Eyes wide open this time at 'Carnasty' 2007

 

British Open Championship Carnoustie Golf Links: Philip Reidlooks back at the rough time many players had the last time Carnoustie held the Open, and looks forward to this year's edition

You don't forget Carnoustie. I remember playing the course in 2002. It was the Dunhill Links championship and, courtesy of a certain Ernie Els, who knows how to do a good deed, my name had been drawn out of some crystal bowl or other to play on a pro-am team in the tournament that also included playing on the Old Course at St Andrews and the new links at Kingsbarns.

At some point on the back nine at Carnoustie, on our second day, the four players - the professionals Thomas Levet and Chris Gane, and the amateurs, myself and an American broadcaster, Peter Kessler - and four caddies searched for some errant ball, probably mine, when someone commented on how deep the rough was.

Levet laughed, a deep laugh that started in his stomach and escaped with a roar: "This is not rough, not compared to 1999. In 1999, it was like hay. Hay!"

Of course, he was referring to the British Open of that year, an Open nobody could forget. It was the year the R&A lost control of the championship, reducing some of the world's greatest players to hackers.

It was the year of Jean Van de Velde and, lest we forget, of Paul Lawrie.

It was the year Sergio Garcia, the bright young thing of professional golf who had just won the Irish Open at Druids Glen, was brought shuddering back down to earth and left the course in tears.

It was the year the course was dubbed "Carnasty", because it produced so much carnage the world's best golfers finished a combined 3,746 over par, - and that with 81 of the field playing only two rounds.

These days, in a corridor of the hotel behind the 18th green, there is a reminder of that carnage. It is a photograph, and it shows the scoreboard of one group as they walked off the course after the second round in 1999:

"SINGH +19, MEDIATE +13, GARCIA +30"

Other photographs act as a reminder of one of the most unbelievable and unforgettable finishes ever at a major, with Van de Velde, the man who would be champion, almost knee deep in water in the Barry Burn that fronts the 18th green.

Van de Velde won't be back at Carnoustie next week, but that championship in 1999 should have been his greatest moment in golf. Instead, he became a figure of mirth. The Frenchman needed only a double-bogey six on the 72nd hole to become champion.

His triple-bogey seven came after his second shot ricocheted off a grandstand into heavy rough, his next plopped into the burn and, after taking off his shoes and giving long consideration to playing the ball, he decided to take a drop.

He took three more to get down, resulting in a play-off between Van de Velde, Lawrie - who had recovered from a 10-shot deficit at the start of the day - and Justin Leonard. Lawrie, of course, won.

Lawrie's best moments in golf since that major win came in the Ryder Cup, where he proved a tremendous foil for Colin Montgomerie. But Lawrie also believes he did not get the credit he deserved for the way he won the Claret Jug in 1999.

In a recent interview with BBC's Radio 5 Live, he remarked, "I'm a major winner and I've never had that respect. It doesn't sit kindly with me and it's difficult sometimes. We don't play tournaments over 71 holes, we play them over 72 holes, and the Claret Jug (a replica) is in my sitting-room at home.

"It has my name on it and I look at it every day, and no matter what anyone says, it's not leaving. If I never win another tournament or never played golf again, I'll still be proud of what I achieved that week."

The links this time around won't be as severe as when Lawrie won: the R&A are determined not to repeat the perceived mistakes of 1999 when the rough - combined with the weather - made it as tough a test as any championship in history.

Still, at 7,421 yards, it will be 60 yards longer, making it the longest in Open history and only 140 yards shorter than Medinah, which was the longest major course when it played host to last year's US PGA championship.

Peter Dawson, the R&A chief executive, said of the changes to the course, "We are not seeking carnage, we are seeking an arena where the players can display their skills to the best effect."

Martin Kippax, the chairman of the R&A's championship committee, added, "What we are trying to achieve is a fair and severe test for the best players in the world. The players understand that."

Still, the head greenkeeper, John Philp, believed too much whingeing went on last time, remarking "Ben Hogan would have found a way" to play the course.

This time, the rough won't be as long or as tough as 1999. The R&A have lengthened four holes: the short, par-four third has been redesigned; new bunkering has tightened the long sixth; and there has been subtle recontouring of the right-hand side of the fairway landing area at the 17th and the left-hand side of the fairway at the 18th.

The third remains the shortest par four on the course, but new areas of rough tighten the lay-up area and spill into the fairway around the bunker just short of Jockie's Burn as it sweeps across the face of the green.

At the 578-yard sixth hole, there are now two bunkers in the centre of the fairway, between 250 and 275 yards, and another pair between 300 and 315 yards. Many players will be forced to lay up or aim down the narrow corridor between the bunkers and the out-of-bounds fence that runs the length of the hole on the left.

