- Top 100
- Eddie Hackett
Born in 1910, the son of a publican, Eddie Hackett is widely regarded as “the father of golf course design” in Ireland, though he never formally trained as an architect and only really became involved in laying out courses when he reached his late fifties.
His influence on the game cannot be underestimated. As Pat Ruddy has said, “Eddie is the unsung hero of Irish golf. At a time when there was no money, he travelled the highways and byways of Ireland. Half the people playing golf in Ireland are doing so because of Eddie Hackett.”
Eddie had spells in hospital with tuberculosis as a youngster – he also spent nine months in bed with meningitis during the 1950s – but he took up golf as an amateur at Hermitage Golf Club on the advice of his doctor, who thought the game would be good for his health.
Starting out as an apprentice professional at Royal Dublin, he worked under legendary clubmaker Fred Smyth then ventured abroad twice in his early professional career.
He spent five months with Henry Cotton at Royal Waterloo in Belgium then a year with Sid Brews at Houghton in South Africa, before returning to Ireland to become the professional at Elm Park then the Head Pro at Portmarnock in 1939.
During the war, Eddie wrote a newspaper column in both the Irish Press and the Irish Independent and he helped to arrange exhibition matches which raised hundreds of pounds for good causes. He was an expert clubmaker but it was his skill as an instructor that was most in demand during the 1940s.
He was made honorary secretary of the Irish Professional Golfers’ Association in 1948 then retired from professional golf a couple of years later to “take part in an ill-advised business venture” with his brother which didn’t work out as expected.
After re-instatement as an amateur, Eddie played out of Foxrock Golf Club for a while then re-joined the professional ranks in the early 1960s, offering his services to the Golf Union of Ireland as an instructor, coaching the children of affiliated club members for free. It didn’t take long for him to be regarded as the leading teaching professional in the country.
It was around this time that he was approached by clubs at his teaching clinics for advice on the construction of new golfing layouts. Eddie had already set out small courses for the students at Rockwell College and Clongowes Wood College before being asked to create his first 18-hole course for Letterkenny Golf Club in 1967.
His efforts in Donegal (and at all his subsequent designs) were focused on routing holes through previously uncharted territory to come up with a challenging course that offered the minimum interference with its surroundings. Money was tight at the time, so his ability to produce a quality product for a reasonable price soon made him the architect of choice in Ireland.
It’s reckoned that Eddie Hackett was involved in more than a hundred golf projects across the country – his 100th course was at West Waterford in Dungarvan, where the Spratt family commissioned a championship-standard layout on 150 acres of rolling terrain – and although the vast majority of these layouts are inland tracks, it’s the links courses that quite rightly receive the most praise.
In the book Links of Heaven: Golf Journeys in Ireland, by Richard Phinney and Scott Whitley, the authors have this to say about the architect: “Every one of his links courses is enormously enjoyable, even thrilling to play, with at least a half-dozen holes that will stop you dead in your tracks in admiration.
The admiration is always as much for Mother Nature as for the architect, however. Hackett never draws attention to himself. There are no bizarre sand traps, ostentatious ledges, artificial mounds or strangely shaped greens so common in modern design.
Because Hackett’s layouts are so sensitive to the natural terrain, there is always a consistent style and rhythm to his links that takes its theme from the specific natural surroundings. Nothing seems artificial or imposed. Hackett would have been horrified to think his courses looked like one another.”
Eddie used to tell clubs not to hire him, saying: “I told them that if I was in your position, and I wanted to make some money, I wouldn’t use Hackett, I’d use a Nicklaus or a Palmer or a Trent Jones.” Some clubs, like Ballybunion and Tralee, did just that.
Waterville chose to bring in another American, Tom Fazio, to upgrade what Eddie had done but, thankfully, most clubs had the good sense to employ the self-effacing man who single-handedly did more than anyone else to shape the modern game of golf in Ireland.
From the book The Evolution of Golf Course Design, author Keith Cutten had this to say in his Eddie Hackett profile: “Some reviewers have lacked generosity when appraising his design legacy; levelling the back-handed compliment of ‘simplistic’ against Hackett’s courses. Yet, these people may be unaware of two important design principles that Eddie adhered to: a disdain for both ‘blind’ shots; and hidden hazards. Clearly, when eliminating those linksland elements, and working on a shoestring budget, any layout can appear non-sophisticated.”
In Eddie Hackett’s own words:
“Over the years my very busy designing life has brought me to every corner of Ireland. The highlights of my thirty three years designing would have to be the good fortune to have been commissioned to design ten courses on exquisite links land, extending along the West Coast of Ireland:
Waterville and Ceann Sibeal in County Kerry
Connemara, County Galway
Enniscrone and Strandhill, County Sligo
Donegal at Murvagh, County Donegal
Carrigart Hotel and Rosapenna Hotel, County Donegal
Greenore, County Louth
Carne at Belmullet, County Mayo”
Larry Lambrecht dedicated his book Emerald Gems: The Links of Ireland, published in 2002, to Eddie Hackett. An edited excerpt follows:
“I was aware of a certain aura surrounding Eddie Hackett. And having walked, photographed, and played his wonderful creations on links terrain, I increasing yearned for a first-hand telling of his experiences.
