Carnoustie Country: A Links Paradise

Fergus Bisset plays two fabulous links courses at Carnoustie and Panmure

Carnoustie Golf Links Championship Course Review Carnoustie Golf Links Championship Course Pictures

Fergus Bisset heads over the Cairn O’Mount to Angus to play two fabulous links courses at Carnoustie and Panmure.

The stretch of Scottish coastline from Monifieth, at the eastern edge of Dundee, to the town of Carnoustie is home to five superb links layouts: Monifieth, Panmure, Burnside, Buddon and the 2018 Open Championship venue, the Championship course at Carnoustie. For lovers of links golf, there are few destinations to rival this small corner of Angus for proliferation and quality of courses.

I would definitely fall into the “lover of the links” category so was delighted to be invited to Carnoustie to participate in the annual Carnoustie Media Jug. It’s a prestigious tournament and the list of names that don’t appear on the attractive trophy is impressive. Nicklaus, Watson, Hogan, Player and Woods: None of them have ever been able to get their hands on this coveted prize.

With the thought of those greats in mind, the pressure was on as we prepared to do battle over the magnificent Championship course at Carnoustie yesterday, and the sense of trepidation was heightened by the fact the tournament operates a relegation system. The player who finishes last will find that the publication they represent will not be invited back the following year. I’m not entirely sure this penalty has ever been enforced, but the threat that it might is enough to set the pulse racing.

Before the rigours of the Media Jug, the contestants were able to warm up in relaxed fashion at Panmure Golf Club on Tuesday afternoon. In 1953, Ben Hogan completed his preparation for The Open Championship at Panmure before going on to win at Carnoustie, so we were following in illustrious footsteps.

Ben Hogan. Credit: Getty Images

Ben Hogan. Credit: Getty Images

Hogan only ever played three courses in Scotland – Panmure, the Burnside at Carnoustie in Open qualifying and then the Championship course in the event proper. His legacy is strong in this area and many older members of the local clubs recall seeing him play that summer.

At Panmure, where a great deal of history is to be found, Hogan’s visit is fondly remembered. There are tales of the accuracy of his practising, firing 2-irons to within feet of where his caddy Cecil Timms was standing to collect the balls and, my favourite, that he hand-mowed the 17th green himself to get it as fast as possible for short game practice.

Panmure Golf Club was founded in 1845 and moved to its current site at Barry in 1899. The club has played host to a number of significant championships over the years, most recently the Amateur Championship (together with Carnoustie) in 2015.

Before heading out onto the links, we enjoyed a heartening lunch of soup and sandwiches in the characterful Dalhousie Room in the clubhouse. Wood panelled, with portraits by Raeburn and Sargent on the walls there’s a timeless feel and I could imagine Hogan, and those before him, looking upon the grand old portraits and out up the 1st fairway.

Panmure's striking clubhouse

Panmure's striking clubhouse

The 1st fairway triggered an amusing memory for me. Prior to The Open in 2007, Golf Monthly paid a visit to Panmure for an early evening game. Before playing, Mike Harris, Neil Tappin, Jezz Ellwood and I spent some time speaking to then secretary Charles Philip: a great character who we were keen to impress with our knowledge of the game and technical prowess. We got a touch carried away and talked up our own abilities to such a level that Mr Philip suggested we should play the course off the back tees. We agreed, full of bluster and bravado. He watched on from the clubhouse window as we hit off. My first ball was sliced out-of-bounds, the other three failed to get theirs airborne and my "provisional" never left the ground either. We proceeded to play the remainder of the hole in the style of complete beginners – an episode still referred to in the office as the “Panmure Topathon.” I can only imagine how much Mr Philip chuckled, as I didn’t dare look back. Thankfully he’d gone home by the time we finished. This time I tried to show a little more humility pre-round and negotiated the 1st more successfully, there’s some sort of lesson to be had there.

