Unraveling Barry Burn’s biggest mystery
July 18, 2018
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
2018 Open Championship preview
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It doesn’t take long to encounter the source of discomfort and self-destruction at Carnoustie. The infamous Barry Burn is just steps off the first tee and must be crossed as you walk down the fairway. Consider it a gentle introduction to the nasty business that awaits at the end of your day.
Usually, the Barry Burn doesn’t come into play on the opening hole, although a certain 14-time major winner will argue otherwise. In Tiger Woods’ last visit to Carnoustie in 2007, he pull-hooked a 2-iron off the tee into the water during the second round. “Basically a lack of commitment on the golf shot,” Woods explained afterwards, “and a poor result.”
The brick-banked stream runs through the north half of the course and only touches a handful of holes, mostly on the back nine – including, of course, the 17th and 18th where it has directly influenced the outcome of previous Open Championships. As such, the Barry Burn will never be far from the consciousness of players this week. “It’s like a snake that you’ve bashed on the head but then recoils to confront you again,” Ian Poulter aptly described in a British newspaper.
So where does this “snake” come from? We know where the Barry Burn ends, flowing into the North Sea. But where does it originate?
Turns out that finding the source of the Barry Burn is more difficult than avoiding it with a set of golf clubs. Consider it the biggest mystery in Scotland since the Loch Ness monster.
The logical first step, of course, is a quick Google search. The Barry Burn Wikipedia page states the source as in Sidlaw Hills in Angus and offers coordinates – latitude of 56 degrees, 32 minutes, 36.6504 seconds north and longitude of 2 degrees, 52 minutes, 29.6724 seconds west. Just plug in those numbers into the GPS and go, right?
Not so fast.
Upon reaching the destination, about nine miles from Carnoustie, the setting is very peaceful. Pastoral. Lavender heather (or perhaps lupins) flowing in the gentle breeze, a quaint farmhouse down the narrow road, darkening clouds keeping their distance. And not a drop of water in sight.
Obviously not the right spot.
A short drive away is a small parking lot that includes an information plaque for the Inverarity Millenium Project. It states that the “Inverarity is bisected by a burn (one of only a few in Scotland which flows inland) from Lumley Den towards Fotheringham, where it is joined by the Corbie Burn, which flows from Dilty Moss, Kirkbuddo. The two burns become the Kerbet and this in turns flows in the Dean, which runs through the Valley of Stratmore.”
A lot of burns mentioned, but alas, not the one we seek. Two other cars are in the lot. One belongs to the Diamond Dog Service, and a woman soon shows up, a bit exhausted after playing tug-of-war with the four big dogs she was walking. Did she know anything about the Barry Burn?
“No sir, I’ve not heard of that one,” she says politely, still fighting to keep the dogs under control.
The woman in the other car is asked about Sidlaw Hills. “You’re not even close,” she said. “That’s Sidlaw Hills over there.” She’s pointing to a range several miles away, likely wondering if the American she just encountered had dabbled in too many whisky tastings.The Barry Burn is perhaps best known for its spot in front of the 18th green at Carnoustie. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Continuing down the road, we cross a small bridge and wonder if water is flowing under it. Seems promising and worth a brief check. Indeed, a small stream trickles past; perhaps the occupants in the nearby house could verify that it’s the Barry Burn.
However, the posted signs next to the bridge aren’t exactly welcoming. “Shooting in progress” declares one. “Warning: CCTV system installed on these premises” states another. Probably best to drive away quickly and quietly.
Fortunately, a quarter-mile away, a man is out walking his dog. Gordon is from Monifieth and is a golfer. Asked about the stream, he flatly states, “It’s not the Barry Burn. It’s just a burn.” Told that Wikipedia indicates the source is in Sidlaw Hills, he adds, “That seriously surprises me, since the Barry Burn flows through the east. It doesn’t even make sense.”
Time to suspend the search and return to Carnoustie, as Padraig Harrington is headed to the media center. The Irishman won here in 2007, but it wasn’t without drama, as he hit two shots into the Barry Burn on the 72nd hole before escaping with a double bogey that salvaged a playoff spot.
At that point, it appeared Harrington was headed for the same fate that befell Jean Van de Velde in 1999. The Frenchman found the Barry Burn on his last hole -- and nearly played out of it, famously taking his shoes and socks off and rolling up his pants legs to stand in the water before realizing his ball was too deep, thus accepting an unplayable. He suffered a triple bogey to drop into a three-man playoff eventually won by Paul Lawrie.
Harrington was more fortunate. Sergio Garcia failed to convert a birdie putt on the 72nd hole to win the Open outright, and Harrington then beat the Spaniard in the four-hole playoff for the first of his two consecutive Open titles. That gives him a unique perspective: Barry Burn Survivor.
Asked what thoughts run through his head when the Barry Burn is mentioned, Harrington recalls the first time the “snake” bit him – at the 1992 British Amateur, when he lost a match with double bogeys on each of the last two holes. “I’ve got history with this golf course, and certainly the Barry Burn,” Harrington said.
Meanwhile, in the media center, an endless loop of videos are being played – and one is a feature on the Barry Mill, which is owned and operated by the National Trust in Scotland for educational purposes. The water for the mill comes from the Barry Burn. “The Barry Burn is the lifeblood of this building,” states spokesman Ciaran Quigley. Seems like a good place to resume the search.
Although the mill is closed on this day, the grounds are open for exploring … or, in this case, investigating. Another information plaque explains that the lade – a Scottish terms for man-made chanel – carries the water from its source to the mill.Scott Jamieson of Scotland walks over the Barry Burn on the 11th hole during a practice round this week. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Seeing the word “source” is definitely encouraging, and the trail map notes it’s only a half-mile away. Perhaps even closer. “Driver, 3-iron” says a man who had just been there. He is, of course, accompanied by his dog. Starting to sense a theme here.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t think it’s the source of the Barry Burn. “They just meant the source of the water for the mill,” he noted. “Sorry to disappoint you. I think it’s farther into the hills.” Upon reaching the lade, those fears are confirmed. A dam closes off one direction and re-directs a portion of the Barry Burn to the mill.
Still, one last hope. Another map had shown the Barry Burn to originate where it meets Pitairlie Burn. That spot was not too far from the mill, a right turn from a T-junction on an unnamed access road off A92.
Indeed, this map seemed to make sense, and the stone bridge gave away the position. Unlike the previous stop near the shooters’ hangout, this river flow was larger, more powerful. It had potential.
Was this the start of the Barry Burn? Had Carnoustie’s Brigadoon finally revealed itself? If so, there was nothing official. No signage. Barry Burn seemed barely there. If this was the source – and there’s no guarantee it was – then it felt a bit underwhelming.
Perhaps that’s how it should be. After all, the Barry Burn wasn’t actually part of the course after James Braid was hired to spruce up Carnoustie prior to hosting its first Open in 1931. The five-time Open champ was a little overzealous with his redesign, though, and the course received poor reviews when it hosted the Scottish Amateur championship in 1930.
Carnoustie chairman James A. Wright then led a committee to fix the issues with another redesign before 1931 – and that’s when the Barry Burn became an integral part of the layout.
Ultimately, where the Barry Burn starts doesn’t really matter, especially to the 156 golfers in the field this week. All they care about is how to avoid it, particularly late on Sunday when golf’s oldest championship is determined.
“There’s no point making too big of a deal out of it,” said Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who knows how to avoid the Barry Burn – he owns the course record of 63. “If you hit fairways, greens, that’s kind of your plan. So if it goes wrong, it goes wrong -- but it’s not going away anytime soon.”