The Carne links at Belmullet is the late Eddie Hackett’s swan song and many reckon it’s his finest design. The course sits in splendid isolation on the Atlantic edge of County Mayo. It lies on a peninsula, amidst gigantic dunes with far-reaching views across Blacksod Bay to the Atlantic islands of Inis Gloire and Inis Geidhewild. And it’s absolutely charming.
“I am thrilled with the way the dramatic Belmullet course has turned out,” said Hackett, “and again, I reiterate my first opinion that ultimately there will be no better links course in the country, or, I doubt, anywhere.” It’s impossible to disagree – the course is wild, and natural. It's difficult to believe that the course only opened for play in 1993. It feels as though it’s been here forever. Many of the greens and tees are sited naturally and, for such a modern course, very little earth-moving was required during the construction. From spring to late autumn, the course is alive with harebells, sea holly and wild thyme.
Carne is owned and operated by a community-owned company called Turasoireacht Iorrais Teo. Primarily, the course was developed to attract tourism to an isolated, but beautiful area of western Ireland. If you haven’t heard of Carne, it could be your golf course find of the century. You’ll certainly remember the lunar landscape and the towering sand dunes – we’re in the same league as Ballybunion here at Belmullet.
This 6,700-yard links is not a simple out and back affair. Each nine wends its way back to the clubhouse – the holes snake up and down through the dunes in all directions. As with any coastal course, the wind always plays its part. On a calm day you might play close to your handicap, but when the wind is up, hold on to your hat. Undoubtedly, Hackett has created a high-spirited golf course and it’s a layout that you cannot help but enjoy. “It would be great to believe that we could all leave as beautiful a signature on the world when we depart as Eddie Hackett managed to do,” said Michael Pask from Golf International after playing Carne.
A trip to Ireland’s beautiful west coast would not be complete without playing Carne. Include County Sligo, Enniscrone and Connemara on your itinerary, alongside Carne, and you’ve played four of the most naturally beautiful links courses in the world. Finally, don’t visit Carne without experiencing Ally McIntosh’s new 9-hole layout, which opened in 2013. It’s called Kilmore and is probably the best 9-hole course in Ireland and perhaps Britain too.
Belmullet is miles from anywhere, but any links lover definitely needs to make the trip - Carne is stunning, and unlike other "golf porn" courses, if anything the photos don't do credit to the amazing topography. The dunes may be higher at Enniscrone, but their use is more varied at Carne. The overall quality of a Dunes Links experience often rests on the holes on the perimeter. Carne's flatter landward holes still have plenty of good golf around dunes, including the 12th requiring a strong drive drawing around the dune then another well hit approach into the wind with a bad drop off to the right with OOB waiting a tentative shot. There are some farm views to the North, similar to RCD back 9, but then supplanted by glorious sea and beach views at 13. The quality continues through to the notoriously hard 17th (cavernous drop offs left and right of the fairway) and then the 18th with its huge dip short of the green. Very good front nine, but one of best back 9's we've played. Recommended to stay in Belmullet, one of the nicest and friendliest villages we've been in so far, with a great play and stay deal at the excellent Drum Caoin B&B, and beers at McDonnell's bar run by the irrepressible Padroig. Not for nothing is its nickname "The Lobster Pot" since it's so hard to get out once you're in ! Will definitely come back again when the extra 9 is in play, those holes look other worldly !
So, the wind is blowing 40kph out of the west and just to complicate matters, I'm fighting a hook. That's the bad news. The good news is that this course is an absolute delight from start to finish.
Mr Hackett certainly knew how to find his way through sand dunes, the way the course meanders through them with the minimum impact on the terrain is quite brilliant. In my opinion it's fair to say he didn't so much design this course as discover it.
Others have talked about the lunar landscape, the scenery etc. so I won't repeat all that. Suffice to say that one goes round thinking that this is how golf was supposed to be. I don't think there's a weak hole on the course, and the challenge - especially in today's wind - is very considerable, but what hasn't been said below is just how playable it is. Playing to your handicap is tough, but unlike Enniscrone or Lahinch, being off line isn't necessarily terminal: it may cost you a shot, but you probably won't have to reload.