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The course at Panmure is extremely good fun to play. It’s basically an out-and-back links but a great feature is that the par-3s play across the layout. The predominant wind will be against on the way out and helping on the way back, although it was the other way round on Tuesday. But, either way, those par-3s will generally be played with a crosswind, adding an extra element of challenge.

With undulating fairways, dunes, swales and sloping greens, this is a brilliant links course with an eclectic selection of holes. The sixth was Hogan’s favourite – a long par-4 with a fairway that narrows into a bottleneck and a thin green that demands a precise approach. Hogan recommended a bunker be placed to the front right of the green and it lurks as an ominous threat for any second shot falling slightly short.

Panmure's 6th hole

Panmure's 6th hole

The run for home alongside the railway was tough, playing as we did into the wind. The par-5 14th demanded three strong shots and the par-3 16th, at over 230 yards required a driver.

Considering the layout back in the clubhouse, built in the style of the one at Royal Calcutta in India, we decided that we’d probably played the course with an easier wind than normal as, although the prevailing wind helps on the last six, you’d have a tough time battling out to the turn into the teeth. The course is testing but fair, it’s not overly long and good shots will be rewarded. It’s a layout where solid play and careful strategy will be rewarded and that’s as it should be. In great condition for this time of year, it was a joy to visit.

After that excellent warm-up, final preparations for the Media Jug were completed in the Carnoustie Hotel where general manager Gordon McIntosh, ensured we were fully sustained with generous servings of beef brisket and an unspecified volume of red wine.

The Carnoustie Hotel

It’s amazing to stay right on the edge of an Open Championship course as you can at the Carnoustie Hotel. When I woke the next morning I opened the curtains to unveil a tremendous view, straight down the 1st fairway – inspiring stuff, despite the slightly grey and drizzly conditions. The weather didn’t spoil the day though thankfully, the rain never came to much and was off completely by the time we’d played the front nine.

I’ve always said that I think the Championship course at Carnoustie delivers the best test of golf of any course I’ve ever played and I’ll stand by that. On the way round Colin McLeod of Carnoustie Golf Links asked me my favourite hole. It’s a tough question as so many are so very good. The par-5 6th with Hogan’s Alley and the snaking burn hampering a lay-up, the strong 9th, straightaway but with strategic bunkering waiting to catch a drive or approach that errs just slightly, the 14th with the iconic "spectacle" bunkers and then the last two with the Barry Burn so eager to collect a poorly judged shot. There are no weak links, each hole heads in a slightly different direction and the hazards are perfectly placed so as to be harsh but fair.

The nature of the challenge at Carnoustie leads to amazing tournaments. The Opens held here in recent years have been amongst the most thrilling in the history of the event – Paul Lawrie’s 10-shot comeback and Van de Velde’s implosion in 1999 then the Harrington/Garcia playoff of 2007. The Open will return to the great course in 2018 and this year the British Senior Open will be contested over the links. That one will definitely be worth coming along to with the likes of Bernhard Langer (a winner at Carnoustie in 2010,) 1975 Carnoustie Open champion Tom Watson and home favourite Colin Montgomerie all set to play. John Daly could also tee it up when the tournament is held from July 21st to 24th.



Back to the course, I have to mention the greens. The putting surfaces at Carnoustie are as good as you will find anywhere. Despite recent rain, they were of perfect firmness and speed. The R&A use the surfaces at Carnoustie as a benchmark of excellence and it’s obvious why. Even in early April, they were as true as it’s possible for a links green to be – even I can hole putts on greens that good!

And it was a good job that I did because the rest of my game was decidedly wobbly. Perhaps it was the threat of relegation, possibly the red wine (surely not) but I was having one of those days where my body felt like it belonged to someone else. If it wasn’t for a few mid-length putts and one absolute "moonraker" going in, I would have been in trouble. In the end, 29 Stableford points was about as good as I could have hoped for.

And the winner of the Media Jug, getting his hands on the trophy that so many paladins of the sport have failed to lift, was Richard Maunder. His score of gross 71 for 36 points in windy and cold conditions was really very good indeed and he took the title with something to spare – well played sir!

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Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?