Carnoustie aerial
When the Open Comes To Town

British Open 2018: The sleepy town of Carnoustie wakes up, if only for seven days

July 20, 2018

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — For the past few months, Carnoustie resident Gladys Wheaton has followed a fairly reliable morning routine. Unless, she says, it’s “raining something awful,” she leaves her home about half past 7 to take her two Yorkshire Terriers out for a walk. She heads south down Carlogie Road and turns right on Dundee Street. Once hitting Links Avenue, she’ll determine if she’s up for walking south a few more blocks, through a railroad underpass toward the beach, or if it’s time to head home.

On this sunny July morning, it’s the dogs that make the decision to continue the adventure. “The boys are anxious,” she says with a smile, their taunt leashes confirming the obvious. “They sense something is going on here, something different.”

And there you have it, proof that the arrival of the Open Championship is a fact lost on no one living in the town of Carnoustie, man, woman or canine.

To be sure, something is going on here, something certainly different for the residents of this tiny coastal hamlet overlooking Carnoustie Bay and beyond it the North Sea. It began a few months back when the heavy cars and lauries started hauling scaffolding and supplies, squeezing along Dundee Street themselves, en route to the course.

“There were all these buses coming through,” said Michael Findlay, a lifelong resident of Carnoustie. “And then one day I saw this helicopter casually parked in a field near a house. That’s when I knew this thing was pretty big.”

Ryan Herrington

It's the calm before the storm early in the morning on Dundee Street.

It all became “real,” though, when the players and spectators started to arrive last weekend, transforming a community with a population of less than 12,000 into something far grander. By week’s end, roughly 175,000 spectators are expected to pass through the gates at Carnoustie Golf Links to take in the championship.

The majority of residents have greeted the Open’s arrival with a friendly wave. Yes, it means the already troublesome parking situation in the center of town will be even worse. And Wheaton’s quiet morning walk has been a little less quiet of late. But it also means that for seven days, the place they proudly call home has become the focus of the golf, if not sports, universe.

“The buzz in the town is incredible,” said Bethany Bowles, owner of Gather Kitchen and Deli along Carnoustie’s main drag. “You’re feeling like you’re in a city or abroad. Or just somewhere else. Carnoustie generally can be a bit, well, sleepy, is the polite way to put it. … But with this, it feels like there is some life.”

Bowles embraces the buzz that comes with the Open championship.

Bowles speaks from experience. She grew up in Carnoustie and has lived here nearly her entire life, save the five years she went to school in Glasgow (95 miles southwest) and Dundee (10 miles west). She returned to Carnoustie 4½ years ago to start her business, a market and restaurant with a decidedly urban feel.

Back in 2007, the last time the Open came to town, Bowles worked as a waitress in the players hospitality area. “I kind of knew what to expect,” she says regarding the thousands of people that would be descending on the town. Preparing for this year’s event, she make the wise decision to hire a few extra staff and extend her normal hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 6 to 10, and has seen it pay off.

“Business is booming,” she said. “It’s been a good mix of locals and fans from out of town.” She says that a handful of players have also come in, mostly for breakfast. “It’s been very exciting.”

Each night during tournament week, there have been lines out the door of most of the bigger pubs and eateries, fans hanging around town to check out what it has to offer.

“This is a surreal experience for Carnoustie,” confirms Findlay, owner of Inspirations candy and gift shop. Another lifelong resident, he bought the business last fall, pretty heady stuff for a 23-year-old. “A lot of people feel a sense of pride. To have something as prestigious as the Open, makes quite a difference. This isn’t just some fair going on. It’s a big organized thing.”

The storefront at Inspirations.

It’s not just businesses that feel the energy. Colin Warner is 12, and he’s working along with other school age kids on the liter patrol. He’s not “super into golf” but liked the idea of doing something with the tournament when it would be played within a few miles of his home. He reports to work in the dark red Hugo Boss golf polo given to him as his uniform, the sleeves a little too short to cover his tan lines.

“I wanted to see what it was all about, and figured this was as good a way to do it as any,” he said.

Interestingly, neither Bowles, Findlay or Warner know much about golf, and couldn’t pick many of the players out of the field. (“Maybe Tiger,” Warner says.) So it was that on Tuesday afternoon, Brandt Snedeker, wearing sweats and a backward Vanderbilt hat, managed to pass them all on the street, yet remained anonymous.

This is Snedeker’s ninth Open appearance, and he said that each year he likes to check out the town to soak in a little of the local ambiance. “It’s nice to get to walk around and see the town,” he said. “It’s what makes this week special. Plus driving isn’t that easy around here.”

The Church of Scotland in Carnoustie.

Members of Bowles’ staff have helped her take note when players do come by her shop. To have some fun, Bowles decided to have a draw on Wednesday ahead of the tournament among her employees to see who can pick a winner come Sunday. The only catch? They had to choose from the players who came to Gather.

If there’s a gripe within the town for how things have played out, it’s that the R&A has implemented for the first time in 2018 a “no re-entry” policy for spectators during the tournament. It a restriction that didn’t sit well with some of the businesses in town when they learned of it earlier this year. David Valentine, owner of Simpson’s Golf Shop, just across the street from the course, started an online petition to change the policy, getting nearly 700 signatures, but had no luck persuading the R&A to change its mind.

Valentine told The Guardian that the policy hurts restaurants and other businesses that might get fans who jump off the course for something to eat and then jump back in to watch more play. He also thinks the policy hurts locals who might want to attend the tournament but have to commit to staying all day rather than going in and out.

R&A chief Martin Slumbers says the decision was made to battle “unofficial” hospitality groups that pop-up outside the grounds of the course at Opens and opportunistically try to make money off the event.

“We are very proud to showcase this golf course and this town on the world stage,” said Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, R&A executive director of championships, who works on the logistics of the Open outside the ropes.

Carnoustie's memorial for locals who died in WWI and WWII.

Bowles said she can live with the policy, given the big picture impact the championship is having on the town. What she’s having a harder time accepting is that the week is quickly marching on. After months of build-up, seven days in July are flying by.

“It will be strange going back to ‘normal,’ ” she said. “But we have big plans for the business and what we want to do. Planning for the Open is a huge amount of planning, but we’re prepared now for the next thing.”

Wheaton, too, said she’ll be sad to see everybody leave. “Hopefully,” she noted, “people will take with them some pleasant memories.”

Crowds or not, come Monday morning, provided it’s not raining something awful, expect Wheaton to be walking her terriers. As she makes her way down the winding roads, perhaps Carnoustie might not look so small after all.


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