Carly at Carnoustie!
The recipe for the perfect ladies golf break is simple - great courses, great accommodation, great food and hospitality and somewhere indulgent to relax after a game. Carnoustie Country in the ancient Scottish county of Angus has all of these ingredients and more to add to the mix, starting with the key ingredient, the courses. There are an amazing 30 of them to choose from no more than 40 minutes apart, ideal if you are looking for great variety. This beautiful part of Scotland is steeped in golfing history and home to no less than 7 Open Championship venues. My base was the prestigious Carnoustie Golf & Country Hotel whose distinctive white washed walls can be spotted from almost every corner of the Championship Course.
The links here have been on my must-play list from the day I first picked up a golf club aged 13 and was told that I had golfing skills in my family blood! My Grandfather Phillip Christie was a scratch golfer and club champion here back in 1932 so my first port of call was to hunt for his name on the honours board in the Carnoustie clubhouse. There's a veritable treasure trove of trophies in the club cabinets and I'm proud to report that the Christie family name features on many. The question is, could I do my Grandfather proud on the links?
Stepping foot onto the distinctive square first tee at Carnoustie I actually felt a bit nervous about hitting a good shot and then I thought about all the famous golfers who must have felt the same butterflies on this spot over the years. Carnoustie has hosted the Men's and Women's British Open Championship on numerous occasions along with many significant amateur tournaments over the years. Recent Carnoustie winners include Women's World Number One Yani Tseng who won the British Open in 2011, while Padraig Harrington piped Sergio Garcia to the spoils to lift the Claret Jug in 2007 - and who can forget Paul Lawrie's unexpected victory back in 1999 when Frenchman Jean van de Velde's attempt to capture the title ended in a watery grave at 18.
The wonderful thing about Carnoustie is that when you take away the grandstands, grandeur, and ceremony and strip the course back to its bare basics it is just a true rugged links at its best. I was fortunate to be tackling the course in April ahead of the grass growing season so my wayward drives didn't nestle down into knee deep rough. The challenge instead was a battle of the elements and on my visit it was the four seasons in one day - hail stones the size of golf balls, high winds, sideways rain and yes, finally sunshine! That meant the usually innocuous opening stretch of holes were played into a fierce headwind and my drives virtually blew back into my face, but that was all part of the fun!
Accuracy is definitely the key to good scoring as there are devilish little pot bunkers placed in perfect position on every fairway to capture anything but a purely struck straight drive. Their high imposing riveted faces mean that your only option is to take your medicine and get the ball back into play, often hitting out sideways. Going into the green can be equally tricky as the natural humps and hollows of the fairways tend to feed the ball towards the tricky traps. The fun of the links really comes to the fore around the greens when you get the chance to play those essential bump and run shots or putt from several yards out. If the pins are in a fair place they will be relatively easy to master as the putting surfaces are fairly flat with gentle undulations that twist and follow the natural contours of the turf, true and smooth, giving you confidence to hole putts.
Carnoustie has plenty of famous holes including the Par 5 sixth named 'Hogan's Alley' after the tantalisingly tight tee shot you'll face. The drive needs to be struck straight as an arrow to find the narrow funnel of a fairway between the out of the bounds left and deep bunkers right.
There's also the aptly named 'Spectacles' - a pair of bunkers that bear an uncanny resemblance to their namesake and dominate the landscape short of the green at the 14th. Catch a good drive and you may be tempted to have a go for the green, but be warned, if you fall short into the spectacles you'll be left with treacherous sand shot recovery!
The closing stretch of holes from 15 and in are my favourite, not just because that's where all the drama has unfolded in Open Championships over the years, but because they're clever thinking holes that reward great course management and strategic play. The Par 4 17th is a perfect example; the tee shot from the ladies requires a drive that carries 200 yards to clear the 'Island' fairway surrounded by burns. Only the bravest big-hitters should take the water on! But beware of laying up too short for safety as if you're over-cautious you'll be left with a much longer approach shot than you want.
The 18th is a fantastic finishing hole and every bit as exciting to play at it looks on TV. The giant clock on the hotel wall is the perfect marker for your drive and you must avoid the big bunkers on the right at all costs. Spare a thought for poor old Jean van de Velde as you walk across the burn just short of the green. As stupid as he looked taking off his shoes and socks to play that shot when you look at how wide the burn is and how shallow the water level can be with the tide out, you can sort of see what he was thinking...
After a blustery day on the links you'll be ready for a warming drink and Carnoustie has the perfect place - a swanky new clubhouse in prime location next to the first tee. If you're lucky to visit on a sunny day then make the most of the wonderful views from the roof top terrace. And don't forget to save some time for a spot of retail therapy as the modern pro shop has a dedicated ladies area complete with comfy seats to sit back and watch your friends' parade around in different outfits!
Carnoustie Golf Links might be the best known course in Angus but it's just one of many to choose from, with plenty of hidden gems to play. In fact the Championship Course is surrounded by others far more reasonably priced such as the Burnside Links.
There's accommodation for every budget too, from superb Scottish hotels to warm and welcoming Guest Houses and B&B's where a hearty breakfast is always on the menu. If you want to splash out on a luxury night's stay for a special occasion then I'd highly recommend booking into one of the suites in the Carnoustie Golf & Country Hotel. Their location overlooking the links means that when you pull back the curtains in the morning you'll have a view to die for. The décor might feel a little dated but what the hotel lacks in modern grandeur it more than makes up for in hospitality. The meals served in the restaurant are delicious and you'll struggle to choose from the tantalising choice of deserts, if you're looking for a recommendation, the tart made from the delicious local marmalade is amazing. Plus there's the added benefit of leisure and spa facilities on site to unwind in after your round, there's nothing nicer than warming up in the Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.
I arrived at Carnoustie full of excitement ready to follow in my Granddad's footsteps, and while my golf might not have been up to his club championship play the course did not disappoint. It's a fun test of skill for golfers of every standard, and one of many courses in this wonderful part of Scotland that once you play you'll want to come back time and time again!
Carnoustie Country Special Offers
Carnoustie Country Dream Ticket: Play on four of the world's classic links courses - Montrose, Monifieth, Panmure (all Open qualifiers) and Carnoustie Championship for £299 (1 April - 31 October 2012)
Visit www.carnoustiecountry.com for more offers and stay and play deals