On Course For Conquest
Double Open champion Greg Norman reveals how Skibo’s Carnegie Links course helped him to prepare for the grandfather of all tournaments
Back when I was competing regularly in the Open Championship, the golf course at Skibo Castle was always my ‘go-to’ spot in the week before the tournament. There is nothing quite like hitting low-running iron shots off the fescue turf you find in Scotland, and so many of the holes at Skibo allowed me to hone that distinctive art. Three of those holes stand out in my mind: the challenging and strategic par-5 5th hole and two wonderful short par 4s – the 7th and the 17th.
Every time I have played the 5th – whether into the wind or downwind – I have been struck by how much thought has gone into its design. The bunker configuration off the tee means you have to shape your drive carefully and properly, considering all your options. Then there are the angled bunkers in the lay-up area. They are all what I call ‘gravity bunkers’. I love that you can watch a ball land and know that a few seconds later it will make its inexorable way into a perfectly placed bunker. The green is just as interesting. Moving the pin as little as 15 feet can make a 50-yard difference in the location of the perfect lay-up. There are so many ways to play this hole. And that, for me, is the mark of a great par 5.
Each time I stand on the 7th tee, I marvel at the number of options available because of the split fairway. Every player has a decision to make. Downwind, the big-hitter can aim at the left-hand bunkers and try to cut the ball on to the green. Into the wind there are even more choices. No matter where you are though, the uphill approach is likely to be ‘awkward’ and a fascinating challenge. At only 304 yards, the 17th is another little gem. I could stand all day on the tee just looking at the spectacular view. Even better though is the opportunity to hit so many clubs, depending on the strength and direction of the wind. This is the hole where I would spend most of my time before an Open – chipping and putting on and around the exposed green hour after hour. It was ideal preparation for what lay ahead.
I have always enjoyed the golf at Skibo Castle and love being a member there. It is an outstanding links with a charm, variety and diversity of challenge rarely found within one course.