The Open: Now and Then

In Partnership with Rolex Logo

Carnoustie is not only the most northerly course on the Open Championship rota, it has also earned the reputation of being perhaps the toughest.

In partnership with Rolex, the Official Timekeeper of The Open since 1981, ESPN takes a look at the history and evolution at Carnoustie, the host of the most famous golf tournament in the world this July.

The Course

Old Course
Photo by R&A Championships / Contributor

Billy Casper crossing a bridge over ‘Barry Burn’ at the 1968 Open Championship at Carnoustie
New Course
Photo by Stuart Franklin / Staff

Padraig Harrington crosses a bridge on the 18th hole during the final round of the 136th Open Championship at the Carnoustie in 2007

Progress has impacted on the challenge of the course at Carnoustie, just as it has with every championship course in the world.

Improved technology and player fitness has led to the ball being hit greater distances and in order to protect the integrity of the course, the authorities have had little option but to push tee boxes further back.

Whilst some of the holes have merely been stretched a dozen yards, others have had profound additions. The par-4 ninth, named 'Railway' in honour of the train track it runs alongside, is one such example. Once a mid-range two-shot hole at 421 yards, it is now a fierce 478 yards.

The final hole ('Home') is another area of the course that has been transformed. Also a par 4, it twice crosses the famous Barrie Burn, first from the tee and then with the long approach which over the years has got even longer. In 1975, it measured 448 yards from tee to green, but since 2007, and again this year, it will be fully 499 yards.

"It's probably the most difficult closing hole in major championship golf and probably in world golf," 2007 champion Harrington once said.

But the biggest alteration of all is possibly on the par-5 sixth hole. Always a tough tee shot, the safe route is dotted with bunkers and the brave line must flirt with out of bounds.

In being extended from 524 to 580 yards, those threats remain and this year's field must take on the challenge which inspired its renaming ahead of the 2007 championship ('Hogan's Alley') in memory of the great Ben Hogan who took the courageous route when winning in 1953.


Old Play-offs
Photo by R&A Championships / Contributor

Jack Newton and Tom Watson shake hands during the 1975 play-off at Carnoustie
New Play-offs
Photo by Stuart Franklin / Getty Images

Sergio Garcia plays a bunker shot on the first play-off hole during the final round of the 136th Open Championship

While many traditions remain, the play-off procedure has evolved with the game for the benefit of the players, fans and broadcasters.

Back in 1975, Carnoustie played host to The Open when Rolex Testimonee Tom Watson and Australia's Jack Newton were locked together on 9 under after 72 holes.

32 years later, four rounds around the famous links were again insufficient to find a winner, as Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia tied on 7 under.

But the manner in which the eventual champions would be decided were very different.

In 1975, Watson and Newton completed their 72 holes on Saturday and resumed action next morning for an 18-hole play-off. Conducted in constant rain, the nip-and-tuck affair was typified by the action on the par-5 14th where Newton pitched close for a tap-in birdie and then watched Watson chip-in for eagle.

It took until the 90th hole of the week before the men could be separated, with Watson's two-putt par claiming the win as Newton made bogey.

Flash forward to 2007, and Harrington and Garcia had no time to dwell on the what-ifs and maybes of the final round. Instead they were immediately thrust into a four-hole play-off after both had failed to par the 18th hole minutes earlier (the Irishman found the Barrie Burn twice in making a double bogey, the Spaniard missed a 10-foot par putt for the title).

In extra holes, Garcia was left to rue his opening bogey. The remaining three holes were not enough for him to make up the deficit and he perhaps wished that time and convention had not led the R&A to move on from the 18-hole decider.

The Field

Old Field
Photo by R&A Championships / Contributor

The leaderboard at the 1975 Open Championship at Carnoustie
New Field
Photo by Andrew Redington / Staff

The leaderboard shows the results during the final round of the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 2017

Golf has always been a sport enjoyed across the world, but never has The Open field been so varied, with golfers competing from more countries than ever before.

In the 1968 Open, players from 14 different nations competed at Carnoustie, a figure which rose to 19 in 1975 and then to 25 for both the 1999 and 2007 tournaments.