Is there a weak hole? Some might argue that the dead straight par 5 10th is a bit vanilla, but with the prevailing gale behind me it gave me a chance to get home in two, so I'm not complaining. (Coming back the other way, it took me four to reach the 13th) And it is followed by a magnificent series of holes from 11 to 14.
While playing I was thinking about the comment of an earlier reviewer here to the effect that the greens are too flat to be interesting, and that was the weakness of the course. I can see his point - up to a point. More contouring would turn the 7th from being just very difficult into fiendish, make the (already beautiful) 11th into maybe the best short par 4 you'll ever see, and elevate the 15th from being one of the few (maybe the only!) relatively straightforward par 4s here. But everywhere else I'd say there's enough subtlety in the greens to make challenging pin positions available if required.
A joy from start to finish - and the 18th is a great finish. It's miles from anywhere, but I shall certainly be back.
Out on the edge of the earth beyond the town of Belmullet within the spectacular landscape around Carne Golf Links we found ourselves the beneficiaries of a sunny seaside day with only one brief shower to contend with for the entire round. The wind of the day seemed to be a prevailing northwesterly off the ocean and stayed at about a two club factor throughout our round.
Carne is more remote and bare than Enniscrone and Rosses Point and you can immediately feel this on arrival at the clubhouse, imposing amidst an exposed rugged wild Atlantic coastal landscape. The Hackett 18, ranked 10th in Ireland, takes you through outrageously high dunes, such that not only do you feel like you are alone on the course on most holes, but also that it would be a significant physical effort to get anywhere near another fairway, and then brings you along a mesmerising coastal trail equivalent to golfing nirvana.
The course opens with a slight dogleg right par four that played into the teeth of the wind on the day providing for a very tough start. This is followed by what should be a relatively straightforward par three complicated by the right to left crosswind. The par four 3rd is quite exposed and features a false fronted green, followed by the benign par five 4th that played downwind for us with OB on the left the only major issue. The 5th hole proved a brutish undulating par four into the wind with the dunes creating the classic links amphitheatre effect around the green. The 6th is one of the harder holes on the card, presumably due to the small and dangerous green complex, but it played generously downwind on the day allowing for a short iron approach. The 7th is a fiendish uphill par three to an exposed green that required a wood off the tee held against a strong right to left crosswind with a good bit of hurt. The par fours 8th and 9th follow a similar pattern to the 5th and 6th, the 8th into the wind and 9th back downbreeze towards the clubhouse. The 8th stood out due to its undulations and its green, seemingly buried at the foot of the high dunes. The 9th was more favourably downwind with a short iron approach required for most, but it does present a particularly tricky green complex in its defence.
The back nine kicks off in front with the par five 10th up and over a hill and down towards a towering dunescape behind the green. The 11th hole is a sharp dogleg right par four with the dramatic tee shot played down into a valley between large dunes and the short approach back up the slope to the right towards an exposed green set upon a ledge.
The 11th green marks the beginning of a section of the course until the 14th that elevates the already sublime Carne experience to mythical proportions. Blacksod Bay becomes more visible with every shot until the seahorses on the waves are almost touchable from the 14th tee. The 12th is a quirky downhill par four with a forgiving landing area that pushes everything to the right to leave a short approach to a very elevated green. The par five 13th must be one of the most enjoyable walks in golf, the ocean and remote seaside landscape out to the right and the approach to the green appearing as if at the edge of the earth. It is a strong hole too and needs three solid shots to find the green in regulation.
Much is spoken about the par three 16th at Carne, but for me the 14th was the standout hole on the course, a majestic par three set alongside the white sandy beach that on this day played downwind to a narrow green. The setting is wild yet serene, remote yet soothing, a hole you would be happy to play repeatedly all day long with nothing but the sound of the waves.
