Monday, July 30, 2012

Inside The Ropes - Carne

The Atlantic Coast Challenge enjoyed its second year in 2012, and a very successful one it was too. Leading up to it, I asked the organisers to donate a free threeball as a prize – which they did. The winner was Denis, and I asked him and his companions to fill in an ‘Inside the Ropes’ questionnaire when they played Carne Golf Links on July 3rd.

Carne opened in 1995. It is one of the remotest golf courses on the island (along with Ceann Sibeal and Narin and Portnoo), in the far north west corner of Co. Mayo, in Belmullet. It’s a beautiful spot and, if golf is your drug, then you’ll be wanting to play it at least twice. I played on consecutive days with my father in 2006: on day one, the par three 14th was a wedge; on day two it was a four iron that came up short. We were playing two different courses and that is one of the beauties and terrors of links golf.
The guys are useful golfers and were placed fifth overall after two days of golf (Rosses Point and Carne), but faded on the final day at Enniscrone – which was the toughest challenge of the event by a fair margin.

Denis (10 handicap), James (7), John (12)

[Photo: approach to Carne's par four 8th]

Q. What are your overall impressions of the course?
Denis: Great golf course. Back 9 as good as any in the country.
James: Very enjoyable. Challenging.
John: Eddie Hackett made a most beautiful links. The back 9 are a great test of overall skill.

Carne was Eddie Hackett’s last design, and it is his greatest legacy – in my opinion, anyway. The man was a master of leaving the beauty of the landscape untouched, with the fairways at Carne moving simply and mischievously between and around the dunes to create some of the most remarkable holes you will ever play. With a new nine ready to open, it will keep Carne in the spotlight. I imagine that they will have a hard time deciding which will be the main 18, once all 27 are open for play.

Q. What are Carne’s best features? What really stood out for you?
Denis: Very true greens. Huge dunes! Playability.
We were really well received and welcomed by Mary Walsh in the Pro shop. She was genuinely keen for us to enjoy the day.
James: Mary in the Pro shop was most pleasant.
The setting and the scenery were outstanding.
Undulations on the fairways and shape of the greens.
John: The shape of the greens. Mary gave us a lovely welcome.

[Photo: the par three 16th (from the 17th tee box). The 16th tee box is top left of shot]

Q. Are there any negatives – either on or off the course? If so, what are they and how would you suggest they’re fixed?
Denis: 9th green is too penal.
Coffee at €2.50 and pint of cider at €5.30 are excessive.
James: Nothing serious come to mind. There are a few blind tee shots – I would suggest white stones on the fairway showing you where to hit the ball. I was really impressed with everything about the course – but maybe the greens could have been a bit quicker.
John: Coffee at €2.50 and pint of cider at €5.30

If the negatives are restricted mostly to the price of drinks, then Carne doesn’t have too much to worry about. The 9th green is a beast for sure, with big movements and one of the most daunting approach shots you’ll play at the club.

Q. What did you find particularly tough about the course (excluding the weather)?
Denis: Aprons of greens shaved, so it was difficult to chip. Greens could have been a fraction quicker.
James: Finding the speed of putts and putting from off the green.
John: The greens. They were a little slow.

I expected some comments on the blind shots and some very tricky approaches – the shape of some of the green complexes is mind-boggling at times.

[Photo: Carne's opening hole, and just a taste of the undulations and bunkers to expect]

Q.What is your favourite hole and why?
Denis: Hard to choose between 16, 17 and 18… after parring the three of them!
James: 17th. It is a spectacular hole that demands a lot and really lives up to its Index 1.
John: The 17th is a cracking par four. You need to drive the ball long and accurately, and what an approach shot to the green.

[Photo: the par four 17th, taken from the 18th tee box. Believe me, this gives no indication of just how tough this hole is]

Q. What other links courses have you played?
Denis: Waterville, Ballybunion (Old & Cashen), Tralee, Doonbeg, Dooks, Lahinch, Enniscrone, Rosses Point, Portmarnock Links.
James: Ballybunion (Cashen), Dooks, Tralee, Enniscrone, Rosses Point.
John: Waterville, Ballybunion, Tralee, The European, Lahinch, Enniscrone, Rosses Point, Connemara, Ballyliffin (x 2), Portstewart, Portsalon, Rosapenna, Dooks and Doonbeg…. And Royal St. David’s, Tenby and Ashburton, as well as Minerton in South Africa.

Evidently, a well-travelled, links-playing bunch.

Q. How does Carne compare?
Denis: Back 9 as good as any – overall, on a par.
James: Very well.
John: It can live with the best of them.

[Photo: The short par four 11th is a beauty of a dogleg right - the green sits behind the highest part of the dune. See next shot for more...]

Q. You’re selling this course to a friend – sum it up in one sentence.
Denis: Very playable and enjoyable if you keep it on the short stuff.
James: Fantastic golf course that every kind of golfer would enjoy.
John: It’s a beautiful layout amongst the dunes.

Q. Your rating out of 10
Denis: 9
James: 8
John: 8
Total: 25

[Photo: the other side of the dune on the 11th]

Q. Value for Money (currently €50 per person) out of 10
Denis: 9
James: 9
John: 9
Total: 27

The rack rate (April – Oct) is listed as €65 (€90 for the day) on the website, but if you go through to the booking process you'll find that golf only costs €50 (€40 before 9am), and Carne offers a variety of options, including buggy hire and grub). €50 to play one of the most outstanding links on the island is well worth the journey, don't you think.

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