It seems hard to fathom that it?s been more than seven years since the fateful day when a certain Gallic golfer made a considerable splash in the Barry Burn. The ensuing ripple caused by poor Jean van de Velde?s apparently misguided selection at the 72nd hole at Carnoustie proved to be more of a tidal wave and will forever be etched in Open Championship folklore.
That misdirected shot back in the summer of 1999 cost runaway leader van de Velde dear. The foolhardy attempt of the leader by three to find the green from penal rough in front of the packed grandstands, and leave himself numerous putts to lift the coveted Claret Jug, ended in spectacular failure as his ball sank into the shallows of the famed Burn which snakes its way cunningly across the 17th and 18th fairways at Carnoustie.
Off came the shoes and socks in front of millions of disbelieving golf fans glued to television sets all over the world. Commonsense prevailed; after what seemed like an age, van de Velde took his medicine in the form of a penalty drop, regained his composure, and at least did enough to secure a shaky place in a four-man play-off.
He lost. Aberdeen?s Paul Lawrie was the grateful recipient after having the week of his life just down Scotland?s majestic east coast in the small town of Carnoustie, which nestles a mere seven miles west of the small fishing village of Arbroath and assumes a placid and unspectacular air when the Open Championship is not in town.
Lawrie?s win on the 6,941-yard Championship course at Carnoustie signalled a seven-year itch for British golf, the man from the Granite City still being the last player from the British Isles to win a Major championship.
So will history repeat itself? Will the final Sunday of the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie next July usher in a new dawn for British or European Major winners? Will Britain?s ghost of Majors past finally be laid to rest in Bonny Scotland as the Open returns to the sublime Angus venue for the eighth time? Or will the Tiger once again prowl, pounce and devour as is his want on the biggest stage of them all?
In a few short months we?ll know.
Once again the wee town of Carnoustie ? no more than a 45-minute run across the Tay Bridge and round the coast from St Andrews ? will be the centre of the golfing world as the game?s big guns, young hopefuls, journeymen and the like tread the hallowed turf in search of golfing immortality.
It will be transformed from sleepy coastal town with its beaches, magnificent views down to Fife and across the Forth of Tay and smattering of everyday folk going about their business to a buzzing maelstrom of excitement and anticipation sparked by tens of thousands of golf-mad folk and huge trucks and trailers carrying the latest hi-tech gadgetry ready to beam the latest news and pictures around the globe as the Open drama unfolds ?. oh, and there will be barely a seat in local hostelries or a bed for the night to be had for miles.
Yet something doesn?t quite add up as you approach Carnoustie, desperately in search of one or the finest golf courses that you will ever have the pleasure or privilege to play anywhere in the world. A small brown sign pointing over the railway crossing to the ?beaches and golf courses? is literally the only clue that one of the most revered links in golf is within touching distance.
With all due respect, it?s no St Andrews. Carnoustie seriously lacks the ?golf town? feel and austere warmth of its vaunted neighbour. Enter St Andrews, you sense something special. The old town has a certain ?je ne sais quoi? ? as Monsieur van de Velde would doubtless put it ? a seemingly mystical and magical feel about it. It reeks of golf, it reeks of history. The same cannot be said of Carnoustie ? at least not until you have made that crucial discovery and spied the four-star hotel which hides its greatest asset ? the 18-hole Championship course.
The obvious question of how the town copes logistically with such a huge influx of spectators, media personnel, distinguished guests and the like every time Carnoustie?s turn comes on the Open rota seems to melt away as the course takes centre stage.
A regular high up on pretty much every list of ?Top 100 Courses in Britain and Ireland? trotted out on a semi-regular basis by the glossy golf magazines, Carnoustie?s Championship course ? one of three alongside the Burnside and Buddon courses ? is a true belter and fully deserving of the many lavish accolades bestowed upon it.
For the Open, the course is long and punishing with waist-high rough as savage as anywhere. Throw in wonderfully-placed bunkers, temperamental summer winds, and meandering dykes and burns, and you?ve got a seriously challenging golf course. Just ask Monsieur van de Velde.
And the final four holes must represent one of the toughest finishes anywhere in the world.
At 459 yards, the par four 15th has a left to right sloping fairway and two sets of nasty bunkers; the ?short? par three 16th measures a mind-boggling 245 yards and has a two-tier, near-50-yard deep green; and the 17th is another whopping par four measuring more than 430 yards off the white tees and brings into play the famous Barry Burn not once but twice.
That leaves the magical 18th, which courts the Barry Burn an astonishing three times as it intersects the fairway twice before meandering right in front of the green to cast serious doubt into the mind of any golfer. Again, I refer you to the unfortunate Jean van de Velde.
While not always possessing the dramatic and rugged scenery of many of Scotland?s finest links courses ? and even courting a slight feel of heathland or moorland golf in parts around the turn ? be in no doubt that Carnoustie is a special course, and a worthy Open host.
What the town lacks in obvious golfing appeal ? despite a strong pedigree which first saw the Open held there on the Angus turf way back in 1931 ? the course and hotel more than make up for in style and class. It?s a timeless classic. Yet arguably more important, it?s an accessible timeless classic. While getting a round on the likes of the Old Course and Muirfield often requires something of a military operation, a serious sense of timing and more than just a little luck, golfers can knock one down the first at Carnoustie ? being careful to avoid the out of bounds on the left ? without too much pain. Naturally it will cost a little more than most, but then you are playing an Open Championship venue.