For many Carnoustie is the best links on the Open rota. You don’t get the views and the backdrops that some others provide but you do get a brilliant, and fair, challenge with a sensational, and often bruising, finish in the shape of the closing four holes.
Sandy Reid is the links superintendent and will oversee the presentation of the magnificent course to the world’s best players and millions around the world.
He chatted to NCG’s Mark Townsend…
How many Opens have you worked at?
I have worked at two and both here at Carnoustie. 1999 was a real eye-opener and the first big tournament that I ever worked at as a greenkeeper.
The last time in 2007 I was more involved as I was now the head greenkeeper of the Championship Course and again it was another fantastic finish with another European winner.
How do you last four generally play with the wind?
The last four are probably the hardest you’ll find for a finish anywhere. Three of them play downwind, the prevailing wind is a westerly so 15, 16 and 18 play with the wind but it doesn’t make them any easier, it’s still a tough finish.
The 15th sometimes gets overlooked but you have to find the fairway and there is no letting up.
In 2007 the wind was from the north east so the back nine played a bit harder for the week, we had to put the tees forward on 18 on a couple of days.
How tough do you need to set the course up?
Carnoustie has a reputation as a tough course. There is obviously a bit of length about it, it has always been the longest on the Open rota since it came back on. But we’re not looking to set it up as tough, the fairways are wide and the key thing is to avoid the fairway bunkers. On one hand it is long but it is also strategic and you don’t always have to hit the driver.
There is a good bit of run in the fairways. The greens are some of the easier to putt on, they’re very flat, so you can hole some putts.
For the Open the target is to have the greens at 10-10.5, we’re very conscious of wind speeds. It is easy to get greens faster but is harder to slow them down. They don’t need to be mega-fast but we’ll see what the weather is doing. Normally they would be running at 9.5.
We don’t have to do too much for the Championship but that has been years and years of hard work. We’re very conscious of ball-to-turf reaction, we want the ball to bounce consistently and to run out and we pride ourselves on that. We are always looking to improve the grass quality where we can on all surfaces.
How closely do you work with the R&A?
They come up periodically for some set-up work and last May we had our first walk round with Martin Slumbers and the director of rules. Prior to that they had had a look at the 3rd hole and we widened the fairway.
We’ve had a few course walks since then and we look at fairway widths and green shapes, we have a great relationship with them.
How many will be working on the course during Open week?
We have three courses so we can pull in the other courses’ staff along with eight volunteers and six from other Open venues,
During the week we’ll have 35 full-time guys and we’ll be into the 50s overall. It is a lot of people but we’ll be well covered for any emergencies.
Work will start about 4am Monday to Friday and a bit later at the weekend and it will finish about 10pm but the week is quite easy, the prep work is done and, assuming the weather plays ball, it will be OK.
What is your worst nightmare?
Wet weather. Last time in 2007 was quite a wet week and we had a lot of water lying in bunkers and it can make a mess with spectators. You want some wind but not too much but the rain is the big one.
How proud will you be when the Open week finally comes around?
We live and breathe the Open Championship at Carnoustie. We have made good strides botanically, the roughs were quite thick in 1999 and there were some bad grasses but we have improved the grass quality there. It is still thick but you will always find your ball, they won’t want to hit it in the rough though still.
What did you make of Tommy Fleetwood’s course-record 63 in the Dunhill?
It was incredible. If you are on your ball striking you will score well, if you are a fraction off the bunkers will swallow you up.
That is the big thing, do not hit it in a fairway bunker, that’s what can kill your score. Don’t try to be too greedy.
At the Dunhill there is no rough at that point of the year but it was still obviously a great round by Tommy. Autumn is the best time to play a links course, the turf is at its best and generally it is at its easiest.