This year the nationality count will rise further still and among their number will be many Rolex Testimonees. From Asia there is Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, a seven-time major top-10 finisher, and China's Li Haotong, who last year shot a superb 63 to finish third at Royal Birkdale.

European golf's strength covers all generations from the ageless Bernhard Langer, who won the 2010 Senior British Open at Carnoustie, to his German compatriot Martin Kaymer and the young superstars Thomas Pieters of Belgium and Spain’s Jon Rahm.

America's strength is youthful, including the defending champion and Rolex Testimonee Jordan Spieth, back-to-back U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, each of them still in their twenties.

The traditional Open Championship powerhouse of Australia has Jason Day in their ranks whilst the home nations will be backing 2016 DP World Tour Championship winner Matthew Fitzpatrick. It is a cosmopolitan roster that is testimony to the tournament's global appeal.

The Media

Old Media
Photo by Peter Dazeley / Contributor

Jack Nicklaus talking to the media after his play-off victory during the 107th Open Championship in 1978
New Media
Photo by David Cannon / R&A / Contributor

Dustin Johnson talks to Sky TV during a practice round prior to the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 2017

Nothing demonstrates the growth of worldwide interest in The Open than the expansion of the on-site media operation every year.

Back in 1975 the press tent was literally a tent, with canvas sides which flapped perilously in high wind and no floor, just grass on which four or five rows of rickety tables and chairs wobbled and creaked.

Those present were overwhelmingly British press men who phoned in their copy, with voices raised over the constant clickety-click of typewriters. Scores were very slowly revealed on leaderboards outside the tent, on-course updates were rare, and player interviews were ad hoc affairs.

The contrast with 2018 could hardly be more remarkable. The media centre, which hosts crews from 22 different countries, is a purpose-built semi-permanent structure, with 356 desks for writers, 104 for photographers and 40 for radio. Wi-Fi is standard and every desk faces huge television screens and an enormous scoreboard which updates every player's score as it happens.

Where once the golf fan at home relied on sketchy television coverage prior to reading the next day's newspaper reports for further detail, today's fan has a choice of televisions channels. They can watch the main coverage, chosen groups or even the practice ground.

This dizzying variety of options is brought to them by an enormous television compound packed with trucks, cables and studios. To complement the pictures, fans can also turn to live scoring, social media and apps which provide immediate access to the unfolding drama.


Old Clothing
Photo by R&A Championships / Contributor

Jack Newton at the 1975 Open Championship at Carnoustie
New Clothing
Photo by Richard Heathcote / R&A / Contributor

Rickie Fowler tees off on the 1st hole during the final round of the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale

The Open of 1975 was a wet and wild experience for the golfers and their wardrobe coped with it less by design, more with fingers crossed that the clouds moved over.

When the rain came in the play-off, Watson and Newton were protected by nothing more than cashmere sweaters and brollies, their feet in old-style shoes with metal spikes.

Throw it forward to this year and the stars of the 2018 Open are not only treated to special edition outfits, but the announcement of Rolex Testimonee Rickie Fowler's scripting (the exact details of what he will be wearing and when) has become something of a social media tradition.

Man-made fabric has progressed too. Back in 1975, suntan lotion was a rarity; today the clothing itself has UV protection. Garments are now breathable, keeping the player cool in heat and warm in the wind. Rain has also long ceased to be the golfer's worst nightmare and it's not just waterproofs that keep the golfer dry whilst permitting full movement. Jumpers and trousers are also now water repellent, whilst footwear is radically more athletic nowadays, boasting plastic cleats that offer exceptional grip whatever the weather conditions.

Time doesn't stand still and neither does the Open Championship. Change is inevitable and also exciting. The opportunity to innovate is one the tournament embraces, enabling it to celebrate history, thrive in the present and look forward to the future. This July, a ninth golfer will be handed the Claret Jug at Carnoustie, a modern winner of a prize with a long and glorious past.

The relationship between Rolex and The Open is one that stems from a respect for golf’s tradition and heritage. Another exciting chapter in that partnership and in the history of the game is set to be written this July.