Feature Interview No. 3 with Rich Goodale
Rich Goodale and his publisher, OptimizeGolf, have recently completed the third book of their series, “Experience Carnoustie Golf Links.” Similar to the previous two books on Royal Dornoch and the Old Course, it features a unique combination of original text, world-class photography and superb imagery based on a high resolution three-dimensional terrain model of the course. This interview supplements the content of the book with new comments by Goodale on each of the holes on the course, with the goal of giving insight when we watch the 2007 Open, whether in person or on the telly.
1. What does the player think standing on the first tee?
Unlike all other current Open venues (and I’ve played them all), there is a sense of mystery and a special kind of fear that goes with the unknown. You can sort of see where the green is, but it is not at all clear the best way to get there. The well-informed pro who is at one with his swing will just play a yardage to a spot on the upper left fairway (the Battery). The less informed and/or less confident will see nothing but the burn to the left and the big bunker to the right and either play short of the bunker or go into it. Of course, it all depends on the wind. Downwind, the big hitters will try to go near to the front of the green. Into the wind, or in a cross wind, all bets are off.
The first at Pacific Dunes is a Mini-Me of this hole.
2. What do you think of Braid’s Bunker on the second?
It was the first truly centreline hazard that I had ever played. In 1978, into the wind, with persimmons and a lumpy balata, the only plays were right or left, and they were pinched in by rough on both sides. It was one of the hardest holes I played on that seminal voyage. Then, in 1996 in the Scottish Open, I saw Montgomerie (and others) fly the bunker with impunity. If you see the big boys doing this in July, the scores will be low on this hole. If due to the wind or their uncertainty they have to jibe around Braid’s Bunker, anything could happen. Also note the pin position. The green is a very sharply two-tiered one, and finding the right level will be very important to the players.
An avatar of this hole features prominently on the old links of Strathwhinn, the fantasy eighteen which is the scene of my soon to be finished novel.
3. How will the new third affect the pros?
The old third was a charming old-fashioned short par-four which asked two simple questions â€can you place an iron or fairway wood off the tee, and once having done so can you execute a pitch to a shallow green hard by a burn? The new third (Hawtree) complicates these questions seriously. Now you must navigate a seemingly very complex series of options off the tee. Lay up short of the bunker left with an iron, as close to the bunker as possible? Lay up short right safely, but with a longer and blind shot to the green? Try to fly the diagonal hazard cutting NW across the fairway for a simple flip or chip to the hole? Can’t wait to see how they play this one.
This hole is a Mini-Me of the more famous seventeenth.
4. Is the fourth as indifferent as it seems?
Almost .. Surely the least good hole on the course. It does show us why to NOT have a double green which is placed vertically in the routing. If you have two four balls and caddies arriving at this green simultaneously with those coming from the other direction (fourteen â€Spectacles), the green can look like Grand Central Station during rush hour. More importantly, from the perspective of the fourth hole, you really wish you would have been able to play 20-30 yards on to where the fourteenth pin is likely to be rather than the featureless open area which is provided for you.
The pros are going to want to birdie this hole â€most will not.
5. Why do you so love the fifth hole?
Let me count the ways
- The Old Course-like drive which is flat and open but obviously fraught with danger (hidden bunkers, burns, heather, rough, etc,.)
- That once you have learned of the danger you can bite off as much as you can chew, on the day
- That once you get to your approach shot, you are confronted by one of the greatest green complexes in the world of golf
- That all the time you play the hole, off to the right, in your peripheral vision, is the sixth, “Hogan’s Alley,” which is iconic and very soon to come.
The Scots would call the double plateau fifth green a “Mackenzie Green” even though the good Doctor never made it to that part of Angus, as far as I know.
6. Why do they continue to tinker with the sixth, already one of the great three shotters in world golf?
I suspect they wanted to preserve the Hogan mystique. These days, in a favourable wind and with the ground reasonably fast and firm, the pros could hit driver eight-iron to this hole, even from the very back tees. So they peppered the LZ with bunkers. However, as they found in 1999, when the wind was in the face, the hole played as three two-irons to some of the pros, since they couldn’t hit driver off the tee. I think they have it right now (the “Alley” reinstated), but let’s see.
