Located a mere 15 miles to the west of Dublin city centre, Carton House is set to become a popular golfing destination. The 1,100-acre walled Carton Estate dates back to Norman times and a new luxury four-star hotel is currently being built in sympathy with Carton House, the existing ancient mansion. Carton House is not only located in a beautiful setting, but it’s easily accessible.
There are two courses, the more senior O’Meara, which opened for play in 2002 and the Montgomerie, which opened the following year. Both are contrasting in style: the O’Meara is park-like and the Montgomerie links-like. This is the second course to be designed by “Monty” and he was helped and guided by Stan Eby of European Golf Design. It’s an interesting sculptured layout which stretches out to a massive 7,300 yards from the championship tees.
Without huge defining sand dunes, links-type courses can be flat and featureless. The Montgomerie course gets its definition from manufactured undulations; swaying fescue grass, clear definition between the cuts of grass and the many deep pot bunkers. It clearly has a modern look and feel but it’s an honest an unpretentious driver’s course which hangs together rather well. There is no signature hole to speak of, just one good hole after another, and the par threes are especially noteworthy.
Clearly delighted with his creation, Colin Montgomerie said: “This is a unique project and I am privileged to be associated with it. You can’t call it a links course, but it plays like a links and has all the characteristics of a links. In designing this course, I attempted to go back to a more traditional course. I looked at the great courses around the world – Royal Melbourne, Troon, Turnberry – and worked out what is so good about them. One thing that springs to mind – bunkering. They are hazards and they work with the prevailing wind. Few holes are straight up and down the wind but tend to be across, which brings the bunkering into play. This is the kind of course where the best players would always come out on top”.
In May 2005, for the first time, the Irish Open was held on Monty’s new creation. Wales’s Stephen Dodd emerged victorious after beating England’s David Howell in a playoff. This was to be Howell's second shootout disappointment after losing in the previous week to Thomas Björn in a tense three-way playoff at the Forest of Arden in the Daily Telegraph Dunlop Masters. Despite six birdies in the final round, Monty couldn’t recover from a third-round 75 and he ended on his own course tied for 28th place.
The Irish Open was staged over the Montgomerie course in 2006 and the event returned to Maynooth in 2013.
Played this course in May 2019. The fact that the facility has played host to many notable events over the years (Irish Open, Eisenhower Trophy etc.) made my expectations reasonably high, not only for the course itself but also for the entire property.
Let’s start with the positives: The Montgomerie course has been laid out to a nicely undulating piece of land, which has provided Monty the opportunity to use the elevation changes to benefit the layout. The enormous size of the estate has enabled the holes to be placed far apart from each other, creating a feel of a spacious parkland layout with a nice, calm feel to it. The on-site facilities off the course are incredible and another cool part of the facility is the driving range, which is a massive grass field without a single target (at least when we were there) with perfect practice tees and a wonderful view of the Carton House.
However, the highlight of a world-class golf resort should be the golf course. At Carton House, I think the off-course facilities stand well above the Montgomerie course. The course is a good test of golf, as you would expect, but after leaving the course behind, even golfers like me with a good memory would forget most of the holes. Apart from holes 17 & 18, there is just nothing else that would create a permanent memory from the layout. The Montgomerie could be turned into a real monster for championship golf by narrowing the fairways, growing the rough and cutting the greens down. During my round I didn’t get penalized as I probably should have with my wild tee shots, so I actually managed to get it around. But for a recreational golfer, the course does not offer much additional enjoyment compared to similar styled courses around (except if you decided just to enjoy the off-course facilities), the brutally deep bunkering and elevated greens make the course a real fight for shorter hitters. “Inland-links” is an interesting description of the course, as I could not find anything about the course that would have brought a linksy feel to the golfing experience.
As a conclusion, the Montgomerie course is worth visiting for the rest to be experienced at the estate, but the golf course left me slightly disappointed due to my expectations. This is a ballstriker's golf course and truly separates the best from the rest, playing here often would definitely make you a better player if your career ambitions are set to play championship golf one day.
Here's the good news -- The Carton House is a warm and wonderful top notch resort property, fortunate in having two good and different golf courses to choose from, with The Montgomery being better of the two (with The O'Meara being more "easy going" ... parkland, but almost Monterey, CA-like, how native trees, bunkering and rough outline many of the fairways). The less than good news? The difficulty playing the course lies in redundant deep bunkering, both in the fairways and around the greens. Even Monty said, "I looked at the great courses around the world -- Royal Melbourne, Troon, Turnberry -- and worked out what is so good about them. One thing that springs to mind -- bunkering." Fine ... but does nearly every bunker need to be so deep, that when you're stuck in one, playing partners can't even see your head? Don't mind a tough round at all -- but when the course relies on the same feature, over and over, to introduce difficulty -- it actually takes away from the beauty and challenge of the rest of the course. Finishing hole more parkland-like and a bit out of character ... leaving one to wonder, "what course did I just play?" The front nines from both courses would make the better composite 18, in my humble opinion. Don D.