Review of Carnoustie’s Open

Added on July 26th, 2018 by Lorne Smith
Posted in General, Greenkeeping, Slow play, The ball, TV Coverage

The excitement at Carnoustie had many facets and there are some lessons to be learnt.

Fast and fiery on Thursday, a wet Friday morning, great for scoring with no wind on Saturday and on Sunday, at last, proper challenging conditions with 12 to 25 mph wind on a dry firm course.

Molinari was incredible on two counts. He metronomically knocked in the six to ten footers that he regularly left himself after a good recovery when quite often missing a green. Secondly, he managed to avoid getting caught up in all the distractions of playing with Tiger, who clearly continues to create the biggest buzz. Elite professional golf has always been at least three or four levels above recreational golf. They now have large teams of consultants, coaches, managers. How did Molinari stay in the ‘zone’? His consultant David Alred (who also coached Jonny Wilkinson before that drop-kick which won England the 2003 Rugby World Cup), advises ‘ugly practice’. In FineGolf’s view winning golf is all about the two Cs, Confidence and Concentration. Alred’s ugly practice philosophy seems to be much the same as having one swing thought to press against, not three or more.

Tiger lost it at the eleventh hole when a bad drive, an appalling long iron and an un-clever chip gave him a double bogey. That hole is named after John Philp MBE, only the second greenkeeper to ever have a hole named after him in the UK. (The other? ‘Tom Morris’ the eighteenth at St Andrews Old). Did any media commentators take the opportunity of mentioning this and how John was at the forefront of returning The Open Championship to Carnoustie in 1999 after a twenty-four year absence?

Sadly, no. There needs to be more mutual respect between golfers and greenkeepers and the

golf media should take some responsibility in helping this.

Mind you it doesn’t help that Carnoustie’s own marketeers have removed the link on their website to FineGolf’s review of Carnoustie, where over previous years some one hundred internet surfing golfers per month were reading about the course’s tumultuous history and the greenkeepers’ role in this, from an independent and trustworthy standpoint.

Rory got into the mix with a thirty foot plus eagle putt, after a short iron second from heavy rough. This was on the same hole which gave Gary Player the title in 1968 after he hit his “Sunday best” drive and then a spanking four wood to set-up his winning eagle. FineGolf has to confess to getting its prediction in its preview of the 2018 Open hopelessly wrong, ie that the spectacle bunkers on the fourteenth would make the pros wonder whether to lay-up or go for it. The bunkers here were almost irrelevant in this era of the ball being hit so far through the air.

The new three Americans: Schauffele, Chappell and Kisner, well placed after 54 holes, almost inevitably fell away when the pressure really came on. You have to enjoy ‘running-golf’ with all its many dimensions, quirks and un-fairnesses to play it well and win. Where were their smiles?

Pepperell, who always interviews well, only qualified the week before at Gullane (it is always interesting to hear who pronounces Gullane “Gul” and who “Gil”) and gave himself too much to do but we hope we see more of him in the future.

Rose was his consistent self without getting the putts in on the first two days. His three under par for the last five holes that he played quite immaculately almost snatched it.

The one hole that the course set-up seemed to get wrong was allowing spectators to trample down the rough to the right of Tom Simpson’s bunkers on Hogan’s Alley, the sixth hole. This brilliant par five hole gives a risk/reward of choosing the route between Simpson’s central bunkers and the Out-of-Bounds on the left giving a simple-ish second to the green. Alternatively, one bales out on the drive to the right, leaving playing the hole as a double dogleg. Spieth and many others played on purpose into the crowds on the right hoping for a good lie on the trampled path. He then made the decision that cost him his defence of the title, using a three wood to put his ball in a bush.

The mini “Running-Golf Tour” comprising the Irish, Scottish and The Open all played on parched courses within three weeks of each other (where some drives were running out to 400 yards and where the putt or bump-and-run was the percentage shot for even those wedge magicians), was the perfect opportunity for golf’s leaders to promote this most exciting, enjoyable and sustainable form of golf to the wider public.

By and large this opportunity was missed. Is today’s focus so commercially short-term and driven by television and the elite millionaire golfers that the golf media and the marketeers can’t climb out of the rut of their regular diet of target-golf?

