Tag Archives: Ally McIntosh

Irish Links Reaches No. 1 with Opening of New Kilmore Nine

For as long as there has been a Top 50 Blog — literally years — Scotland’s Askernish Old has held the No. 1 position. Laid out in 1891 by Old Tom Morris but abandoned by later generations, Askernish vaulted to the top spot upon its Brigadoon-like reappearance on a spring day in 1991. The Hebridean masterpiece maintained its No. 1 ranking despite subsequent vanishings, and in recent years its 18 dramatic holes have been rediscovered and even played by scores of diehard links aficionados.

Kilmore No. 1

The first hole on Carne’s new Kilmore nine provides a taste of the thrills to follow. (Larry Lambrecht)

Meanwhile, the No. 2 spot has been held just as assiduously by Ireland’s Carne Golf Links, an Eddie Hackett-designed gem on Mayo’s Atlantic coast. Carne’s second-place ranking has long been a puzzle to links lovers, or at least to those who remember that I proclaimed it “the world’s greatest golf course” in a 2003 Sports Illustrated feature. “You must be confused,” wrote a persistent nitpicker with GolfClubAtlas stickers on his steamer trunk — as if confusion were a disqualifying attribute for a course critic.

But now the thinkable has happened. After weeks of stealthy advancement — unnoticed until recently by the wool-gathering analysts at Top 50 headquarters — the Irish course was one good mowing and a couple of tweaks of the Top 50 algorithm from nirvana. This morning, at 9:42 Central Daylight Time, Carne caught Askernish at 10.15/9.85 points on the concentric Perfect-10 scale. For the first time in Top 50 history, two courses share the top ranking.

I, for one, was not caught by surprise. Carne’s rise can be explained by the recent opening of its new Kilmore 9, a spectacular side of golf winding through the Mullet Peninsula’s most breathtaking dunes. Designed tag-team style by American Jim Engh (Sanctuary, The Club at Black Rock, Tullymore GC) and Dublin-based architect Ally McIntosh, the Kilmore 9 was a decade in the making. I monitored its progress from Day 1, and last Tuesday I returned to the Mullet to bang out the ceremonial first drive on behalf of a contingent of American and British golf writers.

Carne’s new holes were worth the wait. Anchored by three dramatic par-3s and a split-fairway par 5 that invites an heroic approach over a gargantuan dune, the Kilmore 9 echoes the grandeur of Hackett’s back nine without copying any of his holes. In fact, I’d argue that no course in the world offers 18 holes of more distinctive character than Carne’s composite links. Kilmore’s par-3 second, for example, starts high on a bank and winds up far below on the lee side of a massive blowout dune, which McIntosh has cleverly tied into a playable bunker.

But that hole is a mini-wow when compared to the WOW of the par-3 seventh, which launches from a sky-scraping dune-top to another dune, 228 yards away, with a wrap-around view of the Atlantic and western Ireland as an unnecessary distraction. “That’s terrifying,” one of my playing partners said at the opening. I thought he was referring to the dizzying drop from the tee to the fifth fairway, until I looked up and saw that he was staring at the distant flag, flapping in a two-club wind.

I realize, of course, that some course-rating systems place greater emphasis on smooth greens. Carne’s new greens won’t be tournament-ready for a few years, and I say, “So what? I can wait.” Neither am I swayed by the $150 million in frills and environmental abuse that Donald Trump lavished upon his Trump International Golf Links in Scotland. Carne’s Kilmore 9 cost €202,000 from start to finish — or roughly what The Donald spent on cocktail shrimp for his grand opening. To which I say: “Sorry, Donald. You can’t crack the Top 50 on the strength of cocktail shrimp.”*

*If you’re talking cash, I might listen.

Anyway, I thought I’d better get this news out before Golf.com finishes its rollout of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 Courses in the World.”  There might still be time to dump Pine Valley Golf Club from the No. 1 spot and give Askernish and Carne their rightful position in golf’s ever-changing firmament.

Christy O'Connor Sr. plaque

Writers Conor Nagle, John Garrity and John Strawn interrupt their round to visit the Christy O’Connor Sr. plaque at Royal Dublin. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Inbee Park goes for the “grand slam” of LPGA majors on the 16th-ranked Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland. Meanwhile, they’re still dancing on Grafton Street in the wake of Ireland’s narrow victory over a crackerjack team of mostly-American golf writers in the biennial Writers Cup at 36th-ranked Royal Dublin Golf Club.