The homeward stretch begins with the difficult uphill par four 15th, featuring a couple of nasty fairway pot bunkers and a steep incline through the imposing dunes towards the green. The par three 16th is one of the signature holes at Carne and it is not hard to see why given the wide-reaching views from the high dune-top tee and inviting plummet to the green.
The stroke index 1 par four 17th is actually not excessively punishing from the tee but introduces real difficulty for the second shot to a green that is tucked into the corner of a dune and high above a deep grassy ravine that will collect anything missed right and leave a very tough up-and-down.
The 18th is a finishing hole befitting of the quality of Carne, weaving its way down through the dunes with a wide fairway and deep valley before a steep rise back up to the green . The county colours of the Mayo flag blow high on the dune to the right of the tee imploring two solid shots to reach this par five in two, an achievable feat if you manage to clear the valley before the green.
Carne is undoubtedly a golfing paradise at the edge of the earth!
Pick of the holes:
Par three - 14th
Par fours - 8th, 15th
Par five - 18th
I have been most fortunate to have played the Top 100 courses in Australia and numerous others in UK, Europe, S E Asia and throughout Oceania. Possibly the single most frequently asked question asked of me in relation to my golfing travels; What's the best course you've played?. Unequivocally, Bellmullet. Although some little while past since I played the course, your article brought back fond memories of my visit to this grand 'track'.....
I daren’t presume to phrase a more graphic portrayal of Carne than the following attributed to Eddie Hackett, a doyen of golfing architecture;
“I find that nature is the best architect . . . I try to dress up what the Good Lord provides.”
“If ever the Lord intended land for a golf course, Carne has it.”
James W. Finnigan, a most respected Irish golf writer is credited with the following;
“I am inclined to go rather far out on a limb for [Carne] by calling it the single most remote great course in the entire British Isles.”
In my most humble estimation; “This man is one fine judge of golf real-estate….”
The Club logo sports an imaginative quote; GALF CHU`RSA CHAIRN, the literal translation of which I understand to be; Nature’s Gift to Golf. Most appropriate…..
By usual Irish standards, the resident club, Carne Golf Links, at Belmullet, Co Mayo is ‘new’, opening for play in 1993. However, there is an inscrutable perception that the course has been there forever. In fact it has, simply caressed somewhat by Hackett’s deft hand.
The course can only be described as classic links, and notwithstanding I consider I played reasonably well on the day, I needed an extra few on my handicap to get close to a nett 72…..
Chris Croker, Queensland, Australia…..
There's gold in them hills... It was April 2016 in a northwest corner of Ireland, and we expected some tough weather. We got it, of course, in spades, but what we also got was two days of golfing majesty.
If the greens staff were to immediately fill in every bunker, Carne would not become the first bunkerless course in history, but it would inarguably be crowned as the best. It simply doesn't need them. The terrain pushes and pulls you in such fantastic fashion that big holes in the ground half-filled with sand would feel strangely artificial and, in my humble opinion, entirely unnecessary.
There are no weak holes on the course. If I had to pick my least favourite, it would be the 4th, a par 5, which sits at the outskirts of the dunescape on the lowest-lying piece of land, furthest from the sea. Almost every other hole on the course is simply superb.
I'll try to avoid boring you by giving a hole-by-hole account of my dad's and my experience, but as you battle through the fierce winds, soaking in the breathtaking Atlantic views to the right of holes 13 and 14, the staggering altitude difference between the 16th's tee and green, back up to my favourite 17th, and down the wonderfully dramatic 18th, you'll be ecstatic that you made the voyage to this remote but gorgeous golfing outpost.
It's been a full year since we played Carne, but the joy we felt over those 36 holes hasn't diminished. In fact, we're plotting our return. It will test your ball control to the limit whilst exciting your senses beyond measure.
If anyone were to criticise this course, I imagine they'd point their crooked little finger at the conditioning of the greens. If it's Royal County Down you're after, then you're looking in entirely the wrong place.
Make no mistake: Carne is an absolute masterpiece.
