The Open Championship

Carnoustie has hosted The Open Championship on eight occasions, most recently in 2018.

Carnoustie receives Open Championship plaudits for 2007

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Carnoustie Golf Links has been delighted with the overwhelmingly positive response that it received both during Open Championship week and in the aftermath of what was a truly memorable tournament, climaxing in one of the most dramatic and memorable finishes ever witnessed in a Major Championship.

Throughout Championship week, the course received glowing praise from both competitors and the world’s media for its stunning condition, the way in which it was set up and the true test it presented. In particular the closing stretch, encompassing holes 16, 17 and 18 offered no let up for the players and provided the setting for a truly demanding and fascinating finale.

As host venue Carnoustie was privileged to witness the first all-European playoff in a Major Championship in modern times between the enigmatic Spaniard Sergio Garcia and the ever popular Irishman Padraig Harrington. Such was the quality and drama it was almost a shame that one man had to lose, but in the end it was Padraig Harrington who claimed his first Major title and lifted the famous Claret Jug, becoming the first European to win a Major Championship since Paul Lawrie won here 8 years previously.

The R & A were also delighted by the way in which the course was set up throughout Open Championship week, with Peter Dawson commenting that he would love to see the Championship return to Carnoustie as soon as possible.

As a venue we are delighted with these comments and would welcome the opportunity to host the Championship again with open arms. Amongst the many plaudits received from the world’s finest golfers included the following flattering comments:

“The golf course is hard, but it’s fair. I think it’s a fantastic test.” Tiger Woods

“I didn’t realise what a wonderful golf course it is. It’s terrific.” Phil Mickelson.

“One of the toughest and best links courses that we have in the world.” Colin Montgomerie

“It’s got length. It’s got great bunkering. You’ve really got to have your wits with you to play this golf course. It’s probably the best bunkered course that you’ll ever find anywhere in the world.” Ernie Els

“There isn’t a player who didn’t find this course a test and enjoyed that test. Credit to Carnoustie, it’s one of the best in the world.” Padraig Harrington

1999 – Lawrie picks up the pieces

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Over the years, Carnoustie has staged more that its fair share of great Opens but when it comes to sheer drama none compares with the 1999 Championship, won by Paul Lawrie, but lost by the enigmatic Frenchman Jean Van de Velde.

The 1999 Championship, Carnoustie’s first since 1975, featured a climax so extraordinary, so unexpected, that it will never be forgotten. It resulted in Lawrie becoming the first Scotsman to win the Open on native soil for 68 years but also made Frenchman, Van de Velde, headline news all over the world.

The records show that Lawrie, the first qualifier to win the Open since the R & A started to give exemptions in 1963, won the title after recording rounds of 73,74.76,67 and then beating Van de Velde and former champion, Justin Leonard, in a subsequent four hole play-off. However, what the bare facts don’t explain are the incredible scenes witnessed on the 72nd hole.

To set the scene, Lawrie, then ranked 159th on the official World Rankings, had started the final round ten shots out of the lead. Despite a fine four under par 67, he was still three shots behind Van de Velde as the Frenchman mounted the last tee but, sensing something might happen, continued to practise his putting as a worldwide audience measured in millions watched in amazement as Van de Velde proceeded to implode.

Lawrie deserves huge credit for the manner in which he played, both during the last round and in the resultant play-off but, in the end, he still could not have prevailed had it not been for Van de Velde perpetrating one of the biggest collapses in sporting history.

Needing only a double bogey six on the final hole to become the first Frenchman to win the Open for 92 years, Van de Velde ran up a catastrophic triple bogey seven, even having to hole a brave 10-foot putt to get into the play-off.

What transpired left the eloquent BBC golf commentator, Peter Alliss, almost lost for words. The Frenchman hit his drive right off the tee, finding dry land, albeit on a peninsula guarding the Barry Burn. From there, he could have hit wedge, wedge onto the green but, instead, elected to go for the green in two. Sadly for him, his second shot did not come off as he had envisaged. Instead, it hit the upper tier of a grandstand and rebounded into the deep rough.

