Carnoustie is not a large town, and the roads are narrow. I've
been in Scotland for only 24 hours, and already the
driving--left side! left side!--has made me miss Manhattan. So I
walk to Mackays, which makes preserves and chocolates and is the
town's second-most-famous institution. It's just 10 minutes from
my hotel room overlooking one of the 54 holes that make up the
famed Carnoustie Golf Links (everything in Carnoustie is a short
walk from everything else), and thanks to Mackays 75-foot
chimney, the tallest structure in town, I can't get lost. Paul
Grant greets me in a white lab coat and a white hat covering his
mostly white hair. "Welcome!" he says, extending his hand.
"Would you like to see the fourth course of Carnoustie?"
About 11,500 people live in Carnoustie, which next week will
host the British Open for the first time since 1975, when Tom
Watson played such inspired golf that at least one local named
his first-born son after him (more on that later). Golf isn't
the only thing in this town on the northeast shore of the Firth
of Tay, but it's close, so during the 128th Open Championship,
when all eyes are on Tiger and Colin and Sergio, no one will pay
any attention to the handful of residents who have already given
Carnoustie a small measure of fame. That's my job.
The Candy Man: As managing director of Mackays, which among
other confections sells chocolate tennis balls (10,000 of them
last year at Wimbledon) and golf balls filled with orange,
strawberry and hazelnut truffle, Grant is the Willy Wonka of
Carnoustie. He's also the last marmalade maker in the area of
Dundee, which is 10 miles from Carnoustie and is the birthplace
of marmalade. But Grant's real claim to fame is that he's the
proprietor of the so-called fourth course, a replica of the 14th
green on the Championship Course, complete with its famed
bunkers that, because of their shape, are known as the
Spectacles. Five holes are cut into the imitation green. The
fourth course--located in the backyard of Grant's cottage, which
is next door to his factory--is tiny, like so much else in
Carnoustie. "You're in the starter's box," he tells me,
referring to a small wood structure the size of a phone booth.
In 1995 Grant bought Mackays from United Biscuits, the London
company for which he had worked for 26 years. A native of
London, he then moved north with his wife and their three
children, all four of whom had been born in Scotland. Grant was
intent on making the Mackays smokestack more visible to the
outside world, and he knew he needed a hook. When he learned
that Iain Gunn, the son of one of his new employees, had been a
greenkeeper at Carnoustie for 16 years and was now a
self-employed gardener, Grant wondered if he couldn't transform
the weed garden next to the factory into something that might
help people to remember his new business. (It's not hard to
remember now. On June 23 Mackays won its fifth Food from
Scotland excellence award for exports.) "I don't really know
what happened," Grant says, "but we said, 'C'mon, Iain, let's
recreate the Spectacles.'"
July 11, 1999
It took Gunn four months in '95 to build the fourth course.
After clearing the area of debris, he found that the sandy soil
underneath was perfect, very much like the stuff he had worked
with at the real thing. "Peter O'Malley matched the course
record, eight, two years ago," Grant says. "He came over during
the Scottish Open." You putt to the five holes on the fourth
course as if you were on a practice green. Only highly
accomplished players, whom Grant trusts, are allowed to hit from
the Spectacles, lest some bungler skull one over the back fence
and through someone's window. The record is shared by Earle
Smith, the secretary of the Carnoustie Golf Links Management
Committee, which runs the three courses. When I borrow a putter
and try to go low on the layout, I buckle under the pressure, my
score hits double digits by the 4th hole, and I stop counting.
Grant has special plans for the Open. He will have all his
friends over to his course for breakfasts and barbecues and set
up a 19th hole. "I would love to have Gary Player here," he
says, "because he won the '68 Open with an eagle on the
Spectacles. It would be great to have him do something here."
Player will be busy at this Open, because his presence is also
requested at the first course of Carnoustie, where he will
officially open the new, 85-room Carnoustie Golf Course Hotel.
The Epicurean: Dundee developer Michael Johnston, a tall, meaty
former plumber with salt-and-pepper hair, is the chairman of the
new hotel and a figure of some controversy. When he bought the
Carnoustie Golf Links name and logo last year, some of the more
Braveheart residents in town claimed that he had bought their
heritage. Their claim: As citizens of Carnoustie they
collectively owned the golf course.
Johnston, who drives a limited edition yellow Bentley with MIKE
J vanity plates--he also has a standard-issue black Bentley and
a Ferrari--has been accused of everything from poor manners (he
had to raze Carnoustie's 130-year-old Dalhousie Clubhouse to
make room for the hotel) to lousy fish (his Buster's
fish-and-chips restaurant chain went belly-up in 1998). Yet
Carnoustie would not be back in the Open rota had a hotel not
been built, and besides, the old clubhouse had dry rot.
