Sunday 26 January 2020

Dermot Gilleece: 2018 Carnoustie is a far less fearsome place than 'Carnasty' of 1999

Golf - The 147th Open Championship - Carnoustie, Britain - July 18, 2018 Tiger Woods of the U.S. during the practice round REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff
Golf - The 147th Open Championship - Carnoustie, Britain - July 18, 2018 Tiger Woods of the U.S. during the practice round REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff

Dermot Gilleece

On the eve of the 147th Open Championship, there was the realisation that fearsome stories of Carnoustie may have to be consigned to the past.

It certainly seemed a world removed from my first sight of the venue in 1996, when the Scottish Open came to Carnoustie as a significant move in restoring the great links to the Open Championship rota. For a variety of reasons, no Open had been played there since 1975, when Tom Watson captured the first of five titles after a play-off with the Australian, Jack Newton.

Problems with accessibility and accommodation were often cited as key drawbacks for terrain sweeping to the Tay estuary. But its rehabilitation was about to get under way, with weather that was suitably hostile. Memories remain fresh of the final day when the wooden floor of the media centre, rocked up and down beneath the formidable feet of Colin Montgomerie who was about to be interviewed.

A relentless battle with the elements, including winds gusting up to 40mph, was etched deeply into the face of this volatile, not-so-jolly giant, whose boyish curls were flattened on his head, as if by layers of grease or by being dragged backwards through a mangle. The circumstances were far from ideal for a chat with the course record-holder, not least for the fact that he had just carded a wretched 81.

In the event, everybody had settled down when a scribe from the far side of the pond piped up with the opening question.

"Colin, was the wind a factor?," he enquired with boyish innocence.

There was a pause. Then, as if too numb to think, Montgomerie repeated in a monotone: "Was the wind a factor?"

Another few moments of silence followed. Then, as if awareness had just dawned of the thoughtless nature of the question, he stormed: "WAS THE WIND A FACTOR?; WAS THE WIND A FACTOR?"

Monty eventually reached a decibel level to drown the giggling from his highly amused audience.

With that scene still fresh in our minds, Carnoustie was restored to the Open Championship rota three years later. And so severe were the conditions for the 1999 Open that it was as if the event had never been away. With observers competing for suitable epithets to describe the horror, Carnasty became a popular choice.

David Feherty once claimed acidly that if Carnoustie were the only place he could play golf for the rest of his life, he’d quit the game. Not surprisingly, he didn’t hesistate to throw in his tuppence worth about conditions in 1999, saying: "The way it’s set up, with goat-choking weeds and fairways narrower than Adolf Hitler's mind, it was a test of how much of the Barry Burn you could swallow without throwing up."

Then for good measure he added: "Jack Nicklaus once said that golf wasn't meant to be fair, but I believe it wasn't meant to be stupid either. That last bit was mine, not Jack's."

But surely, we’re thinking, it can’t end this way, as yet another mid-iron skips down a bone-hard fairway before coming to rest 250 yards away. Surely this fearsome links was never meant to slip gently from our consciousness before putting up some stubborn resistance. Whatever happens this week, we can be certain that it has outlived its Carnasty image. And it may never return, given the further changes that are likely in the game’s equipment before the Open returns here, probably a decade from now.

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