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Carne Golf Links - Hidden Jewel

There are many undiscovered links courses on the Atlantic coasts of Ireland - courses that are the equal of the more famous southwestern or northern links but that remain relatively unknown to the international golfer.

Connemara, Enniscrone, Donegal, Sandy Hills and Ballyliffin stand out as shining examples of superb links courses that will someday be as popular with visiting golfers as Ballybunion, Waterville, Royal County Down or Portmarnock. And while you could play these western links forever and not miss their more famous cousins, there is one course that many people could happily play for the rest of time - the links at Carne.

The Erris peninsula is one of Ireland's remotest regions. In the northwestern corner of County Mayo, the peninsula juts into the Atlantic Ocean and is approximately 10 miles in length from north to south and averages just a few miles in width. The town of Belmullet marks the only joining point between the peninsula and the mainland.

It is a beautiful place with far reaching views across the Atlantic to the west, across the seas towards the mainland to the east and towards Achill Island to the south. Thare are numerous islands just offshore: Inis Ge and Duvillaun are small, uninhabited isalnds that are marvellous seabird and wildlife sanctuaries. Inishglora, just off the coast at the golf links, is where, according to legend, the Children of Lir are buried.

Although Belmullet is just one hour west of Ballina and not much further north of Westport, the fantastically deserted landscape of mountain and bog that lies between them heightens the sense of isolation. In 1984 the local community founded Turasoireacht Iorrais (Erris Tourism) to develop and promote tourism to the region.

As part of this development the company purchased 260 acres of commmonage at Carne, 3 miles west of Belmullet overlooking Blacksod Bay on the western coast of the peninsula. Their masterstroke, however, was to engage Eddie Hackett - who already had designed Waterville, Donegal, Connemara and a host of other Irish golf courses - to build a golf course as a cornerstone of the tourism effort.

As it turned out , this was to be Eddie Hackett's last golf course design. But it is also his legacy and there can be no doubt that it is his finest achievement.

Eddie Hackett once said "I just dress up what the Good Lord provides". Although it would have been possible (many modern designers would say preferable) to remove some of the many "semi-blind" shots on this golf course, Eddie Hackett insisted on leaving the terrain as it was found. The flag cannot be seen on no fewer than 10 of the long holes, but with a little local knowledge there is no tee-shot that is blind. The landing areas are quite clearly visible and from there so are the targets.

The result is a golf course that may have peers but does not have betters. The natural terrain has been carefully preserved in the design of an outstanding links course. Every hole is a challenge, from the short 12th - a sharp dog-leg where a 5-iron, sand-wedge might yield a birdie, or yield a disaster, to the long 17th where a long straight drive is required for a long iron or wooden approach to a wickedly treacherous green. Every facet of the game is tested on this course, no hole can be considered weak (even if one or two might prompt debate) and playing to your handicap is a significant achievement.

Keith Ging of the The Express wrote - "If I were limited to one course for the rest of my days, this would be it". We suspect that Carne would be a popular place in such circumstances.

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