Carnoustie – my memories

Marsh and I Carnoustie 1975 – click to open

With the beginning of the 2018 Open Championship now just two weeks away, memories of my experience at Carnoustie and the great golfing layout she is come flooding back.

In 1975 I caddied at Carnoustie in the third of three Open Championships I was involved in in that role and her great subtlety and demands provide an endearing memory for me.

I had caddied at Royal Troon in 1973 where the lasting memory of that year was when I finally set eyes on Jack Nicklaus for the very first time which for a 19-year old from New Zealand was an experience in itself.

Seeing Nicklaus in the flesh playing the 18th hole in a practice round for the very first occasion after having only seen him in the limited television coverage of events we had in New Zealand at that time was an image that remains with me.

In later years I would caddy in groups in which Nicklaus was a member and thus you could say the experience became significantly more ‘up close and personal’ but that initial image of Nicklaus walking down the 18th fairway at Royal Troon gave me goose bumps.

A year later it was Royal Lytham and St Annes near Blackpool where perhaps the most endearing memory for me that year was heading out on the final day after my boss that week, Graham Marsh, had finished his tournament a few hours earlier. I wanted to watch the looming battle between the eventual winner, Gary Player, and England’s Peter Oosterhuis.

The drama of Player so nearly losing his ball at the 17th and the panic that ensued remains in my mind after standing on the other side of the fairway to that where Players and his caddie ‘Rabbit’ Dwyer frantically searched for the ball in long rough to the left of the green.

Player eventually found that ball (some would say it was not his ball although I do not concur) and would go on to win comfortably by four shots but that moment was perhaps a pivotal point and the one that stood out that week.

Then in 1975 it would be Carnoustie which hosted the Open Championship, the outstanding layout having first played host to the great championship in 1931 and in 1975 it was the chosen venue for the 5th occasion.

Graham Marsh and I arrived in Carnoustie after qualifying for the Open Championship at the New Course at St Andrews just a few days earlier. Few golfers were actually exempt for the Open in those days and even a player of Marsh’s standing was forced to go through the process, gaining one of the few spots available at his particular venue with some impressive golf.

Carnoustie has gained a perhaps unfair reputation courtesy of the drama of the 1999 Open Championship but the tagging of Carnoustie as ‘Carnastie’ from that week on was more a result of poor course set-up and preparation rather than the layout itself.

A perhaps overzealous golf course superintendent in the lead-up to the 1999 version was left to his own devices rather than working with the overseeing role that the R&A now undertakes in such events. Consequently, the rough got out of hand and combined with inclement weather that week brought the world class field to its knees.

In 1975, however, Carnoustie was presented in outstanding condition and was blessed for the opening three days with perfect weather. In fact, all four days of the tournament were blessed with good weather that year.  On day four the wind did arrive although not, as I recall, to any great extent.

Scoring was excellent over the opening three days and by Saturday evening (they played the Open from Wednesday through Sunday in those days) South African Bobby Cole, at 12 under, had a one-shot lead over Australian Jack Newton with another shot back to Johnny Miller, another shot again back to Tom Watson with the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin in the group four shots from the lead.

On day four the wind both changed direction and strengthened from what had been virtually the gentlest of breezes over the opening three days to one which would make a significant difference to the outcome.

Only three players would break par on the final day, my own boss, Graham Marsh, being one of them when he recorded a round of 71 to move into what would eventually be 6th place on his own and only two shots from a playoff between the man who would win the first of five Open Championships, Tom Watson and Jack Newton.

Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Cole tied for 3rd one shot from the playoff.

No better example was there of the impact the change in wind direction and strength would have on the final day than that which occurred when Jack Newton arrived at the 17th tee edging towards victory. He had bogeyed the previous two holes and stood on the tee at the 17th, a hole on which a burn crosses the fairway on two occasions.

Earlier in the week it required just an iron from the tee finishing between the snake like water body and then a mid-iron into the par 4 but on the final day it required a lot more just to clear the burn from the tee. Newton, however, misjudged the wind and took the iron and failed to carry the burn.

The shot dropped there proved costly as it would cost him outright victory and highlighted an example of the false sense of security the more benign conditions of the opening three days had offered.

Newton would lose a playoff to Watson over 18 holes the following day.

The fine line between pleasure and pain, so often prevalent in links golf where the degree of difficulty on any given day is determined by the overhead conditions as much as those underfoot, was perfectly illustrated by Carnoustie that day. She can be stunningly beautiful and playable one day and one of golf’s most demanding tests the next.

Links golf is like that but Carnoustie is one of the better examples.

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