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Carne Links: Golf at the Edge of the Earth

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Carne Golf Links inhabits a wildly beautiful and solitary outpost on the Belmullet Peninsula in County Mayo, Ireland. Located in a beautifully remote and rugged setting along the Wild Atlantic Way, it features towering dunes and sprawls across a landscape of grass-cloaked peaks dropping down to secluded sandy coves. Each hole reveals new vistas of ocean and sky framed by the ever-changing hues of the dunes that can reach as high as 500 feet. At Carne, there is a profound sense of connection between the game and the elements.

The original 18 holes, which opened for play in 1995, were designed by legendary Irish architect Eddie Hackett. They are considered masterpieces of golf course architecture, offering an experience as close as one can get to playing golf on nature’s own course. The site was expanded to 27 holes in 2013, adding the “Kilmore Nine.” While Hackett passed away in 1996, the “Kilmore Nine” adhered to his original vision.

In 2021, the “Wild Atlantic Dunes” was created and is presented as a second 18-hole course, consisting of a routing of the nine new “Kilmore” holes and the back nine of the original Hackett design. A sign on the clubhouse welcomes you to “Golf at the Edge of the Earth.”

In this post, we’ll unravel the origins of Carne Golf Links, meet the architects who shaped it, review how the course has evolved over time, and take a tour of the 27-hole layout. We’ll finish with several further reading suggestions and linked videos that will bring the course to life. I hope they inspire you the way they did me; I cannot recommend them enough, especially the course flyovers. As always, the adjacent images are simulated to set the scene and provide context.

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Origins and History

Carrne’s origin traces back to the early 1990s, emerging from the vision of a local community eager to boost economic development in an area known for its rugged natural beauty but challenged by limited employment opportunities. The course was the brainchild of a local development organization, Muintir Mhaigh Eo Teoranta, which sought to harness the region’s scenic landscapes to attract golfers from around the globe.

With the land gifted by a local farmer and the design entrusted to the late Eddie Hackett, Ireland’s premier golf course architect of the time, Carne Golf Links was set to become a testament to sustainable and sensitive development, blending seamlessly with the natural environment.

Eddie Hackett’s design philosophy for Carne was revolutionary for its minimalistic approach, a stark contrast to the heavily manufactured courses of the era. Hackett took great care to disturb the land as little as possible, allowing the natural contours and dune formations to dictate the layout. This resulted in a course that was both a challenge to golfers and a celebration of nature, with each hole offering unique views and strategic dilemmas.

The reputation of Carne Golf Links grew quickly, attracting golfers from all corners of the world drawn by its pure links experience, untouched by commercial development. Its fairways, set amidst towering dunes, provide a profound sense of isolation and communion with nature.

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Carne’s Evolution

Adding the “Kilmore Nine” in 2013, designed by Jim Engh and Ally MacIntosh, introduced a new dimension to the Carne experience. Though more modern in its design approach, the new nine holes adhere to Hackett’s philosophy of minimal intervention, ensuring the entire 27-hole complex remains a tribute to the natural beauty of the Belmullet Peninsula. The biggest differentiator between the two is the greens, with Hackett creating them flatter and more straightforward, while MacIntosh created far more undulating and complex putting surfaces.

Today, Carne Golf Links stands as a jewel in the crown of Irish golf, a beacon for those seeking the purity of the sport amidst one of the most breathtaking landscapes Ireland has to offer. It is not just the design or the setting that makes Carne unique, but its origin story—a community-driven project that succeeded against the odds, preserving the natural environment while providing a world-class golfing experience.

As Carne continues to evolve, its commitment to maintaining the delicate balance between nature and the game of golf ensures that it will remain a beloved destination for golfers for generations.

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Did You Know?

Eddie Hackett (1910-1996) was one of Ireland’s most prolific and influential golf course architects, responsible for designing or redesigning over 100 courses across the country and credited with work on 20% of Ireland’s 50 links courses. Though he had no formal training, Hackett learned by working as an assistant professional and clubmaker early in his career.

Hackett is best known for his raw, natural links-style courses that utilize the existing landscape. His minimalist approach focused on enhancing the land’s natural features rather than major earthmoving. His most acclaimed designs include Portmarnock, Royal Dublin, Ballybunion, Lahinch, Ballyliffin, Carne, Connemara, and Waterville. His final course, Carne Golf Links on the remote Mullet Peninsula, is considered by many to be his best and “most natural” work.

Hackett continued working up until he died in 1996 at age 86. Though he never ventured outside of Ireland, his distinct style and philosophy left an indelible impact on Irish golf that still shapes course design today. Hackett proved that world-class courses could be built on a modest budget by embracing natural terrain. He famously said, “I find that nature is the best architect…I try to dress up what the Good Lord provides.”

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Accolades and Critical Acclaim

Carne has earned numerous accolades and is now ranked the 10th-best course in Ireland and among the Top 50 in Great Britain and Ireland. Tom Doak called it “the most natural golf course I have ever seen,” while writers have praised Carne’s beauty, playability across all skill levels, and pure expression of traditional links golf.

In his book “Hooked,” author Kevin Markham called Carne “the playground of Giants” due to the size and scale of the dunes and surrounding terrain. He declared it “the most astonishing, inspiring, natural course you are ever likely to see.” The course also features prominently in “Ancestral Links,” written by Sports Illustrated’s John Garrity, as he traced his heritage back to Belmullet. In “A Course Called Ireland,” Tom Coyne sets off on a 1,500-mile golfing trek through Ireland and declares Carne his favorite links.

