July 10, 2007

Car-nasty: Just how hard is it?

Sergio Garcia was last in 1999 after rounds of 89-83.

Sergio Garcia was last in 1999 after rounds of 89-83.

I joined Carnoustie Golf Club as an overseas member in 1980 and have played it plenty of times. I've also played the Old Course at St. Andrews a lot, all the other Open rota courses, all the U.S. Open venues, as well as most of the highest Slope-rated courses in America. On my scale of difficulty, when the wind blows, Carnoustie is the hardest golf course in the world. My best score at St. Andrews is 73. My best at Carnoustie is 91.

Consider these points:

• Carnoustie has a Course Rating of 75.1 and a Slope Rating of 145 from the regular (yellow) tees, making it officially the hardest course in Scotland. (St. Andrews, by comparison, is 72.1/129, Royal Troon is 73.2/134, Muirfield is 73.0/133 and Turnberry is 75.3/133.)

• The last time the British Amateur Championship was played at Carnoustie, in 1992, there were 283 competitors. On the first day of stroke play-in August-only two players broke 80 (they both shot 79). The wind was blowing at 50 to 60 miles per hour.

• In July 1996, the month before he won his third U.S. Amateur and turned pro, Tiger Woods played in the Scottish Open at Carnoustie. He shot 81-75 to miss the cut.

• There were so many horror stories from the last British Open at Carnoustie, in 1999. The first-round leader, with a 71, was Rod Pampling. The next day he missed the cut after an 86. Phil Mickelson went 79-76, missed cut; Vijay Singh, 77-84. Perhaps the week was best symbolized by Sergio Garcia, then 19 years old: He opened with a triple bogey, shot 89, then sobbed on his mother's shoulder.

• Carnoustie is easily the hardest British Open venue. The average British Open scores for each course from the last 40 Opens (all four rounds) are as follows:

 COURSE   OPENS SINCE 1967   AVG. SCORE        CARNOUSTIE   3   76.09       ROYAL LYTHAM   6   74.76      ROYAL TROON   5   74.39      ROYAL ST. GEORGE'S   4   73.85      ROYAL BIRKDALE   5   73.80      TURNBERRY   3   73.76      ROYAL LIVERPOOL   2   73.69      MUIRFIELD   5   73.48      ST. ANDREWS   7   73.30  

If you're planning to visit Carnoustie, use this formula to predict your score versus par: Double your handicap, then add three strokes. Good luck. You'll need it.

      • DEAN KNUTH was the U.S. Golf Association's Senior Director of Handicapping from 1981-'97 and the prime developer of the Course Rating and Slope Rating system.