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The wildest parts of Ireland: 2012 Links Golf Trip – day 3

September 30, 2012

Day 3 – Eddie Hackett was the most revered Irish links course designer, with good reason.  He said when he first saw the land outside of Belmullet which he turned into the Carne Golf Links that it was the best piece of golf land he had ever seen.  I understand he did not charge a fee for the design.  If it’s true, all links golf nuts are in Eddie’s debt forever.

Here are just two reviews:

Carne, the local golfers will tell you, is “at the end of the rainbow.” That can be literally true—its mighty dunes dominate a peninsula where Atlantic squalls compete with brilliant sunshine — but it’s also valid in the pot-of-gold sense. The last great links course laid out by the legendary Eddie Hackett, Carne is raw, rugged, and totally devoid of pretense. (“It took nature thousands of years to create this,” Hackett said when he first walked the site. “We must not let the bulldozers destroy it.”) The front nine, overlooking the bayside village of Belmullet, builds like the first movement of a symphony, but it’s the climb from an amphitheater green to the 11th tee that melts the golfer’s heart. Carne’s back nine is an unforgettable meld of sparkling ocean, terraced dunes, shadowy gorges and green sites that waited eons for a Hackett to come along. A couple of his holes are quirky — first-timers preparing to play their approaches to the par-4 12th need help finding the green, high on a ledge — but all are memorable. To my mind, Carne is the purest expression of links golf to be found anywhere.
John Garrity

Here’s more from Robert Fagan

Carne was the last links course to be designed by the late Eddie Hackett.   Hackett only lived three years beyond the course’s opening, but there is every reason to believe that he considered Carne perhaps his best creation.  This is an amazing property that the architect scarcely disturbed while formulating a routing that has a fun ebb and flow, and is indeed memorable.  A quick glance at the scorecard’s 6,700 yards will scarcely prepare you for what waits.  Yard-for-yard Carne may be the most awe-inspiring fun golf course on Earth.

Carne is a simple, almost rumpled layout that features massive dunes (up to 150’ high), ocean views, and an unforced, quirky, but stout test of golf, along with friendly unpretentious folks.  Where I might usually extoll the virtues of special holes, Carne has eighteen of them.  All of them are memorable and some of them qualify as quirky.  Like so many links, its challenge can be immense when the ocean breezes pick up and then play like a lamb on a quietly peaceful day.  Either way, the pacing, the views, the shot values, and one “Oh Wow” encounter after another greet you hole after hole.

Here are some comments from the designer himself at the course opening.

I’m forced to admit when I think of Carne, I think of Mozart. Every hole feels like it’s been there forever.  The course flows like a symphony. The first four holes introduce you to the dunes melody; one straight away then right behind a dune to the pocket green.  Two, a delightful par three through the notch with only the top of the flag showing.  Three, a downhill revelation with everything laid out like a banquet before you. Four, a hidden par five with every target concealed. The next four are an introduction to classic links architecture.  Five and six are bookend par fours with humpy fairways and green sites tucked behind and below good sized dunes.  Seven is a remarkable mid length par 3 that plays severly uphill and into the prevailing wind to a tine green cut high in the side of a giant dune.  Though it measures less than 190 yards from the medal tees it plays like a 220 yard version of Augusta’s famous 12th.  Eight drops down from an elevated tee and over a massive hump that can deflect a good drive way off line.  The green site is one of the best, tucked back and to the right behind another big dune.  Nine is where I realized that the course is just getting started.  From the tee, the hole rises in one continuous sweep up into the clouds with the clubhouse sitting behind the green like a crown.

This photo was taken on my first trip in 2004.  Pulling their trollies up the hill are Tommy Toombs and Mike Hellwege who are along for this trip as well.

Ten is a reachable par five with a drive over the brow and a long second to a green sitting at the base if a gigantic dune.  Departing the green a steep uphill hike takes you to the top of the dune.  The next two holes must be seen to be believed.  Eleven tees off at least sixty feet above the fairway thich drops severly downhill and through a wide notch between two immense dunes.  The fairway drops off a cliff just through the notch so you have no idea how far you can hit your tee shot.

If by skill or luck you put it in the fairway the green sits ninety degrees to your right on top of a bluff with a dramatic drop-off in front.  I pushed my second way right of the flag and watched it bounce through the green, up on a rebound slope behind the green and back down within 20 feet of the hole.  And we’re just getting started on the most amazing stretch of holes I’ve ever seen or played.

Twelve is another “quirky” short par four.  Another elevated tee shot through a tiny notch to a concealed (and tiny) fairway.

From there the second is another 90 degree dogleg to your left and at least 60 feet uphill to a green that floats in the air.  Thirteen is a mid length par five that seems oddly normal for this stretch followed by the short par 3 14th hard by the crashing surf in the bay.

Fifteen looks like a reasonable uphill par four until you drive it right down the middle and find the fairway is overwhelmed by very deep craters that may make it impossible for you to hit enough club to get home without hitting the hillside right in front of you.  Sixteen is a great, straight down hill glen par three with a small green surrounded by heavy rough and bunkers.  Seventeen is a very stern par four.  Long and uphill all the way to the green it requires two great shots and sometines even that’s not enough.  A short digression here: I made my first rtip to play links golf in 1982 when I played Turnberry and snuck on Royal Troon.  One of the many things I  love about links golf is the large role that luck, both good and bad, plays in the game.  This trip we had two older guys Tommy (0ver 70) and me (64) and , Mike and Martytwo younger (54) and longer hitting guys. This day we chose the white tees which made the course about 6,400 yards.   Seventeen played about 400 yards from the whites versus 440 from the blues.  Both Mike and Marty hit good drives right down the middle as did I.  When we got up to our balls we found that a huge crevasse pinched the fairway to about 10 yards wide at about 250 off the tee.  My ball was short of the narrow part and I hit a spectacular 1 hybrid from 215 yards into the left half of the green.  Mike’s ball was in play in the rough but Marty’s ball had rolled over the edge and fifteen feet down the side of a very steep hill.  He was completely screwed with no way to know that this could happen from the tee. Mike pushed his second into an even bigger crevasse to the right of the green.  As we walked up the hill with our match on the line I had reason to believe my par or possible birdie could win us the match.  At the green, I found that my great shot had hit just short of the green and take a huge bounce over the green into knee high fescue grass and found an unplayable lie.  Mike won the hole with his bogey as I never did get mine on the green.  As I said, luck plays a large role in links golf and we’e seen how good and bad luck can make all the difference.

Eighteen is a fantastic par 5 to finish. A well hit drive over the top of a ridge leaves a heroic all-carry 250 second to the green floating on the top of an impossibly deep ravine.  When you come up ten yards short, you end up eighty yards short.  If you carry on, you bounce over so once again  it’s all about the short game and somehow, we never have enough.

Day 3 Summary:  Carne is the real deal, everything we came for and more.  We had a pint in the clubhouse with spectacular views out every window.  We stopped in Bangor for another pint and ran smack into an Irish wedding.  I filled the tank and folled the bride and her dad in an extrordinary 1949 Bentley up the hill to the reception in the pub across the street.  An hour later we were back in Ballina and after a shower we all went out to a nice dinner and some great Irish singing and playing in town.  A practically perfect day.  I don’t think anyone even minded shooting high scores on one of the world’s best courses.  For myself, I can hardly wait to get back to Belmullet and the amazing Carne Golf Links.

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