The year that the Open Championship first came to Carnoustie
1931 was, clearly, destined to be a very important year, not just for the club, but for the town of Carnoustie as well. It was now both a beautiful seaside resort and, crucially, about to become the home of one of the greatest tests of links golf in the world. Mind you, local members were FAR from happy at what they perceived to be inflated prices of tickets for admission to the course to watch this unique sporting occasion. After raising the subject at Links Committee Level, however, the club representatives confirmed that the costs were fixed by the R&A, so there was absolutely no local control which might open the door to more realistic pricing.
As the church bells rang out to herald the arrival of a potentially momentous year, realisation dawned that Carnoustie’s very first Open Championship was, incredibly, just a few months away.
Excitement in this little Angus town was already tangible, though many residents had absolutely no idea what to expect. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that many of the club members had no idea either and, frankly, were quite indifferent to the entire circus which was about to deprive them of the enjoyment of their precious links!
Across the entire town and within the golf clubs, however, one name was on everyone’s lips …..that of Macdonald Smith. The fairytale of this modest Carnoustie lad, who learned the game here then headed west to make his fortune in the United States, was surely going to produce an inevitable victory for a ‘local hero’ upon his own, treasured links?
Irrespective of continuing dissatisfaction on admission costs, excitement was growing as winter gave way to spring. The Starter’s Box (first erected in 1909) was being expanded, ultimately providing two waiting rooms and The Carnoustie Golf Club 1842- 2017 washrooms, as well as appropriate facilities for the starter himself.
Within the club, it neared fever pitch, as Macdonald Smith himself arrived back in the town in April and attended a meeting in the clubhouse. He clearly had his eye on the hugely emotive prize of becoming Open champion on his home turf in the upcoming summer.
Right now, however, his priority lay in attending a council meeting to confirm that the dying wish of his brother, Alex, was that his championship medals be returned to his home town and displayed within his beloved Carnoustie Golf Club.
The medals were currently being reset by a jeweller, Alex’s two daughters having willingly acceded to his last wish. Council confirmed that the construction of a safe, built into the wall above the fireplace in the now extended front room, would proudly house the medals. Without a doubt, this would be a unique gesture in the fascinating history of British golf and, with Carnoustie’s inaugural staging of the Open just a few weeks away, the timing could not possibly have been more poignant.
None of those present that evening, however, could possibly have guessed that, more than 80 years later, the contribution (and rewards) of the whole Smith family would be the centrepiece of a quite magnificent heritage display within the clubhouse where their amazing adventures first began. It is, truly, a story of epic proportion.
The club arranged for half a dozen photographs of the collection to be taken and passed, via Mac Smith to the family, with the utmost gratitude of both the Carnoustie club and its members, many of whom still cherished having grown up alongside the now legendary Smith family in the town. Sadly, the ‘fairytale’ ending of Macdonald lifting the Claret Jug (the excitement around which outcome the entire town had now virtually taken for granted) was not to be.
Thirty thousand people – almost six times the Carnoustie population then – watched the championship. Courtesy of James Braid and James Wright, the first appearance of “the hardest finish in Open golf” (particularly the windings of the Barry Burn at the 17th and 18th) putpaid to the much-fancied Jose Jurado (his 12-foot putt on the last just an agonising inch short of pace costing him a play-off), as well as Compston, Cotton, Alliss, many other fancied challengers and, sadly, Mac Smith.
With obvious disappointment, therefore, the dream of the locals failed to materialise. With the minimum of spectator attendance around him, Edinburgh-born Tommy Armour posted an excellent final round target, which no-one in the following pack could overtake. Carnoustie’s first Open champion thus created his own piece of golfing history, as indeed did the town itself through a warm welcome to the cream of world golf.
To read more about the fascinating story of Carnoustie’s first Open click below