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The gorgeous clubhouse is arguably the prettiest and best-known landmark in Carnoustie. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
The gorgeous clubhouse is arguably the prettiest and best-known landmark in Carnoustie. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

One sure thing about Carnoustie: It's no St. Andrews

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While St. Andrews has evolved into a center of education, history and golf, Carnoustie is a humble little town best known for textiles and barley. Oh yeah, it's got one heck of a golf course, as the world will again discover this week.

By Melanie Hauser, Correspondent

It's all about the golf.

And, just so you know, it's no St. Andrews.

While its neighbor across the North Sea bay is filled with history of the Reformation and bottle dungeons and one of the best universities in the United Kingdom, Carnoustie is ? well, Carnoustie.

An auld grey town that was once a bustling beach resort, a town whose name means "the Cairn of Heroes" -- a reference to a battle supposedly fought on that land in 1010 -- is really, now, just a town of about 9,000 known for its golf course.

Carnoustie. Carnasty. It depends on what Open Championship you're discussing. The only one Ben Hogan entered (1953) and, not so coincidentally, won, or one of those where either the weather took control (1975) or the greenskeeper let things get out of control (1999).

To everyone on the outside looking in, it's the course we refer to by name. Not so much the town.

Yes, you travel through it to get there, turning under the railroad track that links the town to Dundee and Arbroath. But there are no stained glass cathedrals where John Knox preached, no plaques marking the site of the first protestant burned at the stake for heresy. No castle ruins to explore. No stunning views of the beach that runs along the sea.

Just ancient -- and we're talking 200-800 AD -- remnants from the days of the Picts and Viking battlegrounds that dot, not the town, but the entire stretch of the Angus countryside.

The course is a collage of holes laid out by James Braid where the wind twists and turns and tests the best the in world. The town? It's slowly grown from a portion of the lands of the church of Barry, gifted originally in 1172 by Lord High Chamberlain.

The village didn't actually spring up until 1797, but long before that the lands -- actually all of Angus -- were said to have been home to the Picts (they painted their faces) from the 200s until the 800s and the scene of battles between the Danish Vikings and the Scots beginning around 850. Pictish stone remnants can be found in the area and the Camus Cross, which may or may not still mark the final resting place of Camus, one of the Viking leaders killed by Malcom II, is located four miles from the town near Panmure House. And there is a Camus Street running through Carnoustie, which is home to a lot of workers who commute to Dundee.

As we've noted, the first 18-hole course in the area was established in 1842 and was followed by the Carnoustie Lady's Club in 1873. But stories mention golf being played in the area as far back as 1527 when references to "duntin' the gutty" are found in writings.

One landmark is Simpson's Golf Shop, which opened in 1883. You can't miss the shop, now the second oldest in the UK, which boasts a colorful golf umbrella rooftop over a bay window. It's located adjacent to the course and displays one of the largest collection of bag tags in the world on its rafters.

From the late 19th century until World War II, Carnoustie was a beach town and holiday resort. Known as the Brighton of the North, Scots hopped the rail line that borders the golf course and stopped by for a weekend or a longer holiday.

But Carnoustie came into its own in the mid 19th century when Panmure Works textile mill opened in 1857, and the town expanded again when companies came in to malt barley.

Most visitors to the Open will come via the rail that borders the course. There won't be idyllic visits to ruins and gravesites like those in St. Andrews, where visitors climb the 151 steep spiral steps to the top of St. Rule's Tower to look out over the town and the sea or pause to reflect in San Salvator's Chapel.

To take in the history, they'll have to hit the roads to visit the Camus Cross, the Pictish ruins or take the short trip to the cradle of Scottish nationhood or the closest Royal connection -- Glamis Castle.

The castle, reinforced in the mid 1600s, is home to the Strathmore family and was the birthplace of Princess Margaret and the childhood home of the Queen Mother. Malcom II supposedly died there in 1034 and it was the setting for Shakespeare's Macbeth. There's even a Duncan Hall, commemorating Macbeth killing Duncan in 1040 to become King of Scotland, but the event actually took place in a battle near Elgin.

To the north in Arbroath, an ancient port dating back to Pictish times, is Arbroath Abbey. The Abbey is the site of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 which asked that Pope John XXII get Edward II to recognize Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland and revoke his excommunication.

The town? Like we said, it's all about the golf.

And, every so often, the tales of those battles so long ago on the lands of Angus.

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