Fergus Bisset heads over the Cairn O’Mount to Angus to play two fabulous links courses at Carnoustie and Panmure.
I would definitely fall into the “lover of the links” category so was delighted to be invited to Carnoustie to participate in the annual Carnoustie Media Jug. It’s a prestigious tournament and the list of names that don’t appear on the attractive trophy is impressive. Nicklaus, Watson, Hogan, Player and Woods: None of them have ever been able to get their hands on this coveted prize.
With the thought of those greats in mind, the pressure was on as we prepared to do battle over the magnificent Championship course at Carnoustie yesterday, and the sense of trepidation was heightened by the fact the tournament operates a relegation system. The player who finishes last will find that the publication they represent will not be invited back the following year. I’m not entirely sure this penalty has ever been enforced, but the threat that it might is enough to set the pulse racing.
Before the rigours of the Media Jug, the contestants were able to warm up in relaxed fashion at Panmure Golf Club on Tuesday afternoon. In 1953, Ben Hogan completed his preparation for The Open Championship at Panmure before going on to win at Carnoustie, so we were following in illustrious footsteps.
Hogan only ever played three courses in Scotland – Panmure, the Burnside at Carnoustie in Open qualifying and then the Championship course in the event proper. His legacy is strong in this area and many older members of the local clubs recall seeing him play that summer.
At Panmure, where a great deal of history is to be found, Hogan’s visit is fondly remembered. There are tales of the accuracy of his practising, firing 2-irons to within feet of where his caddy Cecil Timms was standing to collect the balls and, my favourite, that he hand-mowed the 17th green himself to get it as fast as possible for short game practice.
Panmure Golf Club was founded in 1845 and moved to its current site at Barry in 1899. The club has played host to a number of significant championships over the years, most recently the Amateur Championship (together with Carnoustie) in 2015.
Before heading out onto the links, we enjoyed a heartening lunch of soup and sandwiches in the characterful Dalhousie Room in the clubhouse. Wood panelled, with portraits by Raeburn and Sargent on the walls there’s a timeless feel and I could imagine Hogan, and those before him, looking upon the grand old portraits and out up the 1st fairway.
The 1st fairway triggered an amusing memory for me. Prior to The Open in 2007, Golf Monthly paid a visit to Panmure for an early evening game. Before playing, Mike Harris, Neil Tappin, Jezz Ellwood and I spent some time speaking to then secretary Charles Philip: a great character who we were keen to impress with our knowledge of the game and technical prowess. We got a touch carried away and talked up our own abilities to such a level that Mr Philip suggested we should play the course off the back tees. We agreed, full of bluster and bravado. He watched on from the clubhouse window as we hit off. My first ball was sliced out-of-bounds, the other three failed to get theirs airborne and my “provisional” never left the ground either. We proceeded to play the remainder of the hole in the style of complete beginners – an episode still referred to in the office as the “Panmure Topathon.” I can only imagine how much Mr Philip chuckled, as I didn’t dare look back. Thankfully he’d gone home by the time we finished. This time I tried to show a little more humility pre-round and negotiated the 1st more successfully, there’s some sort of lesson to be had there.
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The course at Panmure is extremely good fun to play. It’s basically an out-and-back links but a great feature is that the par-3s play across the layout. The predominant wind will be against on the way out and helping on the way back, although it was the other way round on Tuesday. But, either way, those par-3s will generally be played with a crosswind, adding an extra element of challenge.
With undulating fairways, dunes, swales and sloping greens, this is a brilliant links course with an eclectic selection of holes. The sixth was Hogan’s favourite – a long par-4 with a fairway that narrows into a bottleneck and a thin green that demands a precise approach. Hogan recommended a bunker be placed to the front right of the green and it lurks as an ominous threat for any second shot falling slightly short.
The run for home alongside the railway was tough, playing as we did into the wind. The par-5 14th demanded three strong shots and the par-3 16th, at over 230 yards required a driver.
Considering the layout back in the clubhouse, built in the style of the one at Royal Calcutta in India, we decided that we’d probably played the course with an easier wind than normal as, although the prevailing wind helps on the last six, you’d have a tough time battling out to the turn into the teeth. The course is testing but fair, it’s not overly long and good shots will be rewarded. It’s a layout where solid play and careful strategy will be rewarded and that’s as it should be. In great condition for this time of year, it was a joy to visit.