Carne has also made its mark on professional golf, hosting the Irish PGA Championship in 2021 and 2022, the former marking the opening of the “Wild Atlantic Dunes” expansion, further cementing its reputation as one of Ireland’s premier tests of links golf.

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The original 18-hole course at Carne Golf Links, known as the Hackett Course, is a par 72 layout playing 6,702 yards from the back tees. It features dramatic dunes and ocean views, with the front nine playing through flatter inland terrain before reaching the towering sand hills on the back nine. Hackett routed the course to maximize the natural contours and dunes, moving very little earth in the design.

The course is known for its blind shots and deep pot bunkers scattered throughout. One change to the routing over the last ten years is that the nines have flipped, with the original front nine playing as the back and vice versa.

The current 10th and former opening hole features a blind second shot into the green with terrain that slopes left to right and serves as a perfect example of the differences between links and parkland golf. Finding the right line for the approach is one part of the issue, but a traditional shot will not hold the green, so creativity becomes paramount. To fare well at Carne, you will need to be adept with the bump-and-run and pitch-and-run, comfortable putting from well off the green, and using the contours of the terrain to your advantage rather than flying the ball to the hole.

The 13th is an interesting par-5 that runs along Blacksod Bay, at one of the highest points on the course, with dramatic ocean views. The hole measures 552 yards from the back, with a tee shot requiring accuracy to avoid out-of-bounds down the right side. The fairway slopes from right to left towards the bay while the approach is blind, uphill to a green set deep in a large dune. There is trouble long and right of the green complex.

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Kilmore Nine and Wild Atlantic Dunes

The “Kilmore Nine” was built on land that Hackett identified for expansion before he passed away and features even more dramatic dunes and ocean views than the original course. It plays to a par of 36 over 3,341 yards from the tips. The routing takes full advantage of the towering dunes, with several blind shots up and over the sand hills.

The “Kilmore Nine” was designed to integrate seamlessly with the existing Hackett Course, and it is now combined with the Hackett’s original back nine to create a spectacular 18-hole routing called the Wild Atlantic Dunes. This combines the most dramatic sections of both nines into one epic loop through giant dunes overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

At 6,685 yards, the Wild Atlantic Dunes plays to a par of 72. It shares its first seven holes with the Hackett Links before deviating at the 8th, which becomes the 17th at the Wild Atlantic Dunes. This toughest hole at Carne, a par-4, was immortalized in John Garrity’s “Ancestral Links,” as he played it 18 times in a row on a quest to make par. The par-3s at Wild Atlantic Dunes are considered to be especially remarkable with the dramatic, downhill 10th and 14th holes both serving as prime examples. Number 10 plays to 229 from the back, while 14 is a mid-length one-shotter to an ocean-side green. The routing makes it one of the most epic and beautiful courses in links golf.

Visit Carne Golf Links online at https://www.carnegolflinks.com/.

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Further Reading

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A Course Called Ireland
by Tom Coyne

Summary: By turns hilarious and poetic, A Course Called Ireland is a magnificent tour of a vibrant land and paean to the world’s greatest game in the tradition of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods

In his 30s, married, and staring down impending fatherhood, Tom Coyne was familiar with the last refuge of the adult male: the golfing trip. Intent on designing a golf trip to end all others, Coyne looked to Ireland, the place where his father had taught him to love the game years before. As he studied a map of the island and plotted his itinerary, it dawned on Coyne that Ireland was ringed with golf holes. The country began to look like one giant round of golf, so Coyne packed up his clubs and set off to play all of it-on foot.

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Great Golf Courses of Ireland
by John Redmond

Summary: This book offers a celebration of golf in Ireland, profiling 30 top links and parkland courses across the country from renowned spots like Portmarnock and Portrush to newer destinations like Mount Juliet. It details the history, famous players, and legends behind each Irish course, bringing their stories to life through extensive illustrations and photos capturing the natural beauty surrounding these layouts. Originally published in 1992, updated editions have followed over the years featuring additional content on newly developed courses and the latest enhancements at Ireland’s most storied golfing grounds. Presented in 2006 to commemorate Ireland hosting that year’s Ryder Cup, a special edition focuses on the world-class courses built in the country over the previous decade.

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Ancestral Links
by John Garrity

Summary: One man’s quest to uncover the roots of his family’s obsession with golf – a journey that takes him to his ancestral home in Ireland, to Scotland, and to the American heartland. 

John Garrity is well known in the golf world for his writing for Sports Illustrated, Golf Magazine, and on Golf.com. In this book, Garrity travels to the remote corner of Ireland from which his great-grandfather left for America, now home to a majestic golf course. There he discovers why local farmers spent seven years carving the course out of unforgiving terrain, using only rakes and spades for their work. From there, he visits Musselburgh, Scotland, where his maternal ancestors played golf before the first 13 rules of the game were written there in 1774, and to Wisconsin’s St. Croix River Valley, where his father learned the Ancient Game. 

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Hooked
by Kevin Markham

Summary: Now in its third edition, this concise, detailed book is for golfing tourists looking for great value courses, for golfing clubs that wish to go beyond their local area, and for Irish golfers searching for excellent but unsung courses in Ireland. Written from an amateur’s perspective, reviews focus on the energy and excitement of playing each course, giving a true representation of the golf experience, ranking each course, and providing contact information for booking.

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

Videos

Carne Video Review
Carne Golf Links
Carne – No Laying Up
Carne – PaddyTalks Golf
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