Carne Golf Club in County Mayo, is not a course that will intrigue the visitor in a rush to play as many of Ireland's championship courses as can be squeezed into a 7-day golf trip. But for those willing to search out and discover what can only be called one of Ireland's last true hidden gems, the story will be different and Carne will reward them handsomely.
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The Emerald Isle is known for neither the logic of its road system, nor the close proximity of its golf courses. Part and parcel of any Ireland golf trip is the fact that you will be spending a fair amount of time on the road. Include Carne Golf Links in the northwest of the country in the itinerary and you will be doing more driving than even Ireland normally expects -- but the effort will be more than worth it -- and that's a guarantee.
Carne is about as far west as you can go on mainland Ireland, with the next stop, the Statue of Liberty. The setting on the Mullet Peninsula, practically surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and spectacular views of Blacksod Bay and the Atlantic islands of Innis, is nothing less than breathtaking.
This idyllic location was presented to the late Eddie Hackett, arguably Ireland's greatest golf architect ever, to design a course that would attract tourism and golfers from around the globe. The end result is the best design of Mr. Hackett's illustrious career though sadly, it was to be his last -- Eddie Hackett passed away in 1996 just three years after the inauguration of the course he so rightly regarded as his crowning achievement.
Since opening in 1993, Carne may not have attracted the numbers of visitors that had been hoped, a situation that will inevitably change, given more time. More importantly, Ireland gained a top quality links course that is unequivocally the equal or perhaps even better than even its highest ranked championship layouts -- Ballybunion, Royal County Down and Portmarnock included.
Hackett believed he had put his signature on what would one day be acknowledged as Ireland's best links course and anyone playing it today can only agree. Wild, natural and ruggedly beautiful, the immediate impression is that this handsome course must have been sitting here for a hundred years - it's hard to believe it's only a young teenager.
The mammoth sand dunes are even more imposing than those at Ballybunion and the two 9-hole loops snake around, over and through them with a sense of drama that only adds to the mystique of the layout. Dunes have been used to elevate tees, laying out a vista of the challenges that lie ahead on each hole, where the constantly erratic wind, gusting off the Atlantic waits, ready to pounce from behind every sand hill to frustrate, tease and destroy any strategy you may have devised. A round on Carne is an adventure into the unknown, through a lunaresque landscape of thrills and challenges, the likes of which you have never experienced before.
A quick glance at the course card shows Carne to be a mere 6,700 yards, which misleads some into thinking that playing to their handicap will be a breeze. After the first hole, this misconception has all but vanished as every spark of attention is focused on the task ahead and the fight to preserve honor gets seriously underway.
Filled with amazing variety, each hole presents its own challenge and there are a few that are totally unique, calling for some very creative thinking. This really is a course that will have you using every club in the bag and still wishing you had brought a few more along on the trip.
To say Carne is exhilarating would be a gross understatement, but it is one rollicking, rollercoaster of a ride from start to finish, filled with thrills, spills, and a level of sheer excitement, seldom found at such a level on any other course - at least not on this planet.
By the time you reach the 19th hole, you will feel as a warrior returning from a hard fought battle; worn and weary, but privileged you had the opportunity to engage such a very worthy opponent. There will be many lasting memories to be taken away from Carne - memories of a course that battled gallantly with uncommon spirit. You have played one of the best links courses in not only Ireland but in the entire British Isles and a true gem that can remain hidden no longer.
For all of its isolation, the northwest of Ireland contains a choice selection of more golfing treasures, natural, beautiful links courses, calling out to be experienced by many more visitors than has been the case. Their names may not be familiar, but the caliber of challenge they are able to muster, will likely exceed your greatest expectations. Spend a full week in this handsome golfing paradise and you will have time enough to play a half dozen or so of the cream of Northwest Ireland's golf crop and still have time to discover the rich history and intriguing culture of this Ireland of yesteryear.
For those of us who got to know this unique corner of the unspoiled Ireland while it was still unknown, let's hope things don't change too much. The images of an Ireland of old, with empty links courses, good enough to compete with any of the over commercialized layouts, maybe only a treasured memory. For those who would like to share in the memory, better move fast and get there before the crowds start to descend.
For a few suggestions on how to include Carne and more of Northwest Ireland's uncommonly good links challenges, click here.
©2009 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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