Carlow Golf Club is located close to the bustling market town of Carlow in a delightful wooded deer park that once formed part of the estate of Henry Bruen. The site is wonderfully undulating and the ground feels pleasantly sandy and springy underfoot. Carlow looks like a parkland course but plays as though it’s a moorland course and there’s no doubt, it’s a pearler.
The club was originally founded in 1899 as the Leinster Golf Club, where the men of Carlow played on a simple nine-hole course at Gotham. In 1922, a more suitable, larger piece of land became available, and Cecil Barcroft (a well-known player of his period) laid out an 18-hole course on the former deer park. Shortly before the Second World War, Tom Simpson and his assistant Molly Gourlay revised the layout and nothing much has changed since.
Measuring around 6,500 yards from the back tees, Carlow is not excessively long, but the lowly par of 70 makes playing to handicap a tough challenge. They are rightly proud of their putting surfaces and although the greens are fairly small in size, they are extraordinarily true and very slick. The elevated tees provide that wonderful feeling of expectation and a real desire to get the driver out and open the shoulders. But take care, the course is tightly bunkered and there are enough trees around, especially on the back nine, to cause real problems for the wayward drive.
There are many fine and memorable holes at Carlow. It’s tough to pick a favourite, but the 16th is considered to be an exacting signature hole. It’s a 440-yard par four with another of those supremely inviting shots from an elevated tee. A stout drive will leave an uphill approach, which must carry a valley in order to find the elevated sloping green. The 17th, a short, but uphill par three, requires an accurate iron shot across a valley to a heavily bunkered two-tiered green. A par here will feel like a birdie.
In 1978, Carlow played host to the Irish Amateur Close Championship, which saw M.Morris beat T.Cleary by one hole. The Midland Scratch Cup is also an annual event at Carlow. Gene Sarazen once played an exhibition match here in 1935 so it’s surprising to us that this excellent golf course isn’t better known. No doubt John Brophy’s amazing feat at Carlow Golf Club will help to raise the club’s profile. The 11 handicapper double aced the 6th and 13th in the same round, completing all four par 3s in only seven shots. For more details, click here.
Carlow is a great track, and arguably the best parkland in the southeast, possibly even Ireland (not counting links here). After a gentle opening few holes you head up in the hills where the fun really starts. Just hilly enough to make things interesting, great use of the land, and wonderful, sandy turf. Certainly if you are playing in wintertime, this really would be the place to go in the area. This is simply a great track, heathland in character. The club appears low-key (in a good way) and just about the golf rather than fountains and country club trappings.
It has long been regarded as one of the top old school parkland courses standing alongside Cork Golf Club, Hermitage and Mullingar in that bracket. But even in this day and age since the introduction of the likes of Mt Juliet, K Club and Druids Glen, I believe a very strong case can be made for Carlow to be considered Ireland's premier inland layout.
The par of 70 is one of the toughest around, with the SSS of 72 paying testament to this. The thing I love most about Carlow is that its great Design by Tom Simpson has stayed largely intact, only in recent years have some new back tees been introduced to lengthen the course for the annual Midlands Scratch Cup, which has long been one of Ireland's top amateur events, year in year out it attracts a top field with past winners including none other than Padraig Harrington. I believe the strong test the course poses is the defining factor in the events strong field.
The course opens up with a very strong par 4 and this sets the tone for the day.The tee shot is semi-blind, the ideal place to attack the green is down the left side, but this brings into play the scrub down the left, the green slopes from right to left with plenty of room to bail out on the right however thin leaves a tough chip downhill across the green towards the lake and bunker which guard the left side of the green. This aspect of Simpson's Design as also seen at Ballybunion (6th hole prime example), whereby he rewards the golfer for taking the brave line of play, with the next shot being easier however, if the player chooses to take the safe option he is presented with a much harder task. From here on this facet is evident throughout, at the second a short dogleg left par 4, the player can choose a mid iron from the tee leaving shot of 100 yards where he must play across the angle of the green and he will be unable to see the bottom of the flag.
The course contains only 2 par 5's but both contain the same ideal,the 5th goes left to right the other right to left(18th), one can play their tee shot close to the corner on each occasion, risking danger but being rewarded with an eagle opportunity, likewise the can play for safety and turn the hole into an awkward three shotter. The par 3 holes are exceptional, number 3 players across a deep ravine to a narrow deep green, the 6th is in my opinion one of the best short holes in the world. Again the player must cross a huge dell to a green guarded the the front and sided by traps and requires a very well struck shot of around 200yards to reach the surface, however once on the green the real fun starts, a mid sized green sloping viciously from back to front has caused many a man's knees to knobble over the years.
The 7th I also feel is a genuine contender for the best par 4 in Ireland. From the tee the player sees before him a long sweeping uphill right to left dogleg. the fairway contains a ridge, which if carried can kick one's drive down the slope. The whole way up the left side of the hole is gorse, ferns, bracken and deep rough, while up the right tall pines stand sentry guarding the fairway. the green is flat, but set at a difficult angle to the player where anything missed to the right will fall off a shaven slope, will miss left and you run the risk of being caught in the ferns. In reality,
I could talk about all 18 holes in the same depth and detail, as they are all that good! The 16th is another fine par 4 which poses the difficulty of one of the most demanding tee shots to be found, the 12th, with its grand canyon like gorge short left and the end of the earth feeling when approaching the green as to what lies behind. Not to mention the views atop the dramatically dropping 8th tee, is one of the most breathtaking in the whole of Europe. Carlow is the toughest and best parkland course in the country, I have gone out on a limb and leave myself open to scrutiny, but I really do believe it.
Adare is long with plenty of water and slick greens, the K Club, Mt Juliet and Druids Glen the same. But at these tracks one can hit a loose shot and not be fully punished or there are respite holes where the golfer can take a breather. At Carlow there is no Margin for error and No let up, it is the ultimate examination of skill and mental toughness. If I was given the choice of having to shoot even par at any of the aformentioned parklands or Carlow, to win a tournament, there would be no question where I would feel more comfortable. This place quite simply is the most underrated course in Ireland.