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.
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…