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 would 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.
The clubhouse, pro shop and facilites are all quaint yet sufficient and do not distract from the main attraction which is the course. Strokesavers are a necessity here rather than just a luxury as there are twists and turns that you would not believe. Also the stone markers in the fairway relate directly to the strokesaver and do not give the same yardages for each hole (ie) the yellow stone might be 92 yards from the green on one hole but 220 from the green on the next. So get a strokesaver!
The course starts of with an upwards dogleg right par 4 and for the next few holes you are brought down to the lowest part of the course where you gradually begin to climb back up toward the club house as the opening nine wears on. The holes on the lowest part of the course are regarded by some as the weaker holes on the course but my view is that they afford the golfer the chance to build a bit of rhthym and momentum as well as confidence to tackle the challenges ahead. Indeed there are some terrific holes on the outward nine with the 8th and 9th in particular being my own personal favourites. The 9th returns you to the clubhouse and when you step onto the teebox on number 10 you get the sense that something very special awaits.
The back 9 at Carne is quite simply the finest inward 9 holes of any links course on earth. Set amoungst the tallest of dunes you start with a rollercoaster of a par 5 where you rise and fall back down again toward a green nestled at the base of a large dune. The 11th is probably the best tee shot of the day where you try to pierce the two dunes infront of you before the hole turns at a right angle to reveal an elevated green. The next hole is almost the reverse of the 11th and brings you down further to the boundry of the course. Two very dramatic holes in quick sucession gets the heart racing. Even their layout on the strokesaver wets the appetite. The par 5 13th that follows could well be the best hole on the course, as it gradually rises up to a flag that you can see on top a hill in the distance. It reminded me a lot of the 8th at RCD. What makes this par 5 so good is the views of the bay to the right of the hole as you get nearer the green and the view of the bay behind the green is simply stunning. A lovely par 3 along the bay follows and from here the course gradually brings you back up to the clubhouse.
The best thing about this course is that the majority of the elevation changes occur on the cart paths between holes which the course is far better for because if the giant dunes had to be traversed as golf holes, then we would all need oxygen masks. The 16th is a fun par 3 that is hit way down into a valley. Your ball seems to be in the air for an eternity. The 17th is a brute of a par 4 but with a beauitful green setting and rightly deserves its index 1 status. The 18 is reminicent of the 10th, and again is a rollercoaster of a par 5 that brings you back to the clubhouse, by which time you will be in a daze as to majesity of what you have just experienced.
Going up the 17th, I could not wait to finish so I could head back out again. A second round is a must here. This place is better than any other links course ive ever played, with perhaps the exception of Royal County Down. It really has to be seen and played to be believed. How on Earth this course is not ranked in the Worlds Top 100 ill never know. That will change in time im sure as more people experience this place. If there is a golf course in heaven, it would have Royal County Down's front nine and Carne's back nine. It's that good. DF
The 1st is a medium length par 4 followed by a short but tricky par 3. As it became lighter it was obvious that this was a quality track, right out of the top drawer with few, if any, weak holes. Along with the 2nd the 5th,6th and 8th were my pick of the front 9. To me, hole 10 is a mirror image of the 1st, both similar in layout, both designed to take you on to better things. It was at this stage, what can only be described as the miracle of Carne occurred. With little warning, the mist lifted and the rain stopped. It was as if someone had turned on the lights, and opened the curtains. Instantly, Carne’s true majesty was unmasked revealing quite possibly the finest back nine that I have ever played, (right up there with Hillside) it was simply magnificent. The best way to describe the back 9 is to say that it is like Cruden Bay on steroids with dunes the size of skyscrapers.
Holes 11 and 12 are more ‘L’ shaped than a dog - legged both culminating with elevated greens. (A wee word of advice don’t go through the green at 12 as it will cost you dear,) 13th is a lovely par 5 played to the oceans edge whilst 14 and 16 are stunning short par 3’s the former being up hill to a narrow green and the latter being steeply downhill to a well guarded green.15 and 17 see you play to narrow green entrances at the end of dune guarded fairways and the 18th with its humped and hollowed fairway sees the climax of a breathtaking inward half. As I sank the last putt on the 18th I confirmed the capture of Mayo to go alongside Donegal. Would I need to get another crown? Should I buy some corgis? Life was good. But that would have been the case irrespective of the result. Win or lose you cant help loving Carne a special golf course with the back 9 an almost spiritual experience. Eddie Hackett’s swansong just maybe his greatest gift to Irish golf. MPPJ
Carne and Enniscrone were the last two of the top 20 Irish links courses on this website that I had yet to play before this week and I’m glad to say they were both well worth waiting for! If you don’t like Carne - even with its relatively prosaic par 5’s at holes 4 and 13 and its, at times, unkempt appearance around a number of tee boxes (holes 1 and 10 in particular) - then you don’t deserve to call yourself a golfer. There, I’ve said it, it's as simple as that!
To think that a senior citizen in the shape of the late, great Eddie Hackett walked the landscape to route the layout less than 20 years ago is nothing short of astonishing as it has the feel of a course that has been in use for many, many decades. Pay no attention to those that might pick minor faults here - instead, REJOICE that local people had the foresight in the late 1980’s to develop a course within such a dramatic landscape. Remind yourself that environmentalists would fence off large portions nowadays to protect whatever species of crustacean happened to be flavour of the moment from those naughty golfers, given the opportunity. And please don’t try to compare and contrast Carne against the top classic Irish links courses as it lies in totally unique terrain and is therefore a different golfing animal altogether. Enjoy it for what it is; a wonderful place to play the type of golf that most modern golfers today can only read about in historical golf books. In case you’re not too sure from the above, I loved every second I was here. Jim McCann