I laughed out loud when I arrived at Carnalea clubhouse. I walked into the bar and there, hanging from the ceiling, was a glitterball. Having been highly amused by the glitterball in Donaghadee, here was another one 24 hours later. Big disco folk up here, evidently.
Carnalea is another seaside course just outside Bangor. And it was another morning of heavy rain. The course is split in two by a busy railway line and it divides the course quite conveniently. The sea side has corrugated roof effect fairways and that spartan pine tree cover that gives it a dark feeling. The water is never far away and you get down and close to it after 6, one of those quirky holes that you’ll love or hate. Up above it’s a more regular parkland affair with greater variety to trees.
The course reminded me of Greystones because it’s the first club (out of 310) that I’ve been to that is a par 69, with two par 5s, five par 3s, and two quite different 9s. But that’s where the similarity ends.
The greens were in reasonable condition and it highlights something I don’t put in my course reviews if I can help it – the quality of a course. Carnalea’s greens were looking just a bit patchy, but it’s easy to see that their quality is good and I just happened to see them at a bad time. If I’d come a month ago I might be raving about them. And since the book is not out for another 6 to 9 months, how is it possible to accurately reflect the state of the greens? Or the fairways for that matter?
There is a very rich history here as the club is tied up with Royal Belfast (I’m due there in a couple of days), the oldest club in Ireland which dates back to 1881. In the early days the clubs seemed to pass Pat Sawey, the local pro, back and forth. Even after he retired he continued to coach at Carnalea. He died at the ripe old age of 89 and his ashes interred in the trees on the right of the green on hole 18 – which had long been named “Pat’s Way Home”, after the professional.
There is new blood at Carnalea now. Her name is Sarah Louise Winter, and she plays off 3. She’s 16 and has already represented Ireland Under 16s and Ulster Under 19s. There is so much talk about the remarkable Maguire twins that there’s no doubt Irish women will soon rise to the top of the game. Carnalea are rightly proud of Sarah Louise, and her photograph appears on several walls in the clubhouse. The photo alongside was taken by Ken Best.
One final comment – the clubhouse and changing rooms are separate – and as comfortable as the bar is, a bit of attention to the changing rooms wouldn’t go amiss.
Then it was off to Blackwood, a rather odd affair that has a stunningly wide area to lay a golf course, with great woods all around. You get to walk through a few of them to reach tees and it feels comfortably rustic. The emphasis seems to be more on the driving range and the 9 hole par three course (excellent condition by the way) and the clubhouse is certainly different. It would help for starters if there were signs pointing to the 1st tee – it’s quite a hike.
You start to notice things when you spend all your time playing golf courses – and one of the big ones is scorecards. Some have a map of the holes (not all of them legible), some don’t, some give you local rules, and most tell you whether the distance markers are to the middle or the front. Carnalea and Blackwood both miss out on that one – so be sure to ask. At Blackwood, several of the greens sit right under trees/woods, so not knowing your distances can be problematic.
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