On the sixth day, we fear the worst … and conquer our fears.
We played Carnoustie Golf Links in late afternoon, a 3:40 p.m. tee time on Sunday, April 28.
In the morning, we’d walked the Old Course at St. Andrews, walked into town and past the ruins of the castle and of the cathedral. Lunch, and then off for the 45-minute drive to Carnoustie.
I’ll admit that this course scared me. It has such a reputation for being tough, and I was nervous here. The ultra-modern pro shop/gift shop was much more commercial and intimidating, I guess, than simpler places like Royal Dornach and Cruden Bay, reminding me more of Trump’s Turnberry or the now-modern Ballybunion in Ireland.
For warm-ups, 30 minutes before your tee time, you hit indoors, into a screen, with high-tech stuff to track your direction and swing speed.
But the starter was very friendly, down-to-earth, invited us to choose our tees, and we selected the green tees at 6,136 yards. For the only time on the trip we were paired with two other golfers, two executive-types from Cleveland, who had caddies and were off to play Kingsbarns the next day, and then the Old Course and other courses (in fact, one of the guys couldn’t remember them all!). They played our tees.
Father, son in bunker, and I think we both got out.
Carnoustie is known for high winds, part of the great challenge of the course; fortunately for us, we encountered a sunny, calm day. We’d resolved to play smart, to think through every shot, to hit the shot we knew we could hit.
Tough par 3 at Carnoustie.
And largely we did that. I went 47-49-96 despite two balls in the Barry Burn (nice that they provide long polls with a can on the end so you can fish out balls that find the water). Jason had five pars in the first 10 holes and finished with a 95, struggling in a bit at the end.
(When you play Carnoustie, a few people inevitably ask you if you did better than Jean van de Velde at the 18th, alluding to the Frenchman’s infamous triple bogey when he needed only double to with the 1999 Open Championship. Alas, somehow Jason didn’t. Like Jean, his tee shot was playable, even in his own fairway. But with the Barry Burn looming, Jason yanked a layup into the rough. Then, like Jean, he took two to get out, with the second shot finding the burn. Unlike Jean, Jason didn’t sink his putt for 7 and wound up with 8. A tough way to end a good round, yet somehow fitting.)
The dreaded Barry Burn, which meanders through several holes at Carnoustie.
It turned out to be a great day of golf, a wonderful memory. Carnoustie isn’t visually stunning; there are no great vistas, like Royal Dornoch and Cruden Bay. But there is history here, and I took some satisfaction from a bogey on the Par 5 No. 6 hole that is Hogan’s Alley, and on the par 4 No. 14 known as Spectacles.
I also decided for this round to have Jason take some photos with his phone; I didn’t want to mess with a camera while trying to play. And, for the first time since I broke a bone in my foot in 2017, I carried my clubs for 18 holes and it was invigorating.
My Dad would have very much enjoyed this round with us; the course is relatively flat and easy to walk, and it rewards good strategy, and he had that.
In the end, this will be a round that I remember for a long time. A wonderful day. In darkness, we drove back to St. Andrews. We had our best dinner of the trip, at a restaurant called Little Italy, the perfect end to a great day, and our last night in St. Andrews.
Clubhouse in the distance, only a few holes left at Carnoustie.
Next: North Berwick.