CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – When was the last time golf administrators held their hands up and admitted failure?
I’m having a hard time coming up with an example.
Even when they screw up the greatest championships in the history of the game, you won’t hear anyone admitting culpability.
Accentuate the positive seems to be the secret mantra of all concerned when something goes wrong.
That was the official line from R&A officials here at Carnoustie as they prepared to stage another Open Championship, eight years after the carnage that was Carnoustie.
It wasn’t the R&A’s fault that Carnoustie made the world’s best look ridiculous last time around. It was Mother Nature’s fault, you see.
R&A chief executive Peter Dawson and John Philp, Carnoustie’s head greenkeeper, blamed the elements for producing the highest winning score in an Open Championship in 52 years. Paul Lawrie’s 6-over-par 290 was only three shots lower than the total Fred Daly put together to win the 1947 championship at Royal Liverpool.
But hey, the R&A and Philp weren’t to blame. It was all down to the capricious nature of Mother Nature, and the old lady was in a particularly foul mood in 1999.
Dawson, to be fair, was only four weeks in the job in 1999, in transitional phase from taking over from Sir Michael Bonallack. But there was no way he was going to cast aspersions on his predecessor.
“Lessons have been learned,” Dawson said without elaborating on what those lessons were. “1999 has been gone over and it’s time to move on.”
Philp took a hammering during the 1999 championship, but still said he’d done nothing wrong.
“All golf courses in Scotland had similar conditions,” Philp said. “Muirfield was just as bad, and at Gullane the members didn’t even go into the rough that year. They just dropped another ball on the fairway. It wasn’t realized what was going on in the rest of the country. The weather did the job for us.”
I feel for Philp, because he’s a good man and a good greenkeeper, a man who restored Carnoustie from the run-down shambles it had become in the early 1980s. Philp arrived in 1985 and has done a tremendous job for which he deserves credit.
I blame the R&A for not realizing they had a fiasco on their hands. True, it was a warm, wet summer with exceptional growth, but the R&A had control over the rough and did nothing about it.
I walked with Sergio Garcia in his opening round in 1999 when he fired an 89. He hit a tee shot down the fourth hole, missed the fairway by about six inches and took nearly four minutes to find the ball. I know. I joined in the search.
When he did find the ball he could hardly advance it.
In a practice round, Ian Woosnam pointed out rough beside the fifth green that was so deep and lush that he had to play an explosion shot to get the ball out. His ball had just run through the green and into the grass, only 25 feet from the pin, but he had almost no chance of getting up and down.
Everyone in the field had tales of misery to tell that year.
The R&A should have dealt with the rough. Not that anyone admitted that at the time. “Same for everyone,” they said. “Fair test of golf,” they repeated.
It took Bonallack months before he finally admitted that if he could have one more go at anything in his time as R&A secretary, it would have been to cut back the rough at Carnoustie.
Eight years later and no one was saying that. No admission of guilt. No regrets. Let’s move on.
Funnily enough, the course is totally different to what it was like in 1999. And you can bet your bottom dollar we will not see the near hay field we saw eight years ago.
The talk is of a hard running links, similar to Hoylake last year. From playing the course yesterday, I can vouch that it’s ready to hold the Open right now. Although the rough is not yet up and its length will be determined by the weather of May and June, I’d bet my house that the course will not be dubbed “Carnasty” this July.
Philp said the R&A had made more visits in the run-up to this Open than they did in 1999. You can bet they did. They want Carnoustie to live up to its reputation as the toughest course in the British Isles – without rough.
But don’t expect an apology – ever.