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Carne’s 17th Is Still a Beast

“Back from the northwest of Ireland and three rounds at Carne,” writes Jay Morse, a real person and editor of forelinksters.com. “What a classic, wild and ranging layout, in a most stunning setting.”

Carne Golf Links

The Kilmore Nine at Carne: a decade of waiting will soon end. (Photo by Larry Lambrecht)

Jay refers, of course, to the second-ranked Carne Golf Links of Belmullet, County Mayo, which has held the No. 2 spot on the Top 50 since I wrote about it in my near best-seller, Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations. 

“Thanks to your book,” Jay continues, “we became obsessed with journeying there and made it the only three-round stop of our trip. It’s definitely one of those courses where local knowledge is essential to scoring well, and I’m glad we had a few days in the village of Belmullet, as well.”

Reading between the lines, I infer that Jay found his requisite “local knowledge” in the village, possibly at McDonnells, the legendary pub on Barrack Street, just off the town square. But he goes on to write about Carne’s infamous seventeenth hole, a par 4 that superficially resembles the famous Road Hole at 16th-ranked St. Andrews Old, except that it’s far scarier, much more scenic, and adds the risk of a lost golfer to the mundane possibility of lost balls.

I thought you’d get a kick out of one of our bets. We had twelve guys, and each day we had four bets running — Magic 2’s, Skins, a match-play event, and a no-skill-required “Bet of the Day,” just so all levels of play had a shot at winning. The bet on the last day at Carne was how many pars there would be on #17. The handicaps ranged from the low single digits to a few at 17/18, with the balance at 10-12. Guesses on the number of pars ranged from one to five, and the winning number was just one par. But, interestingly, it only happened as a fluke. I hit my third shot to about six feet, and then another guy in our group pitched his third onto the green. His ball hit my ball and ricocheted to within an inch of the lip for the only par. What’s more, after three days, this was the only par out of the group!

Thanks again John for bringing our attention to Carne. The new nine is apparently opening next week, I guess we’ll have to return.

Carne’s “new nine,” as Jay and I call it, is indeed ready for play after nearly a decade of patient development. Only now it has a name of its own. But we’ll let our friends at Links Magazine scoop us on that:

In a sure sign the Celtic Tiger may be purring again, the long-awaited third nine at Carne Golf Links in Co. Mayo, Ireland, debuts this month, marking the nation’s first significant new-build since the 2008 financial meltdown. The Kilmore nine, as it’s called, will circulate players through the largest dunes on the remote 280-acre property. The new holes, first suggested by original designer Eddie Hackett shortly before his death in 1996, were mapped out by American designer and devoted Carne fan Jim Engh in 2004. His plan was adopted in part by Irish architect Ally McIntosh, who was hired by the club to produce the final design. Like the core 18, the new holes were built on a shoestring budget, with a small local workforce overseeing the low impact construction. With its mountainous sand hills and wild, woolly challenges, Carne could host a future Irish Open if the organizers were ever stuck for a genuine links course with great Atlantic views and loads of charm and character.

I migrate to Carne every summer, so I have played most of the Kilmore holes — but not with greens. Therefore my scores — impressive strings of ones and twos — do not paint a realistic picture of the completed nine. I can say without reservation that the new nine is breathtaking in every sense of the word, which is why I’m packing an oxygen bottle.

Meanwhile, Audible.com has licensed the aural rights to Ancestral Links and is auditioning potential narrators. If Audible asks for my input, I’ll suggest Peter Kessler, who is fond of the book, or myself, because I lived it. Third choice: Gary Van Sickle, because he still has wet socks drying on the radiator at the Broadhaven Bay Hotel.

Top 50 on TV: The Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open returns to fifth-ranked Castle Stuart Golf Links, and so far it has been blessed with fair weather. Nothing like 2011, when record rains caused a cliff to collapse onto a firth-side fairway, causing major inconvenience to players and spectators alike. According to reports, the lumps in the first fairway have been grassed over and the course continues to enchant tour players not named Graeme McDowell.

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