Colin Sinclair has been head pro at Carnoustie since 1999 and has played there since his amateur days. Who better to explain the challenges the course poses?
Carnoustie Head Pro On Closing Stretch: "Hang On For Dear Life"
What is it about Carnoustie that makes it so challenging?
In my opinion, it comes down to the bunkering. I don’t think there’s a better-bunkered course – not in terms of the number of hazards but in terms of where they are positioned. Fairways tend to camber towards the traps and you have to hit to your spots. If you don’t do that then you’re going to struggle. If you want to take the aggressive line to get past the bunkers, you have to be very accurate. The way the bunkers are set presents a mental challenge and you have to decide on a clear strategy to avoid them.
Does it favour the better ball-strikers then?
Without a doubt. If you look back at the past seven Opens here, it has always been quality ball-strikers who have won, and this year will be the same. The cream rises to the top.
But it’s also a course that favours good and clear thinkers. As I say, you must have a clear strategy. A player might decide to take the bunkers out of play from the tee by laying up, but this will leave long shots into the greens. A more aggressive approach could result in more chances – shorter irons into the greens, enabling the player to attack the pins. But that strategy requires great accuracy from the tee. Drive it long and straight and you will have an advantage on the field.
How much will the course change if we get firm conditions?
They will still have to hit their spots. It would clearly play shorter, but the fairways would be narrower, so players would start to run through into the rough. If we happen to get a warm May and June, then the rough will pop up. Not akin to ‘99, but there will certainly be a bit of punishment if you miss.
Why is the closing stretch one of the toughest in golf?
There’s no respite over the closing four. You have to hit quality shots all the way if you’re to finish with pars. Even one-over on the last four is a good achievement. You’re unlikely to be able to catch up on these holes. It’s very unlikely that someone will shoot two- or three-under over the final four.
What other holes will be crucial?
The wind direction is the key thing. The prevailing wind is westerly, but in 2007 we had a north-easterly. In 1999 it was south-westerly. The 6th is a very challenging hole into the wind. The 9th and 10th are difficult, too. The 5th is a testing hole when the pin is up at the very back of the green. The 12th is played as a par 5 for the members here, but it’s played as a par 4 in The Open.
We always break the course down into thirds. The first third of the course provides a chance to build your score, the second third you have to consolidate it and the final third, hang on for dear life.
What are your favourite holes?
The 2nd and the 15th. The 2nd because it plays through the dunes. It asks for total control of the golf ball – you have to draw your tee shot then fade your second. On the 15th, you’re trying to draw your tee shot into a fairway that cambers to the right and then it’s a tough approach to a well-bunkered green. For me, those two holes epitomise Carnoustie. You just have to hit the perfect shots.
How different will the course set-up be to the Dunhill Links?
Well, the Dunhill is in October so there’s little rough, and because we have amateurs playing, the pin positions are more gentle. Also, the weather – we’ve been pretty fortunate in recent Dunhills that the weather has been kind, with very little wind. Last year, Tommy Fleetwood shot a course record of 63 on an overcast day with little to no wind. I expect there to be more of a breeze in July.
How important will prior knowledge be at Carnoustie?
Obviously the more you play, the better your understanding of what is required and, again, where the correct (and incorrect) spots are. Local knowledge can only assist. Having said that, the top pros are now so good that they can adapt to almost any playing conditions.
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Colin selects three players he feels might be in the mix come Sunday afternoon of Open week:
Dustin Johnson: I think his game is suited to this layout. He’s played in a couple of Dunhill Links here, so he knows the course. He can work the ball both ways, but he’s comfortable with left to right and Carnoustie definitely favours the left-to-right shot. Dustin will have a good opportunity.
Justin Rose: He is such a skilled strategist and this is key to good scoring. He is an extremely patient player, but he also has power and great ball-striking ability. He was 12th in The Open here in 2007 and then second in the Dunhill Links the same year.
Tommy Fleetwood: The last two winners at Carnoustie, Paul and Padraig, both knew the course very well. Anybody who plays on the European Tour, who has played the Dunhill on a few occasions, will be at an advantage. Tommy has the course record here after last season’s 63.
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Elliott Heath is our Senior Staff Writer and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016 after graduating with a degree in Sports Journalism. He manages the Golf Monthly news, features, courses and travel sections as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Elliott has interviewed some huge names in the golf world including Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn, Bernd Wiesberger and Scotty Cameron as well as a number of professionals on the DP World and PGA Tours. He covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as four Open Championships on-site including the 150th at St Andrews. He has played 35 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Old Head and Turnberry. He has been obsessed with the sport since the age of 8 and currently plays at West Byfleet Golf Club in Surrey, where his handicap index floats anywhere between 2-6. His golfing highlights are making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, shooting an under-par round, playing in the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour and making his one and only hole-in-one at the age of 15 - a long time ago now!
Elliott is currently playing:
Driver: Titleist TSR4
3 wood: TaylorMade SIM2 Max
Hybrid: TaylorMade SIM Max
Irons: Mizuno MP5 4-PW
Wedges: Cleveland RTX ZipCore 50, 54, 58
Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
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