In February 2013, golf course architect Ally McIntosh kindly provided us with the following comments on his latest creation, the 9-hole Kilmore course at Carne Golf Links:
A new nine holes through some of the most dramatic dunes at Carne was first tabled in 2004. In conjunction with course director Eamon Mangan – who has overseen developments since the original eighteen was built – an initial routing plan was prepared by architect and club member Jim Engh. Some early works were undertaken but these were halted in 2007 and towards the end of 2010, the course committee engaged me to take a fresh look at the possibilities which were immediately apparent and incredibly exciting.
Whilst Eddie Hackett used the rolling inland ground for his front nine, our small team had the spectacular sand hills adjacent to the existing back nine from which to create the new holes. As with those before us, our overarching philosophy was always to use the natural features of the land wherever we could. Budget necessitated this but it would have been criminal to do anything else with the wild landscape that we were presented with.
Because of big elevation changes, one of the main challenges was to keep the course as compact and walkable as we could. This has been achieved and we have deliberately left many unique shots and options that are more typical of a bygone era. Amongst a few heart-in-mouth blind shots, there are a good mix of green sites – some undulating wildly, some a little flatter – and a huge variety in the type and length of holes.
The par threes at the 2nd and 7th are particular high points, the former playing semi-blind in to an amphitheatre surrounded by sand-scarred dunes and the latter playing over a huge chasm to a gorgeously framed green in the distance. The 1st hole is a rollercoaster par five that in many ways mirrors the Hackett 18th, and the 9th hole is a long two-shotter played from an elevated tee over fantastically rumpled ground; an amazing finisher which was just lying there waiting to be discovered.
The new nine will open as a stand-alone course in August 2013 and once the conditioning is up to the standard of the existing eighteen, there is a tantalising opportunity to mix it with the current back nine in a routing that will become the biggest scale dunes golf course to be found anywhere in the world, an adrenaline injection from first shot to last. We hope you have as much fun playing it as we did designing it.
After a lengthy closure of two years, the Kilmore course re-opened in time for the 2019 season and in 2020 it was announced that Carne would host the 54-hole Irish PGA Championship in 2021. The championship routing, which is being referred to as the “Wild Atlantic Dunes” course, will comprise of the Kilmore nine and the back nine of the Hackett.
Having gone around the Kilmore 9 on 7 or 8 occasions now I can safely say it’s only getting better and better.
I first played the Kilmore 9 in the 2020 Pro-Am after it had reopened in 2019. It was very fresh at the time and probably wasn’t ready for a tournament of that scale. Us professionals enjoyed the layout but the conditioning wasn’t nearly as good as the other 18 holes at Carne. The layout is tricky but fair once you’ve had a go around it to figure out where to plot yourself off the tee. The 8th hole for example is one where you stand on the tee wondering where the hell do I go here! A shot of about 230 yards in the right area travels over 300 leaving a nice approach to one of the best greens on the property.
We once again played the Kilmore in 2021 in the Irish PGA championship and the condition was up to shape with the other 18. The greens were actually a little quicker than the other 9 of the wild Atlantic Dunes course during a recent visit.
The course is quirky but extremely fun. Lots of elevation changes through the massive dunescape. If you happen to be playing the Hackett course I would recommend going for an extra 9 on the Kilmore before you leave. If you get the weather you might think you’re in heaven!
I was so disappointed last time we were here in 2017 when they told me the Kilmore course was closed, but so happy this time (June 2019) when they told me it had opened and we could play it after our round at the Hackett course! Very generously the club also allowed us to play it without any extra fee.
It's a fantastically fun round, no2, 3, 7 and 9 especially are approaching almost fantasy video game golf. I don't think I've ever seen anything as amazing as the par 3 7th, with the tee towering above the maze-like fairway of the fifth hole on the left, and what seems like a monstrous carry to safety to a green nestled in the dunes. In reality a cleverly hidden fairway means you "only" need to carry it 100 meters or so, but anything left is utterly dead along the entire hole. It's both claustrophobic and wide open at the same time. You supposedly don't build golf holes like this anymore, and I keep asking myself "why not?".
During my visit there was talk at about putting the Hackett second 9 and this 9 together for a new 18 hole championship course in a few years time when the Kilmore course conditioning is up to speed, but I do agree with Ed in the previous review, keep this as a stand-alone 9.
The talk of tagging the Kilmore 9 (which does have a couple of routing issues) onto the back nine of the Hackett to make the main 18 would be an error in my opinion. The reason is that this almost over-the-top, maze-like layout is much better as a stand-alone nine where you can perhaps go out for an après lunch jaunt and just have a complete blast. The present configuration works well and this could throw it all out of kilter.
You will find meters on the scorecard, not yards. The Kilmore 9 has back tees stretching it to 2,952 meters and is a par 35. However, the turbulent terrain with all the rises and falls almost negates distance – on some holes you may not be able to propel your ball much more than a couple of hundred meters but likewise on other holes you’ll benefit from several meters of rollout.
The only criticism that I could throw at Carne is by asking the question; “Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?” At times it can be overpowering with no counterbalance. A day here is a mentally and physically exhausting one. There is no respite from the dramatic golf on offer and the walk is fairly tough. I know for certain I wouldn’t want to play all my golf at a course like this…. but I can’t wait to return!
Ultimately Carne is a masterpiece of links golf. The colossal dunes not only frame the holes but they also interact with the golf. It may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s easy to see why so many people fall in love with it.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Another nine holes have been added recently and christened the Kilmore loop. These are routed through some of the wildest terrain imaginable and are on the brink of playability in places. The towering dunes on the 5th hole could be the highest in all of golf – for sure they trump the ones on the Hackett course. Click the link to read more… Ireland – any decent golf on the West Coast?
Five years ago, when I was last in Belmullet, there was talk of a new nine being laid out by American architect Jim Engh among the towering dunes adjacent to the existing 18-hole Carne layout. Sadly, for whatever reason, the intended construction of the new holes never quite materialized – until last year, when Ally McIntosh brought a modified layout into play.
Let me just say that if this new 9-hole circuit is meant to be a “toned down” version of the original course that never quite found favour then God only knows what Engh’s radical design must have looked like because the layout that’s eventually seen the light of day is as wild and tempestuous a track as I have ever played - with the only concession to normality found on the 1st and 9th, leading from/to the clubhouse!
In between those opening and closing holes, golfing convention is largely stood on its head as the links swoops and soars in and out of the sand hills in heart stopping fashion. There’s much to commend on every hole but the heroic par threes at 2 and 4 are particularly strong, whilst the greensites for the par fours at 6 and 8 have been beautifully sculpted.
The Kilmore course is EASILY the best 9-holer that I’ve ever played and I doubt if I’ll ever play one that’s better.
From a purely aestetical point of view I agree that this is the most dramatic nine holes I have ever seen! However, during our recent visit, the greens on this 9-holer were in such a bad shape it made no sense to putt on them and if you missed the fairway the ball was almost certainly lost. Until this changes, better walk these holes with a camera than a golf bag!
Unfortunately the Kilmore course is now closed for the remainder of at least 2017. On my visit last week the staff explained that there was simply not the economy at the moment to sustain both the Hackett 18 and the Kilmore 9 to the condition that they want. From what we could see the course is still mown, but not much more maintenance than that right now. Let's hope the economy works out!
I always enjoy your reviews. Can you tell me if the Kilmore 9 is open for play these days?
Martin, I can say that this time last year they were planning to bring Kilmore into play last/this year.
Would justify a return visit; just back from the awesome Cruden Bay which seemed smaller than I remembered due to having visited Carne.