That was the start of Van de Velde’s problems. Next, the horrified gallery watched as his third shot came out softly and went into the burn in front of the green. After that, the episode became almost surreal. To begin with, the Frenchman chose to take off his shoes and roll up his trouser legs before jumping into the water to see if he could hit his submerged ball. Finally, as the water lapped around his ankles, sense prevailed. Van de Velde took a drop in the rough but then hit his fifth shot into the bunker guarding the right of the green. Under the circumstances, he displayed exemplary fortitude to blast his sixth shot out to ten feet and then hole the resultant putt. Click here to watch the 18th unfold.

Sadly, though, Van de Velde’s chance to win the Claret Jug had gone. On the first play-off hole, clearly still in torment over what had happened ten minutes earlier, he hit his tee shot into a gorse bush leaving Lawrie and Leonard, the 1997 champion, to battle it out.

In the end it was the unheralded Scotsman who prevailed. He moved into the lead when he holed a 12-foot birdie on the 17th, the third play-off hole, and then sealed his first major title when he hit his second shot to three feet for another birdie on the 18th.

All in all, it was an admirable performance from Lawrie, albeit one that is often forgotten as a result of Van de Velde’s unforgettable collapse.

1975 – Love at 1st sight for Watson

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Most mere mortals take a while to learn the nuances of links golf, but not Tom Watson, who, like Ben Hogan some 22 years before, arrived at Carnoustie in 1975 never having played a links course in his life but left with The Open title in his grasp.

Nowadays, Watson freely admits that he no idea what links golf was all about when he arrived at Carnoustie for his first Open but, with the help of his faithful caddie, Alfie Fyles, and some strangely subdued weather, he soon found his feet.

Watson began his challenge with rounds of 71, 67 and 69 that left him just three shots behind leader, Bobby Cole, and in the frame alongside an eclectic group comprising Jack Nicklaus, Jack Newton, Neil Coles, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin and Andries Oosthuizen. The following day, with the weather worsening slightly, the American carded a resolute 72 for a four round aggregate of 279 and then watched as, one by one, the other leaders failed to mount a charge. Some, such as Coles, Oosthuizen, Mahaffey, Coles and Irwin moved backwards. Nicklaus could only replicate Watson’s 72 and when Miller failed to get out of a fairway bunker on the 72nd hole it was left to Newton to two-putt to tie, necessitating an 18-hole play-off to decide the title.

The 18-hole play-off, the last of its kind in the Open, turned out to be a strangely muted affair but it was not settled until Watson two putted from 20 feet on the last and then the Australian missed from 5 feet. In the end, Watson recorded a 71, one better than Newton, thereby starting a sequence that would see the American win five Opens over the next nine years. Watson’s love for links golf affair had been kindled. It turned out to be an enduring affair.

1968 – Wonder shot gives Player his 2nd Open title

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Gary Player won on four Continents during the 1968 season but there is little doubt that the high spot of his year came when he won The Open at Carnoustie.

It was the South African’s second success in the championship and was achieved with the help of a wonder shot during his final round.

“The shot”, as it is still described in the Angus town, came at the par five 14th hole. Player had gone ahead for the first time in the Championship at the sixth but, by the time he reached the Spectacles, he was back in a tie with America’s Billy Casper and New Zealand’s Bob Charles on two under par.

A play-off was starting to seem inevitable but that was before the fearless South African grabbed his 3-wood and used it to despatch his ball to within two feet of the hole to set up a decisive eagle three.

The South African went on post a final round of 73, for a four round one over par aggregate of 289, two in front of Charles and Jack Nicklaus and three ahead of Casper. England’s Maurice Bembridge closed with a 74 to finish alone in fifth place on 293 and Scotland’s Brian Barnes, England’s Neil Coles and America’s Gay Brewer were one place further back on 295. Alone among the challengers, Player completed the 72 holes without recording a six, and only twice did he three-putt, no mean feat on Carnoustie’s treacherous greens.

The Carnoustie course, lengthened to 7,252 yards, was, at the time, the longest ever presented for an Open. That year, the championship rules were also altered to introduce a cut after 36 holes. Under the rules, the top 80, and those tied on 80th place, were eligible to continue. After the third round, the field was further reduced to the top 45 and ties.

1953 – Hogan completes the 3rd leg of the Grand Slam

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Ben Hogan only ever competed in one Open Championship but, when he did play, he certainly did not disappoint.

Nowadays, more than 50 years later, Hogan’s win at the 1953 Open at Carnoustie is still remembered as if it was yesterday, not just for the manner in which he won, but also for the meticulous way he prepared for his sole appearance in the world’s oldest golfing event.

