In case you missed my incessant tweets, overabundance of Instagram posts, or fanboy podcast regarding my recent buddies trip to St. Andrews a few weeks ago, I’m going to do my best to summarize it all here. First of all, let me note that this is not an advertisement, and is in no way sponsored, although it is certainly going to read like Visit Scotland sent this over word by word for me to post. A few of you asked for a breakdown of our trip, the courses, the logistics, and the stories, etc. Hopefully these posts will inspire someone to do a similar trip, and help with some of the planning if so. I’m going to try to break the trip down in separate posts for the sake of length.
If you missed Part I on the Old Course, you can find that here. Also included in that link are some logistics of how to get on the Old Course, where to stay, as well as advice on planning your trip. Part II focused on Kingsbarns, just 20 minutes down the road from St. Andrews. This post will focus on Carnoustie (160 pounds, or about $245).
As mentioned in Part I, every conversation in the town of St. Andrews is golf related. It seems to be 70% Americans, and it’s almost a requirement to compare your tee time schedule with the guy sitting next to you. As Carnoustie was the last course on our itinerary, we had four full days of telling fellow travelers that we were finishing 45 minutes up the road to the north. Every single person (including the locals, caddies, servers) replied the exact same way: “Ohhhhh Car-NASTY!”
Hearing this over and over again for the better part of a week really lowered my expectations before our 1:50 Monday afternoon tee time on August 3rd. My game was far from being in good shape, and only managed three scores in the 70’s in our first seven rounds (one of which was on a par 69). I was intimidated before I even put the peg in the ground on the first tee, and it showed.
We made the not-so-scenic (compared to the Kingsbarns drive) 45 minute drive north, and arrived about an hour early to find the most perfect day of weather you could possibly draw up. Strong sunshine, and a howling wind that makes you feel like you’re playing the course in the conditions it was designed to be played in. The first two holes played dead into this ferocious wind, and our group was not prepared for the disaster that ensued. As a foursome, we played these two moderate length par 4’s in 40 minutes and 47 strokes (15 over par). It took two holes before a marshall had to come out and (politely) ask us to pick up the pace.
There was carnage all over the place. I hit a wedge OB with my third shot on the second hole. Leif lost three balls. Scott also went OB on #2. Toomer, a four handicap, was five over through two. Picture what Jean van de Velde did to the 18th hole in 1999, then multiply that by four people, and two holes. The wind was blowing so hard, that we couldn’t even talk to each other until we were on the green together.
We regrouped on the third tee, and had to laugh about what had just happened. We weren’t even mad. It was legitimately hilarious how poorly we played those first two holes. Despite the miserable start, we quickly realized that the course was a lot more fair than we had been lead to believe. What proceeded over the next 16 holes was my favorite round of the entire trip, which was the last thing I was expecting.
The third hole is a short par 4, with a creek that comes into play at about 240. The wind was behind us, and I reached for a three iron to play a little bit of a stinger.
“No, lad. It’s a 6 iron,” my caddie, Ian, (politely) demanded. A 6 iron? Off the tee on a par 4? I can’t say I’ve ever done that. Well I striped that 6 iron, and if I had hit a 5, I would have been wet. Instead my ball rolled out on the firm turf to about 230, leaving a wedge into the green. It turns out, this Ian guy knew what he was talking about.
What ensued over the next 15 holes became the ridicule of my buddies, and Ian and I quickly were labeled as “Phil and Bones” due to how much we would talk through every shot. He was invested in my round, and it was 100 percent genuine. He had me starting the ball on lines I wouldn’t have dreamed of. One instance that sticks out in my mind was on the par 4 fifth, where I had just 160 yards in, and a 9 iron in my hand. He picked a line out a good 30 yards right of the flag, and told me that left was “not an option.” This play seemed overly conservative, but I hit the exact shot I wanted to on the exact line. I watched the wind take it left, then hit the ground, run 15 yards further left that I thought it would, and ended up 12 feet from the cup. I can’t explain how fun shots like these are.
(I realize I’m bordering on rambling about a personal round of golf, which along with fantasy football stories, poker hands, and crossfit, are the stories that absolutely no one wants to listen to. But my overall point was that I had a caddie that transformed my experience on a golf course. If you make it to Carnoustie, request Ian.)
If I was previously bordering on too much of a personal story, I’m going to cross into that territory to finish it. After putting my finger on the eject button with that triple on two, I righted the ship with Ian’s help, and miraculously played the next 11 holes at one over on one of the hardest courses in the world. This thrill ride would soon end.
Following up on the conversation I noted above, every person that had anything to say about the difficulty of Carnoustie inevitably mentioned how tough the finishing four holes are. Luckily for us, we had a favorable and unusual wind, which let us play 15, 16, and 18 downwind. Unfortunately for me, I finally ejected. The black box has still not been located.
On 15, I hit it exactly where Ian told me not to, which was the front left bunker. Two shots to get out, and two putts later, I carded a double. The next hole is a 240 yard par 3, but with the helping wind, I got a 5 iron pin high left, only to three putt it. The 17th played back into the wind, and requires an iron off the tee to what is basically an island fairway. Then a flush 5 iron into the wind, but again, I missed it in the exact spot that Ian told me to avoid, which was left. Another double.
A smoked drive on 18 left me a wedge in that I basically shanked. I played the last four holes in six over to shoot 80, and wanted to vomit in the Barry Burn. Ian was legitimately dejected.
Normally, a finish like that would ruin my day, but I couldn’t help but to smile and laugh at the experience I just had. What an amazing golf course, and what a fantastic test. If I could pick a course to replay out of all the courses we played, it would be Carnoustie.
Here are some pictures:
As always, if you have any questions about anything related to this trip, shoot them my way.