Carne Golfers Enchant New Yorkers

“I understand your persistent cheerleading for Hillcrest/Kansas City,” writes a deep-sea fisherman from St. George, Utah. “Who wouldn’t get behind the only Donald Ross course in Missouri? Your recent endorsement of my neighboring Sand Hollow is also easy to understand, although its cliff’s-edge fairways are a bit too close to the sun for this old sea dog. But you’ve made little mention lately of your second-ranked course, the Carne Golf Links. Have you run out of things to say about Ireland’s most rugged and scenic seaside course?”

The 16th at Carne is more than just a gateway to the infamous par-4 17th. (John Garrity)

The 16th at Carne is more than just a gateway to the infamous par-4 17th. (John Garrity)

Great question, Ahab. In a word, yes. I wrote a long Carne feature for Sports Illustrated Golf Plus back in ’03. Four years later, after a lengthy sabbatical in County Mayo, I spewed a 135,000-word manuscript about Eddie Hackett’s glorious links track, mixing in just enough of my own colorful biography and tangential musings to keep things interesting. That book — Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations — has led to an endless cycle of interviews, lectures and appearances at motivational seminars, at which I perform rhetorical cartwheels on behalf of my favorite course.* So yeah, I’ve run out of fresh things to say.

*Carne, I should emphasize, is my favorite course worldwide of all the courses I had no role in designing. I consider myself a co-creator of top-ranked Askernish Old (although I am quick to acknowledge the contributions of Old Tom Morris, Gordon Irvine and Martin Ebert), and so I rarely describe it as my “favorite.”   

Fortunately, I can always dip into the Top 50 in-box for a Carne update. Just the other day, for instance, New Yorker David Brennan submitted a glowing report. “I read your book a few years ago,” Brennan writes, “and thinking of it this summer, I chose to read it again …”

It is a wonderful story, well told. Your portrayal of Belmullet and Carne enticed me to suggest the book to one of my friends who travels annually to our home in Pallaskenry, County Limerick, from where we strike out to play golf with two other friends against a fourball of Irish lads. We have been doing this for about 12 years (we all live in the NY area) and have played much of the southwest of Ireland during those trips. Of late we have played Lahinch, Ballybunion (7) and Doonbeg, regularly losing our annual match with the Irish at Lahinch. Losers — that would be us for all but one year — pay for dinner at Vaughn’s, a fine seafood pub in Liscannor between Lahinch & the Cliffs of Moher.

My wife Deirdre, who does not golf (she rides horses instead), read and loved your book. When one of our regular travelers dropped out of this year’s trip, she suggested that I call Carne to ask if any of the characters from the book would make up our fourth. I called the office, and when I mentioned your book I could sense a smile at the other end of the phone. After explaining that one of our fourball had dropped out, and that the other three had all read the book, I asked if it would be possible to play with any of the people featured in the book, such as Seamus Cafferky or Eamon Mangan, Terry Swinson, Chris Birrane, etc. “John” patiently listened to my inquiry and suggested that I send an email, which I did. Hearing nothing back, I figured they took us for crazy Yanks.

To my delight when we arrived (after losing our match with the Irish the prior day), the lady in the office said that Eamon wanted to say hello. Almost immediately thereafter we met Chris and had a great chat with him. As it turned out, Eamon played 18 holes with us, throughout which he told great Eddie Hackett stories and explained much of the course as we walked. When we spoke of our obsession with No. 17 (long before we saw it), Eamon smiled, shook his head and said “Garrity.” He then asked if, after our round the following day, we’d like a tour of the new 9!

Our first day was quite misty, and though we couldn’t see all the views, we saw what a wonderful course it is. The next day was brilliant sunshine, and the views to Achill Island, the clear blue water on white sandy beaches, and the amazing layout were as you described so well in your book. When we arrived at 17 we each had three balls ready,* but when we had good drives (relative to each of our games) we chose not to risk ruining our fairway lies with a second shot. On the first day, Howard, our best golfer (8 handicap), just missed a birdie putt that, had he sunk it, Eamon said he was going to take Howard up to the office and “call Garrity.” (Your description of Eamon as one who never appears rushed but who accomplishes more in a day than anyone else in a week is perfect.)

*Why three balls? Read Ancestral Links and you’ll understand.

The next afternoon, Eamon met us at 18 and drove us around the new 9 in his Jeep. The new 9 looks amazing. That par 3 is stunning.  We stayed at The Talbot, which was great fun and as good a place as any we have stayed. Next year we hope to be there for the opening of the new 9, and if so perhaps we could meet.

Your book inspired one of the most memorable trips of my life. Carne went well beyond our expectations. Years ago I read Dermot Healy‘s book, Goat Song, and ever since I’ve been fascinated with the descriptions of Belmullet. When I read your book I knew someday I would get there. Ancestral Links made me feel as if I knew everyone. I loved the Eddie Hackett chapters. A fine mix of memoir, history and golf. I loved it. Beyond the golf and the wonderful memories of your mother, father and brother, your fascination and attraction to Ireland is something I share. I love traveling Ireland, reading its history, great fiction writers and playwrights. Playing golf there is just different than anywhere else. My grandparents came here (America) and never returned, so my own discovery of Ireland came through my wife, who spent summers on a family dairy farm in Beale, next to Ballybunion.

I just wanted to thank you for such a treat, introducing us to Carne as told through the story of your family. If you get to New York, please let me know. We’d be delighted to host you for a meal.

I have David’s permission to share his moving report, and I thank him for that. Meanwhile, I’m acting on my own authority to boost Carne’s Cal Sci Algorithm score from 9.75 to 9.77.

The Old Course will be a little less old when renovations are completed. (John Garrity)

The Old Course will be a little less old when renovations are completed. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the St. Andrews Links Trust and the R&A have disclosed that they are making a few renovations to the 16th-ranked Old Course — “renovations” being the word we like to use when we’re caught trying to escape the Road Hole Bunker with the aid of a 200-metric ton front loader. Gadfly blogger and author Geoff Shackelford and Top 50 architect and author Tom Doak (Pacific Dunes, Ballyneal, Cape Kidnappers) are apoplectic over the changes, and the twitterverse has produced myriad versions of the “mustache on the Mona Lisa” trope. GOLF Magazine’s Travelin’ Joe Passov is much less alarmed (“Much ado about nothing”), but GOLF’s Alan Bastable reports that St. Andrews residents are dismayed that construction started with little public notice. The Top 50 will reserve judgement until our course raters have conducted a full site inspection, but here’s what I tweeted when the news broke:

John Garrity @jgarrity2

@michaelwalkerjr Mona Lisa’s mustache was on Da Vinci’s original sketch; sacrificed for condos and water feature.

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