Beauty and beast: Carnoustie proves fit for Open occasion

A 64 by Justin Rose was the lowest score of the week at Carnoustie
A 64 by Justin Rose was the lowest score of the week at Carnoustie
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Well then, what did we make of all that? For me, it was an Open Championship that had a bit of everything – on and off the golf course. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the eighth Claret Jug joust at Carnoustie won’t be the last because there would be an outcry in the golfing world if this was the event’s final chapter at the Angus venue.

It was Bill Thompson, the Carnoustie Golf Club captain, who started that hare running with his remarks in an interview before Sandy Lyle got last week’s proceedings underway in his 43nd and final appearance in the event, essentially saying that Carnoustie had become too small to host the big business beast that golf’s oldest major is these days.

Even since it was last there in 2007, it has, indeed, grown arms and legs in many respects and that is illustrated, for example, by the media car park being in a field outside the town as opposed to walking distance from the media centre last time around. Space close to the course is now devoted to making the spectator experience as enjoyable as possible and, of course, to allow the R&A to rake in as much money as it possibly can from its flagship event.

It’s inevitable that local residents – especially at a venue such as Carnoustie with its narrow streets and a railway line so close to the course – are disrupted during the week of the event when parking restrictions are imposed as an army of people descend on the town, but surely that isn’t too much to ask.

After being out in the golfing wilderness for 25 years since Tom Watson claimed the first of his five Claret Jugs in 1975, it was a real shot in the arm for the area when the event returned in 1999 before earning another chance to host the Open 11 years ago.

Those two stagings helped put Carnoustie back on the golfing map and, having proved a fantastic test of golf yet again for the world’s best players over four days, there shouldn’t really be any doubt being cast about whether it will return.

The R&A have got to be happy, surely, about a record Carnoustie attendance – 172,000 – 15,000 more than 1999 and 18,000 up on 2007. Yes, the event at Birkdale last year attracted 235,000 for the week, but, historically, it has always been one of the top venues in terms of attendance due to its proximity to both Liverpool and 
Manchester.

The return of Tiger Woods to the championship for the first time since 2015, of course, was a big pull last week, and what a story it would have been if he had been able to keep his nose out on front on the back nine on Sunday. Let’s not allow the fact he didn’t, however, detract from the event getting a very worthy winner indeed in Francesco Molinari.

In many ways, this year’s Champion Golfer of the Year was a complete champion. He faced some of the firmest conditions the event has produced on day one then a different course in the second round following heavy run on Friday morning. In favourable conditions, Saturday was a chance for low scoring before Sunday turned into a test as the wind blew for the first time.

Under a sunny sky at the weekend, the fast-running course was exactly what you want to see in an Open Championship. My one minor disappointment was that the greens were too green, allowing balls to be held and even spun back on them. Despite that, it wasn’t ripped apart, though. Molinari’s winning total of eight under and a 64 by Justin Rose, pictured, being the lowest score of the week proved yet again why Carnoustie is a beast, albeit a beautiful one.