In the book I note that Nicklaus, in his first practice round on this hole, tried to match the Wee Ice Mon and hit three balls down Hogan’s Alley, before hooking his fourth ignominiously out of bounds…
7. What should one look for on the seventh?
To steal from Conan Doyle, it is the dogs who do not bark. Firstly, notice the lack of trees, both behind the tee and behind the green. This area of the course used to be infested with bark, but now it looks clean and almost linksy. Secondly, you probably won’t see too many big dogs hit by the big guys off the tee. The prevailing wind is downwind, and it is a very narrow driving hole. Positioning off the tee will be vital, but what the proper position is will vary, by player and depending on the pin positions and the weather conditions.
The seventh green is part of an incredible confluence of holes and golf shots. One of the best stands to be in at the Open will be one erected to the left of the green on the Buddon Course. From there you will be able to see not only the seventh green, but also the entire eighth, the tee shots from nine, the green of the twelfth, the entire thirteenth and maybe even a bit of the drives off the fourteenth tee. If I were going to be there on the Sunday, that’s where I would plonk my bottom, moving back towards the Bollinger tent to watch the denouement on the telly after the leaders had played the eighth…
8. This is the first – and only – par three on the first nine. What do you think of it?
On paper this is a simple hole, only a seven or eight or even nine iron for the pros. An elevated plateau green, surrounded by bunkers, for sure, but not at all beyond the skills of the big boys. And yet, because of its straightforwardness, they will expect a birdie putt, and if they do miss the green, they will soon understand that a four will be a good score. Given that two very hard par-fours follow, this hole will be one of the crucibles which determine the mental toughness of the competitors.
If the prevailing wind is up and frisky, it will blow hard and unfettered across the green, from right to left. Rarely (uniquely?) for Open Championship courses, there is an out of bounds not far from the left side of the green. Be prepared to hear more than a few “Get in the bunker!” pleas if the prevailing wind is up and shots start to drift away towards the OB…
9. Why does the ninth remind me of Pinehurst?
Nine (and ten) are the least linksy of all the holes at Carnoustie, each being formed at least in part from a carrot farm purchased by the Council in the early twentieth century. Trees line the left hand side and even frame the back of the green. It is more North Carolina sandhills golf than a proper Open challenge, but it will be a challenge, nevertheless. The drive must be long and properly placed, and the second must account for the diagonal ridge which separates the otherwise seemingly flat green. If the pin is near the ridge, look for few birdies and more than a few three-putts.
In 1928, a “Tiger” tee was suggested by Horace Hutchison, and later built, at 483 yards. One can only guess that this was placed back by the thirteenth tee. In those days, there was much discussion about designing holes to accommodate both “tigers” and “rabbits,” and tiger tees were often marked by yellow/black striped boxes.
10. “South America” sounds romantic. Does it play so?
Probably in the old days when the memories of the poor lad who missed his boat to Buenos Aires after passing out in the middle of the fairway were still fresh, and you only had your eye and the eye of your caddie to guide you on the hole. Then, the deceptive curves of the Barry Burn might cause you to misclub (there is a lot of “dead ground” between the burn and the green), or the thoughts of the poor lad whose dreams died on that land disturb your concentration. Today, however, with exact distances and finely honed swings, the hole should be a simple one for the pros. Alas
One of the many simple things in golf that used to be, but may never again will be, was the wee shack to the right of the tenth green where you could buy a bottle of soda to fortify you for the final eight holes. When I first played Carnoustie, it was run by a man who had lost his arm as a teenager in a bakery accident, but was a perennial one-handed golfing champion, on both the Scottish and the world stages. The shop has now been moved to the back left of the green, and is anodyne, if friendly. Sic transit gloria…
11. Is the eleventh as simple as it appears?
Yes and No. Along with the fourth, this is the most straightforward of the holes, but simple it is not. While it used to be just a slap and tickle to a reasonably interesting green, there has been work done over the past thirty years to tighten up the landing area and the approaches to the green, and there will be more fives here that ought to be. It will be the Open Championship, No?
For the average player (i.e. you and me) this is the beginning of a very pleasant and welcome respite. The average player can score on eleven-fourteenth vis a vis “par.” Of course, for us, “par” is seventeen on that stretch and for the pros it will be fifteen.
12. “Par” four and one half’s are in vogue these days. How does this hole compare?