The story goes that Hogan only came to the Open because Gene Sarazen, and one or two others, told him he could not be considered a true great until he won the championship. True or not, Hogan was certainly in a determined mood when he arrived in Scotland, and his preparations left absolutely nothing to chance.

Hogan came to Carnoustie a full two weeks before the championship started and proceeded to use that time to practise, to get to know the Carnoustie course, and to acquaint himself with the smaller British golf ball.

To no real surprise to anyone, Hogan’s diligence paid off. After opening with a 73, he then produced ever-improving rounds of 71, 70 and 68. That gave him a then-record Open aggregate of 282 and a four shot winning margin over an international foursome comprising America’s Frank Stranahan, Argentina’s Antonio Cerda, Australia’s Peter Thomson and Wales’ Dai Rees. It also made him the first, and, to date, only man to achieve the first three legs of the Grand Slam, having previously won the Masters by five strokes and the US Open by six.

1937 – Cotton claims his 2nd Open title at Carnoustie

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In an age when no British golfer won the Open more than once, Henry Cotton stood out like a colossus. He won the world’s oldest championship three times, elevating him into a position alongside Nick Faldo as the two greatest British golfers of the modern age.

Cotton’s first Open win came in 1934 when he won by five strokes at Royal St George’s despite closing with a 79. Three years later, he came to Carnoustie and won again, this time with one of the finest rounds ever played in an Open.

The records show that Cotton returned a 71, to finish two shots clear of Reg Whitcombe on 292 but that bald statistic gives no indication of the conditions he and the rest of the field had to endure.

Cotton’s 71 was compiled in torrential rain on a water-logged course and, for that reason, it can be considered to be one of his greatest achievements, surpassed, perhaps, only by the course record 66 that gave him his third Open title at Muirfield in 1948.

Certainly, few of his rivals coped nearly as well in the dreadful weather conditions. Horton Smith and another American, Charles Lacey, did return 72s on that final afternoon but Byron Nelson had a 74, Sam Snead carded a 76 and Densmore Shute and Henry Picard both ballooned to 80s.

Meanwhile, Cotton seemed almost oblivious to the conditions. He started 4, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4 and was out in 35. Suddenly, after being three shots behind at the start, he now had a one shot lead and he was soon to go three in front before dropping a shot at the last when the title was well and truly within his grasp.

1931 – Open Championship, a first for Carnoustie

Carnoustie’s 1st Open – Click here to view the silent highlights.

Tommy Armour was a popular winner when Carnoustie staged its first Open Championship back in 1931.

Armour, who was born in Edinburgh in 1896, but who emigrated to America in the 1920s, produced rounds of 73, 75, 77, 71 to finish one shot ahead of Argentina’s Jose Jurado and two in front of England’s Percy Alliss and America’s Gene Sarazen. However, he might not have won it had his Argentinean rival not miscalculated what he needed to do coming down the last

Jurado, the first of the great Latin America golfers, came to the final hole thinking he needed a four to win and a five to tie. After hitting a good drive, he elected to play short of the water, rather than go for the carry over the burn, and it was to prove to be a costly decision because he later found he needed a four to tie Armour on 296.

Armour, known as the Silver Scot, lost an eye in a mustard gas attack while fighting in the British Army during the World War 1 but that did not stop him compiling a fine record as a Tour professional. In addition to the 1931 Open, the Scot also won the 1927 US Open and the 1930 USPGA. Later, he went on to become one of the game’s finest teachers, penning the instruction classics, How to Play Your Best Golf All The Time and A Round of Golf With Tommy Armour.

At the 1931 Open, the Scottish émigré missed a short putt on the 71st hole and had a similar putt on the last. “I took a new grip, holding the club as tightly as I could and with stiff wrists,” he recalled. “From the instant the club left the ball on the backswing I was blind and unconscious. I do not know how the ball went into the hole.”

Carnoustie native, MacDonald Smith, who, like Armour emigrated and became a naturalised American, shared fifth place at the 1931 Open with Johnny Farrell, thus perpetuated his series of near misses in Major championships. Between 1910 and 1936, MacDonald came within three shots of the winner in eleven different Opens and US Opens. He was runner up in two Opens, in 1930 and 1932, but never won the Major title he craved. His brothers, Alex and Willie, won three US Opens between them.