Tag Archives: Askernish Old

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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Carne Gets Another Ratings Boost

Rating golf courses is no picnic. That’s why I don’t take my golf meals from beverage carts or halfway houses, preferring to save my appetite for the more dependable caterers at Chik-fil-A and Panda Express. But I recognize that many golfers do dine alfresco, so our Cal Sci algorithm grades courses on their club sandwiches, hot dogs, and Gatorades, awarding bonus points that marginally influence the rankings.*

*The Pebble Beach Golf Links  briefly lost its top-ten status some years ago, when a seagull assaulted my cellophane-wrapped ham-and-cheese sandwich on the tenth fairway.

Talbot Dining Room

Dining is never drab at the Talbot, Belmullet's new hotel. (John Garrity)

Hotels, unless they are part of a golf resort, are different. I don’t have time right now to explain why they’re different, but they are. The Top 50 doesn’t reward the Fort Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course because you were clever enough to stay at the nearest W hotel, and it doesn’t punish Pine Valley Golf Club because you stayed at the Bates Motel.

But sometimes we are sorely tempted to acknowledge an accommodation when it makes a significant contribution to a course’s bottom line. That was the case seven years ago when the Carne Golf Links of Ireland jumped from third to second upon the opening of the three-star, 72-room Broadhaven Bay Hotel & Leisure Centre. It is happening again now — and, amazingly, Carne is again the beneficiary.

The hostelry in question is the Talbot Hotel, Belmullet’s new 21-room boutique hotel. Situated on Barrack Street, just off the town square, the Talbot presents as an elegant storefront adjacent to the popular Anchor Bar, with which it is affiliated. Behind the row-house facade, however, is a warren of luxuriously-furnished corridors leading to themed bedrooms, no two alike. With more fainting couches and gilded consoles than you’ll find in Dublin’s legendary Shelbourne Hotel, the Talbot teeters between contemporary and traditional. The ambiance, however, is dictated by a wealth of natural lighting, the designers having worked windows and skylights into every conceivable surface.

Hotel Reception

Time stands still at the Broadhaven Bay Hotel, so you shouldn't miss your tee time. (John Garrity)

We’re not in the hotel rating business, but golfers often ask us where to stay when they play our top-ranked courses. “What’s your call in Belmullet?” my wife asked me last night. “Which hotel is best?”

I could only shrug. The Talbot, with its crystal chandeliers and designer fabrics, is clearly the more luxe of the two. But the Broadhaven is better for people watching; its lobby is much bigger and features generous seating around a Yamaha grand piano. The Talbot easily wins the art battle, displaying more Chinese artifacts than you’ll find in the British Museum. But the Broadhaven has a spectacular leisure center, the Éalú Health and Leisure Club, that offers Indian head massage and seaweed oxygen facials in addition to a stunning lap pool and workout facility.

Talbot Hotel guest room

The Talbot's honeymoon suite. (John Garrity)

“The Talbot is right in the heart of Belmullet,” points out the desk clerk at the Talbot.

“The Broadhaven has the bay views,” volleys the desk clerk at the Broadhaven. “And we’ve got loads of parking.”

Well, I’m just glad I don’t have to make that call. The bigger point is that little Belmullet’s sudden prominence as a destination resort owes almost entirely to the late Eddie Hackett’s magnificent work at Carne. Both hotels offer golf packages, and if you mention the Top 50 at check-in you’ll get a blank look from the clerk. (Coincidentally, Carne gains .02 points in the rankings to close in on top-ranked Askernish Old.)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but I’m looking forward to catching up on missed episodes of Burn Notice when I get back to the States.


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No Love for U.S Open Venues

“I can count on one finger the U.S. Open courses in your Top 50,”  grouses a reader from Bethesda, Md. “Meanwhile, your top-ranked course is overrun with livestock, and your 38th-ranked course is a 9-holer in the Badlands that nobody ever heard of and probably doesn’t even exist. But just to satisfy my curiosity, what’s your second-highest-ranked U.S. Open venue, and why do you rank it so poorly?”

Autograph Seekers

Autograph seekers at Congressional are hoping for a glimpse of Rees Jones. (John Garrity)

Where to begin? First of all, I don’t rank any of the courses. My Top 50 is the product of a proprietary algorithm that factors in 126 independent variables. The data, never more than six months old, is culled from course reviews submitted by a paid staff of design experts and professional drifters.