The scenic drive up from Mulranny through the Ballycroy National Park is over way too soon, but Belmullet awaits with another very natural course – the Carne golf links. Although it does look positively ancient (and the dunesland certainly is), this is actually a fairly new development. The late Eddie Hackett's final design consists of 14 roller-coasting holes and perhaps four on the front nine that are merely undulating, but great links golf all the same. The connections between the holes are impeccable and conditioning strikes a perfect balance between natural and playable. Click the link to read more… Ireland – any decent golf on the West Coast?
Stayed at Mulranny which gave me the chance to warm up on the delightful 9 hole links there, now fully recovered from the flood of 2014. Had not played Carne for 6 years (played 9 August 2016) and noted an improvement in the condition of the course – fairways seemed better defined and conditioned and the greens were excellent. There were some boggy areas, notably short of the 16th green due to the very wet summer but overall it was even better than I remember. It really is an extraordinary golf course and it was a disappointment to see so few playing it on a fine if windy summer's day. More practice facilities would be welcome particularly a driving net to warm up in and a practice bunker.
I also played the new Kilmore 9 holes - the design is breathtaking - the fairways swoop up and down between the high dunes with two spectacular par threes across valleys. However a lot needs to be done to the condition of the course to bring it up to standard of the Hackett 18.
The remoteness of Carne makes it something of a pilgrimage to get there, but you won't be disappointed.
Other places try to make the most of their one or two high dunes on the site. At Carne, they had to avoid them in order to create a playable course! These 18 holes are located on such undulating terrain that bunkers are few and greens are essentially flat, the latter a point of criticism and what prevented me from giving this course the highest mark.
Seldom crowded, which means that you can pick your starting time and your playing pace. Try that at the popular courses further south...
The golf package with the Talbot Hotel was fantastic price/quality.
Eddie Hackett certainly knew how to route a golf course. And at Carne he got a piece of land that allowed his genius to show through. One can just imagine the former Portmarnock professional tromping through the marram grass locating one delightful green site after another. The result is 16 holes that from tee to green are as good as it gets. Only the two par 5s at the extremes of the course (the 4th and the 13th) are ordinary. Moreover, Carne manages to challenge the golfer while employing minimal bunkering, another testament to Hackett’s work.
The issue at Carne for me, however, is that the greens do not measure up to the routing. With a few exceptions (most notably # 14), they are rather flat and not particularly imaginative—an unfortunate counterpoint to the excitement the course provides from tee to green. Had Hackett been able to match the creativity of the routing on the greens, we’d have a course to match the best on the island.
Americans who love links golf do so for the firm and fast conditions that are so rare on our side of the Atlantic. On my most recent visit, Carne played neither firm nor fast. The fairways hadn’t been cut in some time and were infested with wildflowers. And the greens read 7.8 on my stimpmeter—the slowest of eight courses I played on the island in May 2016.
Eighteen months after my last visit to Carne, I was back again last week to play the original 18-hole layout. Because I had only played the front nine once before, when it was very foggy, it was great to get the chance to reassess the course on a bright, sunny day with little wind.
Belmullet’s Immediate Past President Jim Brown accompanied me on my round and he regaled me with numerous stories of how the course had developed in the last two decades. Suffice to say, his yarns could easily be combined into a very entertaining book about how, in the modern era, a small, remote community could somehow manage to transform part of its wild, coastal landscape into a world-class 27-hole links facility.
It was evident from the large pools of water by the sides of the 4th and 5th fairways that this place has taken a pounding over the winter months – indeed, the rain in recent months is said to have fallen in biblical proportions. I was surprised to see the fairway on the 12th hole has still not properly bedded in, but that’s another consequence of last year’s generally inclement weather conditions.
Overall, for a course that has ONE full time greenkeeper in Daire Higgins, Carne shapes up rather well and the quality of the astroturf pathways that he’s installing around the teeboxes in the dunes are testament to his endeavours. There’s so much exciting golf to be played within the towering dune system here that Carne simply has to be included in any golfing itinerary to the north west of Ireland. Jim McCann.