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.
In November 2020 it was announced that Carne will host the 54-hole Irish PGA Championship in August 2021. The championship routing, which is being referred to as the “Wild Atlantic Dunes” course, will comprise of the 9-hole Kilmore and the Hackett back nine.
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.
Much has changed at Carne since I was last here in 2009, especially with the introduction of the fabulous new 9-hole Kilmore course, which has rejuvenated the whole setup. The original 18-hole Eddie Hackett layout is as good as it ever was - indeed, ongoing remedial work to lower the fairway on the 12th hole will actually improve the course - so Carne Golf Links has slowly evolved into a formidable 27-hole golf destination.
Talking at length to Eamon Mangan, one of the club´s original members, before setting out on my round, it was fascinating to hear how ordinary local enthusiasts, with the support of various local government bodies, have managed to develop such a fantastic tract of linksland into the wonderful golf facility that it has now become, providing an income for those who operate the clubhouse and course. In many ways, the story reminded me of Askernish, where kindred golfing spirits on the island of South Uist have achieved something similar with their honest endeavour, albeit on a more modest scale.
Having played elsewhere in the morning, I only had time in the afternoon to tackle the new 9-hole layout at Carne and the back nine on the main course which was a pity as I’d played the front nine holes in fog during my previous round and would have loved to replay them in better weather conditions. Still, missing out this time is as good an excuse as any for a return trip another day…