little boy after being overmatched at the historic championship venue at Carnoustie Golf Links, the hardest links course on the Open rota. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A) governing body has learned from that experience, which produced a shocking collapse and remarkable playoff winner with a 6-over par winning score.
The 2018 Open is July 19-22 at Carnoustie and will play to a Par 71 and 7,401 yards, close to the same length as in 2007, when Sergio Garcia returned from his disastrous 1999 debut and lost in a 4-hole playoff to Padraig Harrington, after both finished a 7-under par (277) through 72 holes. Harrington avoided being the goat after hitting two balls into Barry Burn and making a double-bogey on the final hole. Shortly after, Garcia lipped out a 10-foot par putt that would have given him the Claret Jug. Garcia started the final round with a 3-shot lead and a number of challengers were in close contention on the back 9 before mistakes and missed putts sent them scrambling, including Steve Stricker, Andres Romero and Ernie Els. Stricker shot a then British Open record at Carnoustie with a 64 during Saturdays round only to see his trusty putting stroke betray him Sunday in the final group as Stricker (74) and Garcia (73) shot the worst rounds of the day of anyone that finished in the top-20.
That was a most memorable Open, not only for its finish, but personally too, as I had a 4-digit payday taken away after Sergio blew his chance to win the Open over the tough closing stretch of holes 15-18. Garcia was 30-1 at the time to win the 2007 Open Championship, and while we won some tournament match-ups with him, it was a frustrating finish from a win-wagering perspective. The R&A’s Silver Medal for low amateur at the Open that year was a guy named Rory McIlroy, who three months later would become the youngest player to earn his European Tour card at age 18. McIlroy has since won four major titles including the Open Championship in 2014 at Royal Liverpool (Hoylake).
Historic Collapse at Carnoustie in 1999 Open
That 2007 finish however pales in comparison to perhaps the greatest collapse in Open history in 1999 at Carnoustie, where it became known as “Carnasty” because of its thick rough, narrow fairways and a potent spell of bad weather. Frenchman Jean Van de Velde made a triple-bogey 7 on the 72nd hole, and then lost in a 3-way playoff to the American Justin Leonard and the eventual winner, Scotland’s Paul Lawrie. I remember watching the collapse live with friends after playing a round of golf myself that morning. Google “Jean Van de Velde” and you’ll see the stories, images and videos of the monumental meltdown and historic collapse on the 72nd hole that sent the press into a panic and made golf history. Paul Lawrie’s playoff victory also represents the largest final round deficit (10 strokes) overcome to win a major championship.
Those memories are vivid, as are the ones I had in 1994 when I made the trek to Scotland to get a taste of the sport as it was invented. Golf began some 600 years ago on the links land of Scotland, and 16 of us had a most memorable trip rotating through our ‘Fairway Foursomes’ and playing some of the iconic golf courses in Scotland. From the “Home of Golf” at St. Andrews to Turnberry, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Royal Dornoch, Prestwick, Gleneagles, Nairn and the exclusive Muirfield, we have special memories and enjoyable moments of golf and friends. We teamed up and played golf matches on links courses along the rugged dunes linking land to the sea. We experienced the various tests the particular courses presented, where firm fairways, thick rough and gorse, strong winds, rain and deep (pot) bunkers could challenge us and players of all abilities. It’s a remarkable and memorable experience, and one many of us would repeat in Ireland five years later in 1999.
Carnoustie is a beast, ‘Car-Nasty’ for sure, but one that ranks among the very best courses in Scotland. It will be a tough Open test, but produce a strong champion. You can bet on it.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay