The DUNHILL LINKS CHAMPIONSHIP, version 2011 finished on Sunday past, is to me the best possible professional golfing event to watch in person. Why – great field (5 of the top 6 in the World Rankings, plus countless others), great courses (Carnoustie, The Old Course, and Kingsbarns), not crowded (first three rounds very light, final round maybe a few thousand mostly on 17, 18 and #1), and it’s free (no charge the first 3 days, then 10 GBP the last day ($16.00).
The field plays three courses the first three days, one third on each course each day. They play two pros and two partners in each fourball, the partners are usually family (Rory and his Dad; Dustin and his brother Austin; Ernie and his Dad, etc.and, when family isn`t available, they invite Michael Douglas, various Knights like Sir Michael Redgrave, or football stars, or TVéstage actors, etc). Great format, the top 20 teams and top 60 pros get to play the final (4th) round Sunday on the famed OLD COURSE (one of the four rare days that golf is allowed on Sunday on the Old Course, normally it rests on Sundays).
My course preference is to watch play on the last few holes at Carnoustie. With the proper weather, the final 3 at Carnoustie is as difficult as any finish in golf,and you can be within an arms-length! Kingsbarns is a great links modern design, plenty of good vantage holes to watch, but I prefer to stay in town (as do most of the locals) and watch on TV in the Dunhill tent on the road Hole. And on the Old Course I try to follow a favourite group, the course is remarkably condensed and you can see many groups as you follow your favourites. Or, like the locals, you can play one of the other links early and hang out near the 17th and 18th to see the whole field finish.
Clubhouses: unlike North America, clubhouses are very small, if in existence. Carnoustie has several private clubhouses, across the street and mainly left of the 18th hole. The course is owned by a municipal trust and has no public clubhouse. At times the hotel serves as a clubhouse, but it is separate from the course and during several visits not available to golfers (are you staying in the hotel sir, if not, sorry). No problem, you do not miss much by not getting in. Kingbarns clubhouse holds around 70 on a good day, and the Old Course shares a clubhouse which is actually on the New Course, about 300 yards from the finish on the Old. The buildings you see to the right of the 18th hole are clubhouses, used by The St Andrews Club (opposite Valley of Sin), or St Rules (opposite the green), or the New Club (opposite a short sliced tee ball) – all these clubhouses are open only to members and their guests.
I once played with my boss from Fairmont and she made a great par on 18 -her tee shot sliced, hit the New Club and bounced back on the fairway. Her second shot hit a BMW, then the St Andrews Club third floor, then bounced up the road, where it was tossed back on the green. She almost made the putt, but settled for a par 4.
Spectators are welcome at pubs near all the courses. One other reason the Dunhill is great – the players frequent the local St Andrews eateries. A couple years ago Bill Murray and friends were walking along a street, a door was open revealling a unie party crowd inside. An hour later the students were thrilled to find Bill had walked through the apartment, gone to the kitchen and washed all the dishes. His idea of a joke. Imagine students when they realized who was in their kitchen. And he was with several pros and another actor. brilliant. There are three Indian restaurants in town, all really good, and half the patrons are players, their families and friends.
It is hard to beat the Dunhill, if you want to see the best golfers in the world when they are smiling! and even if it is raining, there is lots to smile about in St Andrews (and it is about 60% more expensive than here in Canada, and worth it)