When Colin Sinclair came to Carnoustie in 1998 to start as head professional to the links, things were a little different to now.
“I was attached to the hotel and Michael Johnson was the owner, a colourful character,” Sinclair wryly recalls 20 years later, still the head pro. “We had a pro shop in the hotel, did a little junior coaching and that was it; a lot of retailing, myself and three assistants.
“Now I have ten staff in the shop in Links House, 25 working outside. It’s on a very different scale, but basically it’s still golf.”
The most appreciable and obvious difference is the newest, the £5 million state of the art Links House sited alongside the first tee of the championship course, which the R&A have described as “perfect” for their needs for the Open.
During the championship it will act as the players’ facility, with everything the field and their families require under one roof. “We’d like one of these at all of our venues,” admitted Rhodri Price, the R&A’s director of championship operations, earlier in the year.
But what happens after the champion golfer is proclaimed, the claret jug presented, and the world’s attention shifts?
“We’ll still have the best golf experience possible if you’re a member here, a local, or a visitor,” says Sinclair. “The great experience we never were able to do before because we didn’t have anything off the golf course. Now we have a golfing utopia here.”
The links belongs to Carnoustie the town, and therefore every move there is properly scrutinised. Sinclair is aware that many in the town think Links House is all about the golfing visitors, but he’s determined to correct that assumption.
“It’s inclusive,” he stresses. “It’s not a clubhouse, this is for everyone in the community to join. We have a visitor business, yes, but also a members’ business and they’re equally important.
“We’re incredibly busy now but once the Open has been and gone, the doors are open to all. The legacy of the Open here is that it gives us the finances to build this place and promote participation in the game.”
That’s crucial for golf everywhere, but Links House gives Carnoustie a head start to be different, believes Sinclair.
“Some golf clubs are not overly friendly and most are not friendly at all to beginners,” he continues. “In our indoor facility on the simulators you can play in an hour, it’s not overawing, it’s comfortable and it encourages ladies to play more, kids to play more.
“The kids buy into the simulators but we’ve completely sold out our memberships (£10 a month for an hour a day on the simulators) to mostly 60 and above because they love golf but don’t want to play in the cold.
“We give you clubs to start with. If you are a junior you get free coaching, become a member you get a free lesson.
“It’s perfect for beginners and it’s great for established players who are keen practisers; you get all the data, you see the tracer, you know what you’re doing whereas you hit at a most ranges you’re not getting any feedback at all.”
There are discussions about a nine-hole course to cater for the growing demand for a shorter, sharper form of the game in the open air, all part of a plan to arrest the decline in numbers playing, which Carnoustie has felt as much as anywhere.
“We’re like everywhere, top-heavy on over 55s,” he said. “The Championship is the jewel but it’s one tough golf course.
“We need to be more welcoming in playability, indoors and perhaps 9 holes, then go through the Buddon to the Burnside and eventually to the Championship. There should be a progression. After all, if you want to be a hill climber you start in the glens, not at Mount Everest!”
Having been involved back then, Sinclair knows mistakes were made before and the Links Management Committee are determined not to make the same ones again.
“The course was already great again when I got here, but off course wasn’t great,” he continued. “The hotel was brand new but it didn’t engage with a local audience, they were all about visitors, and that was the strategy of the owner at the time.
“Now, the committee led by Pat Sawyer and our chief executive Michael Wells are at the forefront of this, and we need more women and girls and juniors. Before we were maybe a little closed off, but Carnoustie is open arms now.”