E ven if they were housed in a tin hut, there would be nothing to stop the world’s leading golfers, many of whom will be paying a first visit, from enjoying being challenged by Carnoustie in the 147th Open Championship because it really is the ultimate test in golf.
Despite a severe winter, the Angus course is in great shape in the countdown to staging golf’s oldest major for an eighth time, with many of those familiar with it believing the greens are in the best condition they have ever seen and this correspondent would certainly echo that view from evidence of a pre-Open Championship hit at the Angus venue.
That visit, one of many no doubt between now and this year’s Claret Jug joust getting underway on 19 July, also proved enjoyable due to the fact it offered the chance to discover that those players will not indeed be housed in a tin hut nor, as is the norm at most tournaments, a temporary tented structure.
Built at a cost of around £5 million by Carnoustie Golf Links, their base for the week will be a brand-new building that has been named Links House and has a similar “wow factor” to a media centre that opened at Augusta National last year at the Masters and a new merchandise shop at this season’s first major.
On the golf side, in addition to a spacious and elegant new pro shop, it houses seven state-of-the-art simulators, six of which have been named after Carnoustie golfers who have made their mark on the game at different levels over the years – Robert Simpson, Jock Calder, James Wright, Stewart Maiden, Eric Ramsay and Ailsa Summers.
Located a few yards from the first tee on the Championship Course, this part of the new building is believed to be the biggest and best of its kind in Europe, with players able to warm up by tackling the exact holes they will be facing for real, as well as taking on courses such as Pebble Beach and Wentworth.
That, of course, won’t be the case with those involved in the Open Championship, but it is highly unlikely they will ever have experienced the type of facility being made available to them this time around in terms of a place to eat and relax. Links House, after all, is both spacious and luxurious, with a new restaurant and bar, The Rookery, providing views of both the golf course and the sea.
Those of a certain age will remember the dreadful shoe-box shaped clubhouse that sat behind the 18th green at Carnoustie before it was replaced by the hotel now located there. A first attempt by Carnoustie Links Trust to then provide a visitor facility that matched the reputation of the golf course failed but fair play for that effort not being tolerated and a second attempt succeeding.
“We are extremely proud to be able to provide a world-class facility that matches the outstanding golf offering here at Carnoustie,” said Michael Wells, who was lured from the R&A to become the first chief executive of the town’s Golf Links Management Committee and this stunning facility, which, incidentally, has created 26 jobs, was perhaps one of the reasons.
“The new building offers first-class facilities where our local community and visitors from all over the world can enjoy refreshment and relaxation in the beautiful setting of Carnoustie, with spectacular vistas across the links and the sea. The opening of Links House ensures that we are now able to offer a five-star experience which rivals the world’s very best golfing venues.”
By the sounds of things, it will set the benchmark for what Martin Slumbers, the R&A chief executive, would like to see being provided at all the venues on the Open Championship rota. That, of course, doesn’t mean they will all be expected to fork out £5m to build something similar and the likelihood is that the players’ lounge will still be a marquee/temporary structure but some will have existing structures that lend themselves to this use.
“This is a facility we’ve been very excited about getting our hands on and we see it as a precursor for a similar facility each year,” said Rhodri Price, the R&A’s director of championship operations of the Carnoustie building. “It will encompass everything the player needs under one roof. Players’ service department, caddie facilities, there’s a lounge area, locker rooms and bag storage, and anti-doping.
“Sky will have a section here, all dining facilities will be upstairs and registration, too. Offshoot will be a players’ gymnasium and physiotherapy will all be there. Players will not have to move around from temporary buildings to permanent buildings.”
It does indeed match the quality of that cracking course.