Secondly, Askernish Old, my top-ranked course, is a no-cattle course from May through October — the same as ninth-ranked Pebble Beach Golf Links, the U.S. Open venue the reader counted on his one finger. Thirdly, the Medicine Hole Golf Course of Killdeer, N.D., is very real. Drop my name and they’ll let you play for $14 weekdays, $16 weekends, and for six bucks more you can go around again.

Fourthly, I can tell from the Bethesda address that my correspondent is a Congressional Country Club member of slightly less than average height and of a conservative political disposition, earning a seven-figure income and playing to an 11 handicap on his home course — “which is an 8 elsewhere,” as he tells his seat mates on the Delta shuttle. He is peeved because Congressional has spent many millions on a Rees Jones re-design (getting its first real test at this week’s U.S. Open) and a new clubhouse of Brobdingnagian scale. When you spend that kind of dough, you expect to be ranked.

Congressional's 10th Hole

The new par-3 10th at Congressional plays from the old green to the old tee. (John Garrity)

Well, my correspondent should relax. Congressional — ranked No. 140 before the do-over —  has climbed five rungs to No. 135. As I told The Washington Post yesterday, “That’s money well spent.”

But to answer his question, the second-best U.S. Open venue is Oakmont, No. 55, followed by Merion (58), Shinnecock Hills (65), Pinehurst No. 2 (68), Torrey Pines (71), The Olympic Club (72), Winged Foot (81), Chambers Bay (83), Southern Hills (88), and Bethpage Black (97). The lowest-ranked Open venues are Hazeltine National (185), Olympia Fields (198), and Baltusrol (204).

Is the Top 50 algorithm biased against exclusive country clubs? No, it is not.

It just looks that way.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the Top 50 executive staff is in Bethesda to see how Congressional performs against the world’s top players. Look for sporadic posts once play begins, especially if Robert Karlsson is in contention.

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Furyk Mislays Three Decades of Golf Design

Hilton Head, S.C. — I rarely stoop to reportage when I’m rating courses for the Top 50, but Jim Furyk practically bumped my shoulder this afternoon outside the interview room at The Heritage. The former U.S. Open champ had just vaulted up the leader board with a second-round 66, so he was relaxed, affable, and eager to share what, besides the  red-and-white-striped lighthouse, he liked about the 51st-ranked Harbour Town Golf Links.

Askernish 16th Green

Hilton Head resident Dave Henson on No. 16 at Askernish Old. (John Garrity)

Mostly he liked the fact that Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus wore their high-button shoes when designing Harbour Town. That is, they built skinny, tree-lined fairways, installed waste-bunkers where once there was only waste, let tree limbs encroach on commercial air lanes, pinched the greens until they popped, stocked the ponds with alligators, and bundled everything into a short-by-modern-standards 6,973 yards.

Harbour Town “neutralizes power,” said Furyk, a perennial also-ran in the PGA Tour’s driving-distance category. He added, “I’m not long by any means.” Still adding, he mumbled, “You could argue I’m short.”

We could argue that, but this is a golf-course blog. So I’ll just call your attention to the Furyk statement that really caught my ear. “I’ve always said that if the golf course was built before 1960, there’s a really good chance I’m going to like it. If it was built after 1990, there’s probably a good chance I’m not going to like it.”

Not one reporter in the room asked the obvious follow-up question: How do you prejudge courses built from 1960 to 1990?

Never mind. It just struck me that Furyk has hit upon a fresh way of judging golfing grounds, a method that burns off the morning fog of traditional design variables (turf quality, green speeds, length of rough, etc.), leaving us a single overriding criterion: Birthdate.

Furyk’s method, applied to my own Top 50, doesn’t yield groupings as distinct as his tripartite scheme. It’s clear, however, that the best golf courses are those built in the ‘90s. (No. 1 Askernish Old opened for play in 1891. Second-ranked Carne Golf Links threw open its original portacabin door in the 1990s.) The worst golf courses, meanwhile, were mostly built in 1987.

When I get back to Kansas City, I’ll put the Bomar Brain to the task and come up with a more encyclopedic Furyk Scale ranking. Meanwhile, I’m going find out where Furyk is having dinner and point out to him that Harbour Town actually opened in 1967.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Harbour Town won’t hurt your eyes. Next up: Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Golf Club, but not until we’ve endured a week of New Orleans-style gumbo, chargrilled oysters and jambalaya.