The opportunity came about in 1995 through the good offices of Stan Craig, then captain of The Island Golf Club. Stan, who was a friend of Eddie’s, phoned the great man and told him of my photographic activities and general interest in his links design work.
The upshot was that Eddie had us as guests for lunch at his home in Dublin the very next day. I was stunned: what a treat this was, to be a house guest of Ireland’s most respected golf course architect, a veritable legend in his own lifetime.
Eddie recounted how he overcame the scourge of tuberculosis during his childhood before embarking on a career in golf. Born in Dublin in 1910, he was guided into golf by his father during the early part of the 20th century, when it wasn’t easy for a Catholic tradesman to gain access to the Royal and Ancient game in the environs of Dublin.
Associates always speak or write reverentially about Eddie, making a point of highlighting his integrity and humility. There was a true sense of purpose to his golfing achievements in Ireland, in that he often had to work with modest budgets on difficult terrain. Yet at places like Waterville and Belmullet, he succeeded magnificently.
So it is hardly surprising that I should recall lunch with him as an enriching experience, especially when observing his remarkable insight and listening to his gentle words of wisdom. On all matters of golf, he conveyed the simple, clear message of a true believer.
He spoke of simplicity in design and the importance of visible fairways, hazards, and greens. In his understanding of the fragile nature of linksland, he recognised the dangers of careless earth-moving among majestic dunes.
‘I’ve been very lucky in my life, while most people never get to design a links, I’ve done ten. And when I’m out on the course, I pray to the Lord to give me the light to do what is right.’ In his varied and distinguished work, there is rich evidence of answered prayers.”
As Eddie Hackett reflected on a commission in 1970 to design the splendid Connemara links at Ballyconneely, he felt moved to remark: "They had no money, you know. I told them if you're that keen on golf, I'll go down and I'll put a stone in for a tee and a pin in for a green and you can pay me when you can."
Irish golf journalist Dermot Gilleece wrote in GolfDigest.ie:
“As Eddie Hackett reflected on a commission in 1970 to design the splendid Connemara links at Ballyconneely, he felt moved to remark: ‘They had no money, you know. I told them if you're that keen on golf, I'll go down and I'll put a stone in for a tee and a pin in for a green and you can pay me when you can.’
Thirty years later, I made a return visit to Connemara to look over an additional new nine which he designed along the coast. ‘Oh, Eddie was a saint, you know,’ said Fr Peter Waldron, secretary of Connemara GC Ltd. ‘He was totally self-effacing and had more integrity than almost anybody I ever came across. And he worked for pennies.’
Hackett's response to this was: ‘I know I've charged too little all my life, but starting out, I didn't have the confidence in my abilities.’
On a visit to his wonderful creation at Carne in Belmullet, I remember being staggered by his skill, despite the constraints of a tight budget, in finding a routing through its formidable duneland. Afterwards in the charming clubhouse, one of the staff pointed to a chair and table strategically positioned for a perfect view of the links. ‘That's where Mr Hackett would sit on his visits here,’ she said with quiet respect.
Carne remains arguably the most stunning ‘discovery’ I have made in golf. Situated on the wild Atlantic, locals will tell you that on a good day by the 13th hole, ‘you can see them going home from work in New York.’ Naturally, such remarks are richly embellished for the benefit of visiting Americans.
Towering duneland has become something of a cliché in describing links courses but here, the splendour of the terrain makes the term seem almost inadequate. I suppose one's surprise stems from the fact that the site, all 270 acres of it, has been revealed to outsiders, only since the official opening of the golf course.
When one of his great mentors, Jack Mulcahy, died in September 1994, Hackett wrote me a charming letter recalling the wonderful times the two men had experienced together, building Waterville, which he described as ‘a beautiful monster’. He wrote of a phone call he had received from his prospective employer with the blunt instruction: ‘I want you to design for me the best golf course in the world.’
Though Waterville’s current well-being owes much to the upgrading skills of Tom Fazio, it remains a splendid monument to Hackett's original design. And while an enduring respect for Mulcahy was also true of all his clients, he retained a special place in his heart for the south Kerry links.
That he survived so long was remarkable in itself, given how frail he was when visiting The Old Head of Kinsale in July 1991. His objective on that occasion was to examine the feasibility of building a course there involving an outlay of several million pounds. Yet his expenses for the trip from Dublin included the item: two nights' accommodation in Kathleen Humberstone's Bed and Breakfast £34.00.
This was the sort of thoughtfulness for his clients' resources which made him a unique figure in Irish golf-course development. Money was always a secondary consideration: his prime concern was to do justice to a site at an outlay which would fit the client's pocket.
Despite fragile health from an early age, Hackett remained extremely active until his death until his death in December 1996 at the age of 86. Indeed, only two months before his passing, he travelled to Wentworth to be awarded a silver medal from admiring peers in the British Institute of Golf Course Architects. No award was more richly deserved.”
Play Good Golf by James P. Rooney (1947)
Links of Heaven: Golf Journeys in Ireland by Richard Phinney and Scott Whitley (1996) In the introduction – under the heading “Saint Eddie” – one of the authors interviews Eddie Hackett shortly before he died.
Aspects of Golf Course Architecture II by Fred Hawtree (2008) includes an essay in golf design in Ireland from Eddie Hackett.