Great four and one-half’s have great features â€Rae’s Creek on Augusta’s thirteenth, the challenge of the tee shot on Cypress’ fifth, Sutherland’s Hump on Dornoch’s twelfth etc. Carnoustie’s eleventh has the heaving landform which not only obscures the green, but also makes the hole play very differently, depending on the pin position of the day, If it is left, a wood or long iron can feed to the pin. If it is right, only a long drive and/or a perfectly hit cut can get to the pin. Miscues will lead to some sixes, which the pros do not at all like
This hole has a very narrow/bottle-ish landing area. The fairway bunkering is on the right, where the prevailing wind will take slightly poorly hit drives. Only the long and straight and/or strategic players (i.e. Tiger) will play this hole without angst.
13. Should the thirteenth be considered the last par three?!
Given that Watson had five fours at the sixteenth in his Open win in 1975, probably. Thirteen should be a doddle for the pros, but the best of them on the day who will be within a few shots of the lead or in the lead might think otherwise. It is possible that the best players will need to hit their first greenside bunker shot of the day. In today’s vernacular and that day’s reality, this could be a big “ask.”
The front bunker at the thirteenth is a foozle bunker, added fairly recently to stop a well â€œkent local member from skulling his tee shots onto the green. I for one miss these personalised architectural poofs…
14. “Spectacles!” Gary Player 1968 and aw’ that Great? Good? Over the hill? As it were…
It’s what Prestwick’s “Alps” must have been in 1920. If you have hit a good drive, you must whack the second over the hill and hope and pray that your execution and line and length were okay. These days your caddie gives you the line and length, and your whack is programmed, and if you don’t end up in birdie range you sack the caddie.
For the most of us, still a very great hole. Assuming you have hit the drive relatively long and straight, do you want to try to get over the Spectacles, and if so how? You will see the pros getting fives here where you/we could do so very effortlessly.
15. For many, the fifteenth is their favourite hole on the course. I know you love this hole too. Why?
The fifteenth has it all. A semi-blind reverse camber fairway, an approach shot which is camouflaged by dead ground between the visible hazards and the green, and a green with a false front and interesting contours. And, to boot, this is the start of the greatest Championship finish in the world of golf, in my humble opinion, of course. Behind you is a minefield, which you may or may not have survived. Ahead of you are three of the hardest holes you will ever face. If you drop a shot here, you may never, ever, get it back. And, it is a hole of beauty â€a terrible beauty, perhaps, but an exquisite beauty nevertheless.
Watch for Tiger to hit his hook stinger off the tee, if and when he is in contention
16. Is the sixteenth the hardest par on the course?
Only if you think of it as a “par” three. I am sure that its average score will be three point something after four days. Is that hard? Okay, if you are in contention, maybe one shot behind the leaders, and you now come to this â€a “par” three which Tom Watson could not par in five tries whilst ascending the height of his powers in 1975, and you think you need three â€yes it will be hard.” So YES it will be hard!
Five is a very unlucky score for the elite player on this hole, an a two is even more lucky. Expect a lot of grinding for threes, particularly for those in contention.
17. Am I wrong to think that any picture I have seen of the seventeenth hole is confusing?
If you look at any picture or drawing or even stand on the tee of the seventeenth and are not confused, you are as unconfusable as the cats in the Monty Python “Confuse a Cat” sketch. The essence of this hole is confusion. The options off the tee are limitless and all fraught with danger. Once you are on dry land, the second shot is not that hard, but you will be a bundle of nerves. The best tee shot on the seventeenth of a Championship course, including the Old course.
With the wind behind, Nicklaus nearly drove the green in his youth. If it is in the same direction, watch for the flat-bellies to try to do the same. But also watch what they try to do on the eighteenth, when the wind will be in their face
18. When we see this hole, can we only think of Van de Velde?
No, not only. Even of 1999, I think of Lawrie. Two brilliant long irons into the heart of the green, when he absolutely needed to. The failures of both Jean and Justin Leonard when they had their chances to win. This is not a particularly hard hole, but it is a hole which tests how one is playing on the day. It is also one which tests the nerve. Remember that Leonard could have won the Open with a four in regular play, but struggled to a five. It is very similar to eighteen at Merion. I have to believe that if Hogan had needed to hit a one-iron to this green in 1953; he would have hit it as straight and pure as did Lawrie with his four-irons in 1999.
In the olden days, one needed to take a boat to cross the Barry Burn in front of the eighteenth green to get to the first tee. The artificial look and nature of the burn today is due, at least in part, to flood-control concerns.