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The Secret’s Out: “This Old Course” Returns to SI Golf Plus

It’s no longer a secret. The first installment of This Old Course 2011 has just appeared in the February 21 edition of Sports Illustrated Golf Plus, and the course getting a world-class makeover is [drum roll] …. top-ranked Askernish Old!

“This Old Course,” if you need reminding, is the award-winning, decennial series that gives readers a builder’s-eye view of a complete golf course renovation, from the first member’s complaint that the greens are too bumpy to the last grudgingly-signed check for excavator rental.* The 2001 series focused on Bobby Weed’s total redesign of the University of Florida Golf Course, an original Donald Ross layout. Number 421 in the Top 50 before Weed’s do-over, UF’s course is now ranked 39th — possibly due to SI’s 16 articles on the project (which is roughly double the attention that TIME devoted to last year’s mega-series on Detroit’s urban crisis).**

*Full disclosure: I am the author of the series.

**I was also the author of the 2001 series.

The return of This Old Course has been met with the expected acclaim:

Turf cutting at Askernish Old

The work has begun at top-ranked Askernish Old. (John Garrity)

Is it ten years already? It must be time to have the house repainted.” — SI’s Gary Van Sickle

“The 2001 series was better.” Course designer Bobby Weed

‘“Askernish Old’ is the name used by a number of golf writers to describe the 1891 Old Tom Morris designed golf course on remote South Uist, an island in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides that was quite literally ‘lost in the sands of time’ and rediscovered in 2005. It has since been restored and as far as I know is currently the only course on the island … unlike St. Andrews you will find no ‘Askernish New.’” — Shivas Irons Society president Steve Cohen

There are subtle differences between the two series. The Askernish coverage will be shorter — five articles in all, terminating in late June. The course work is also scaled down. In fact, Old Tom’s ghost course will look pretty much the same in July as it did a month ago, when work started. “We like to cover our tracks,” explains Eric Iverson, the on-site man for Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design. “We try to make it look like we’ve never been there.”

That’s a good philosophy to have, it seems to me, when you’re working on the world’s top course.


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No Substance to Reader’s Complaint

“Where have you been?” asks a reader from Peculiar, Mo. “Geoff Shackelford posts more in a day than you give us in a month.”

The reader, of course, couldn’t be more wrong. My Top 50 Blog is all about the adjacent list, and the list is constantly being updated by the Cal Sci math department. Last Saturday, for example, the Carne Golf Links of Belmullet, Ireland, briefly snatched the No. 2 ranking from the Augusta National Golf Club of Augusta, Ga. Yesterday, the new Machrihanish Dunes course on Scotland’s Kintyre Peninsula surged to No. 50, only to be beaten back by the Nairn Golf Links, a well-regarded Highlands course that will host the 2012 Curtis Cup matches. And now, in just the past two hours, those four courses have reverted to the ranks they held last Friday. Had the reader been paying attention, she would have spotted the activity and held off on her nagging e-mail.

My “columns,” as I like to think of them, are a different matter. I try to knock one out on at least a monthly basis, but I lead a busy life. In addition to my SI/GOLF/Golf.com duties, I serve on two Presidential commissions, take occasional gigs as a hotel-lobby jazz pianist, coach a parochial-league basketball team, assist several NBA teams with their draft choices, serve as official photographer for the Missouri Snipe-Hunt Association and  — on doctor’s orders — play golf as often as I can. Finding time to craft these columns is difficult, and readers‘ complaints don’t make it any easier.

Did I mention how much I travel? I spent the last three weeks in Scotland and Ireland checking up on several of the Top 50’s links courses. After each round I filled out the 22-page Top 50 course-rating form and mailed it off to the States, a procedure that took from two to four hours. (The longer time was for top-ranked Askernish Old, where the backup generator didn’t always kick in when the clubhouse windmill slowed.) Many of these rounds lasted until well past ten p.m. with hours of paperwork to follow, so no one, least of all my wife, should be surprised that I had to bang on a farmhouse door at 1 a.m. on the Herbridean island of South Uist to get the key to the front doors of the Borrodale Hotel, which was inexplicably locked.

That said, I hope to post several brief course reports in the next few days. They may not satisfy the reader in Peculiar, but they should go over well in Normal, Ill.

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