A giant comes back to life

James Cusick sees Carnoustie's rebirth as a course fit for champions
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Like a noble giant asleep in a fabled kingdom for 20 years, the reawakening of Carnoustie to championship golf today will be seen as merely a rehearsal for the real fairy-tale ending in four years' time. Then, in 1999, the Open's shifting shrine will once again set up its altar for worship on the links once described by Walter Hagen as "the greatest course in the British Isles".

The Scottish Open, which has grown in stature during its recent residency at Gleneagles, is as good a rehearsal as the town could have wished for. The "names" of world golf - absent from this place for a fifth of a century - might be hoping that some of the magic left by past winners of the Open at Carnoustie rubs off. Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Tom Watson all wrote themselves into the history books over the fairways, bunkers and dunes that have seen the game of "gouf" played here since the 16th century.

Hogan's 1953 victory is still talked about in the town. Hogan was to golf what his fellow American, Pete Sampras, is to modern tennis. Forget personality and press conferences. Hogan came to Carnoustie not to smile and be pleasant but to win the Open. He was reserved to the point of rudeness, and even the fundamentalist Presbyterian Scots nicknamed him the "wee ice mon".

He shot 73, 71, 70 and 68 over the course's 7,200 yards; his final round, played in a fearsome wind, is still defended in heated 19th-hole arguments - even by some in Carnoustie who are way too young to remember - as the greatest display of calculated golf ever to win an Open Championship.

Tom Watson's 1975 victory is no less legendary. Watson arrived with no time for practice and no way of knowing how to play the double challenge of the wind and the Barry Burn's twists and turns over the difficult closing holes. He told his caddie, the Southport-born Alfie Fyles, "Alfie, I'm going to have to lean on you this week - hard!" And lean he did, winning a play-off with the Australian, Jack Newton.

But by the late 1970s, the growth of the "business" of the Open Championship - the corporate hospitality, the tented village, the media centre, the stands, the luxury hotels for the players, the transportation demands of the crowds - all were thought to be lacking at Carnoustie when the Royal and Ancient removed the course from the Open rota. Many thought it would never return, and that the names of Hogan and Watson and Cotton would not be added to. What nature created, and James Braid fashioned, was turning into a fading pilgrimage site for Americans in loud trousers "doing" the circuit of the home of golf. Last year, however, the R & A effectively admitted their folly.

A new 50-room hotel is planned near the old Dalhousie clubhouse. The cream of the St Andrews greenkeeping staff have been brought in, and are already displaying their craft to wonderful effect. A new clubhouse will replace the present carbuncle dumped on the links by an architect who may have gone on to design great carpet warehouses. Michael Bonnallack, secretary of the R & A, is satisfied - and that takes rather a lot.

The Scottish Open will be an indication of glories to come. But now all that remains is four years of pleasant dreams, of the Open leaderboard, and of the name that will join Hogan and his pals.