Ben Hogan found this gap in all four rounds on his way to victory in 1953, and it bears the name Hogan's Alley to this day.

At the 17th, the aiming point from the tee is the island fairway created by a huge loop of the Barry Burn between 200 and 280 yards. Powerful hitters can carry the far reaches of the burn, and a relatively flat area towards the 18th fairway on the right provides a safer route for those who want to avoid the water.

This area has been newly contoured, making it more difficult to get full control of a second shot from this side.

Carnoustie will play to a length of 7,421 yards and a strict par of 71 for the Open. The course has only two par fives - the sixth and the 514-yard 14th - and three par threes, of which the 16th is the longest and toughest at 248 yards.

But the course also has seven par fours longer than 460 yards, so - especially if the wind blows - it will present a serious test for those with title aspirations.

Carnoustie first played host to the British Open in 1931. Ironically, it was won by the Edinburgh-born Tommy Armour, a Scottish golfing emigrant who had joined the exodus to the United States and by 1931 was an American citizen. He won by a single shot from Jose Jurado of Argentina, with Percy Alliss of England and Gene Sarazen of the US a further shot behind.

The 1936 championship was played in appalling weather, and Henry Cotton's final round of 71 in torrential rain was rated by his contemporaries as one of the finest seen in the Open. It was good enough to beat the entire US Ryder Cup team, with Byron Nelson six strokes behind and Sam Snead a further four shots back.

Hogan's sole appearance in the Open was at Carnoustie in 1953 and he arrived early to prepare for the challenge, a tactic that paid off handsomely with neatly descending scores of 73, 71, 70 and 68 for a win by four shots. He had already won that year's Masters and US Opens, but could not get back to America in time to play in the US PGA.

Gary Player was the winner when Carnoustie next staged the championship in 1968, his one-over-par total beating Jack Nicklaus and Bob Charles into second place by two shots. Into the wind at the 485-yard 14th in the final round, he hit a three-wood second shot to two feet for a tap-in eagle, a shot that propelled him to victory.

The first of Tom Watson's five Open triumphs was gained at Carnoustie in 1975, but he had to play an extra 18 holes to wrest the title from the Australian Jack Newton, who had given himself a valuable lead with a third-round 65. Watson birdied the final hole of the fourth round to tie and went on the next day for a one-shot victory.

After a gap of 24 years, the championship returned in 1999, when Van de Velde had the title in his pocket as he stood on the 18th tee. Lawrie, who had raced through the field with a superb 67, clinched the title with birdies at the 17th and 18th in the play-off to beat Van de Velde and former champion Leonard.

Carnoustie is full of history. The earliest reference to golf on the links dates to 1527, and it is known that, in the 1870s, Old Tom Morris was responsible for laying out the course that is effectively the championship course Tiger Woods - chasing a third successive win in the championship - and the rest of the world's top players will attempt to conquer next week.

What's the prize? This year's winner at Carnoustie will receive

a cheque for £750,000 (1.15 million), an increase of £30,000 from last year. Paul Lawrie, the winner at Carnoustie in 1999, took away a cheque for £350,000.

In 1975, Tom Watson had to play an extra 18 holes to take the title in a play-off, against Jack Newton, and walked away with £7,500.

Aside from the money, the new champion will be awarded the famed Claret Jug. The Golf Champion Trophy, now commonly referred to as the Claret Jug, was made by Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh and hallmarked in 1873. The first Open champion to receive the trophy was that year's winner, Tom Kidd, but the name of the 1872 winner, Tom Morris jr, was the first to be engraved on it.

Following the 1927 Open, which was won at St Andrews by Bobby Jones, the club's championship committee decided to retain the Claret Jug and present winners with a replica.

In 1928, Walter Hagen won the third of his four Open titles and accepted the replica Claret Jug, having already been presented with the original in 1922 and 1924. In 1990, a further replica was made, for display in the new British Golf Museum at St Andrews. In 2000, another was made for use in travelling exhibitions, and in 2003 yet another was produced for the same purpose.

The original Golf Champion Trophy is in the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse. It sits alongside the original first prize, the Challenge Belt, donated to the club in 1908 by the grandchildren of Tom Morris Snr.

The Irish Challenge? Only one Irishman, Fred Daly, in 1947, has won the British Open. In fact, he is the only Irishman to have won a major.

This year's Irish challenge is one of the strongest - at least numerically - in recent history: we have seven in the field.

Padraig Harrington, ranked 10th in the world, is a two-time winner of the Dunhill Links in the past four years, part of which is played over Carnoustie. Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Graeme McDowell, Justin Kehoe, David Higgins and Rory McIlroy complete the Irish representation.