The ‘running’ version of the game, contains all the heritage and depth of this most challenging of sports, where the ‘joy-to-be-alive’ feeling is enhanced by being performed out in the tamed wildness of courses that are set-up ‘on the edge’ by their incredibly knowledgeable and professional greenkeepers.

The R&A as usual heralded the guys in charge of the greenkeeping team: Sandy Reid, Craig Boath and Richard Windows at the final ceremony but where else across the media do these most important people get an occasion to talk about how a running course is created? Sandy and John Philp were interviewed by the BBC and I believe were shown on some of the screens around the course, but it is the mainline TV commentators who could make a breakthrough but either they are just not interested or not allowed to.

It is quite brilliant how the greenkeepers attempted to set the ultimate strategic challenge by going down the conservationist, traditional greenkeeping route of employing firm, true, fine perennial grasses that enhance the design and gave a consistent putting speed of around ten feet.


The continuous war against annual meadow grass is never won and it must be said that Carnoustie still has much improvement to achieve, as discussed in a recent article.

The greenness of the greens was reflective of a moisture content of between 20 and 25 per cent (it would not surprise me if Muirfield’s 2013 Open Championship greens’ moisture was half that) while firmness was kept between 1.30 and 1.35 gravities – it had only been around 105 for the last Carnoustie Open in 2007 after a wet spring and summer) which by necessity kept alive the high level of shallow-rooted Poa Reptans and helped control the fairy rings. This moisture element of the greens did provide some receptiveness to the high ball but is nothing like lush target-golf that reduces the game to merely the two dimensions of length and direction, where shaved greens slow the pace of play and reduce the prime challenge to the single boring aspect of who can get away with avoiding a three-putt.

The R&A (and I am told it came from Mr Slumbers the CEO) must take a lot of the praise for setting down appropriate targets that: moved the greens performance measurement away from ‘high speed’ of putting to ‘firmness and trueness of roll’; the greenkeeping team implemented this brilliantly.

Another aspect that The R&A got right was the excellent pin placements by Grant Moir.

BBC’s Ken ‘on-the-course’ Brown touches nicely on some interesting aspects of the design but even he has never been interested in promoting the fascinating story behind the ‘running-game’. The lack of vision among these media people is almost as great as some politicians one could name. They prefer to stay in their comfort zone of plodding along seeing only the end of their ‘process’ noses, thereby ducking the aspects that made this Carnoustie Open such a wonderful stage for the future of golf.

Too many witter on about ‘links’ golf as though it is something different from the rest of golf. Inland heathlands, downlands and moorlands also provide running-golf all year round, exemplified by Notts (Hollinwell), as do even some well-drained, well managed parklands.

Agreed, the terminology that turns on the American golf tourist is presently ‘links’ but it would be so much better for wider parts of the GB&I golf market if this terminology was replaced with ‘running-golf’.


This is the key aspect of the game which these golf tourists are seeking, (they have plenty of lush target-golf at home) along with the open-ness of the links which can be enjoyed also on well managed heathland, downland and moorland.

There is nothing wrong with ‘target-golf’ as such but it does lay golf open to attack by “Watermelons” (jealous Marxist red on the inside hidden by green on the outside) through its unsustainable over-use of water, fertiliser and pesticides.

Was an opportunity squandered by not fully using Carnoustie to promote golf’s conservationism (some prefer to call it ‘sustainability’ ie. low inputs and lower costs) at this municipal course within a country where golf is a national game played by all classes, unlike most courses elsewhere predominantly played by the more wealthy middle/upper classes?

FineGolf calls on the elite in charge of golf to start being more pro-active in promoting the conservationism and enjoyment of the running-game.


This may not be to the liking of some vested interests’ short-term profits but for the longer term health of the game in GB&I there needs to be a clear leadership giving a widely understood progressive vision, within an ecologically aware modern society, as the best way forward for recreational golf.

The Greenkeeping and Agronomy professions need to be brought in from the cold. They are at the heart of golf and it is about time this was recognised with The Open Championship, now an enormous commercial project, giving the lead to the golf media that they need to change their emphasis.

Royal Portrush in 2019 has the finest agronomy of all The Open venues. How about golf’s powers starting now the preparation for displaying an enthusiasm for conservationist ‘running-golf’.

Reader Comments

On August 25th, 2018 Glenn Moore said:


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