Johnston meets me for breakfast, and all he really wants to talk
about is what his kids are up to. He and his architect, former
Scottish rugby star David Leslie, were under the gun to get
their masterpiece built in time and made it with only two months
to spare. Perhaps to commemorate their feat, they had the
world's largest Rolex clock, 2.8 meters in diameter, mounted on
the outside of the south wall. There's no need to wonder what to
aim for off the 18th tee. Just hit it at the O in Rolex, with a
In a region that reeks of charm, Johnston and Leslie's edifice
lacks it. It may remind American guests of a Renaissance--the
hotel, not the age. From the pay phone's one-button access to an
AT&T operator to the guaranteed tee times on the Championship
Course, Johnston and his guests have an implicit understanding:
If you drop enough coin ([pound]129, or about $204, nightly for
the cheapest room), hassles don't happen. That's especially true
if you stay in one of the 10 suites, which go for up to
[pound]650. Five of them have been dubbed Armour, Cotton, Hogan,
Player and Watson in honor of the past winners of Carnoustie
Opens. One of the other five suites will bear the name of the
'99 winner. (A victory by Fred Couples or Davis Love III would
make the rooms a natural as the honeymoon suite.)
My room is fairly standard, with a view overlooking the 18th
green on the Championship Course. As a guest I'm in agreement
with Sir Michael Bonallack, the former secretary of the R&A, who
is quite pleased with the hotel, saying it's fit for the world's
finest players. "They expect to find high standards," he says,
"and Carnoustie now surpasses them." The Open is expected to
return to Carnoustie by 2007.
The Lottery Winners: Johnston isn't the only one paying homage
to Carnoustie's Open winners. Ian Salmond, the irrigation
manager at Carnoustie, named his sons Tom and Ben. They are
three and two, respectively, and have a trip to Disney World
awaiting them when they are old enough to appreciate it. That
was the promise Salmond made to himself last year when two golf
balls he found on the course fetched a total of [pound]15,000 at
auction at Sotheby's in London. "I bought a computer," Salmond
tells me as people tee off behind us on the 1st hole. "That's
the one thing I bought."
Salmond was laying irrigation line on the 3rd fairway during
remodeling of the course in November '97, up to his neck in
dirt, when something rolled to his feet. "You could tell it
wasn't a stone," he says. "I was lucky I happened to be working."
The ball at Salmond's feet was a gutta-percha. Carnoustie
maintenance workers find two or three every year, and the balls
sell for [pound]50 to [pound]100 apiece. What made Salmond's
find special was that the ball had been given crude,
hand-hammered dimples to make it fly truer, and had ALLAN
stamped on the cover. The ball had belonged to Allan Robertson,
designer of the original nine holes at Carnoustie and the first
man to break 80 at St. Andrews, in 1858. Today's equivalent of
Robertson is Woods, who has TIGER stamped on his ammo. Experts
concluded that the Robertson ball was more than 150 years old.
A week after finding the guttie, Salmond was working on the 7th
fairway when he found another ball from the same era. This one
was less valuable because it didn't have the stamp. Salmond was
advised to put the two balls up for auction, and he did so with
modest hopes. Salmond didn't even attend the auction, which was
held a year ago, but that night he got a phone call. "I was
shocked," he says. "The estimated price had been [pound]1,800 to
[pound]2,000. I actually thought [the figure quoted to me] was a
mistake. I called back to make sure. I never found out who
bought the balls. I wasn't really carin' at that stage."
Salmond, in a sense, had won the lottery. For about 10 months he
was big news in town. Then on May 15 a Carnoustie couple really
did win the lottery.
The day I arrived was the first day of Derek and Teresa
Esposito's unemployment. Teresa, 44, had been a sewing machinist
for 8 1/2 years. Derek, also 44, had worked as a technician for
the Michelin Tire Co. for 28. They have three sons and had
strung together 11 numbers using the birthdays of everyone in
the family plus Derek and Teresa's age when they began playing
the lottery. On May 19, the day after they quit their jobs, they
began working full time on the problem of what to do with
[pound]1.4 million. "The main thing is to get family and friends
sorted out," said Teresa, clearly still in a state of shock.
"We'll get our son Darren a flat. He works for British Telecom
and has been renting in Dundee. My husband is going to get a new
car. He doesn't know it yet."
When I visit, Teresa is in her immaculate garden, a cordless
phone to her ear. Two West Highland terriers, Snowy and Holly,
run up to greet me. Teresa says she has been getting calls and
brochures from car dealers and financial advisers. Derek is
busy, or as busy as he's likely to be in the foreseeable future,
Salmond, whose handicap is nine at nearby Edzell Golf Club,
feels as lucky as the Espositos--not only because he found the
balls, but also because their price was driven up at a lively
auction. He says he keeps a keen eye out for old balls, as do
his coworkers, but he will mostly be looking for Watson next
week. "I'd like my kids, especially Tom, to meet him," Salmond
says, "to get their photo taken and even to get his autograph."
It won't be easy. About 80 trains a day will pull into
Carnoustie's Golf Street station. The town will swell to an
estimated 150,000 people over the four days. Salmond will need
some luck to run into Watson, but don't bet against him.
Johnston and his architect were under the gun to get their hotel
built in time, and they made it with only two months to spare.
"I actually thought [the figure quoted to me for the balls] was
a mistake," Salmond says. "I called back to make sure."