Tag Archives: Carne Golf Links

Turnberry View Purchase Hits a Snag

Our campaign to buy and restore Scotland’s Ailsa Craig got off to a brilliant start with a thousand-dollar pledge from the American lawyer and football coach, John Mullen. I was confident that an even bigger endowment would be coming from the R&A after I received an enthusiastic bordering on chauvinistic email from David Hill, the R&A’s recently-retired championships director. But now Hill seems to be experiencing buyer’s remorse. He writes:

As much as I would love 1.) to be retired and, 2.) be the former director of championships for the R&A, [my] comment was not from THAT David Hill. I don’t want you to get an earful from the distinguished Mr. Hill on your next journey across the pond …. I’m just your average American 12 handicapper of Scottish heritage that has a passion for golf and happens to write a golf diary blog, 1beardedgolfer.

Anybody who has directed a capital campaign or served as auctioneer at a school fundraiser is familiar with this dodge. I didn’t raise my hand! … It’s a forgery! … I have an evil twin!  And now, repackaged for modern times: Somebody hacked my account!

Experience has taught me to handle these little dustups with tact and magnanimity, so I am publicly releasing Mr. Hill from his pledge of half-a-million British pounds, or whatever amount it was that he forgot to specify in his impulsive bestowal. I’m sure that other active R&Aers (if that is not an oxymoron) will promptly make up the difference. Ailsa Craig, after all, is a British rock.*

*Note to self: Check DVR for concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Looking for cheaper thrills? They’ll be here soon in the form of a new edition of Tom Doak’s The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. Doak’s original book, published 15 years ago and now selling for more than $250 a copy, featured his feverish reviews of the world’s best-known layouts, some of which provoked outrage from established course architects. Now that he is an acclaimed designer in his own right (22nd-ranked Old Macdonald, 48th-ranked Streamsong Blue and four other top-100 tracks), Doak has enlisted three co-authors for his update, which will appear in five volumes, starting with “Great Britain and Ireland.”

To whet our appetites, a recent Doak newsletter offered up several “Best of 2013” lists that seem to endorse the Top 50’s more-scientific ranking. For instance, fifth-ranked Castle Stuart Golf Links placed second and 32nd-ranked Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club placed third on Doak’s “Top Ten Discoveries of 2013,” otherwise described as “Best courses I saw for the first time.” Similarly, Doak reveals himself to being a step behind Garrity when he picks the par-4 third at Castle Stuart and the par-5 fifth on No. 1 Carne’s new Kilmore nine among his “Best Golf Holes Discovered in 2013.”

In fairness to Doak, no lone actor can hope to match the Top 50’s resources. And if you believe that, I’ve got an island in the Firth of Clyde to sell you.

Kilmore Links at Carne

Carne’s Kilmore links: Would a better name be Steroidal Dunes? (Larry Lambrecht)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week — sorry, 51st-ranked Riviera Country Club — but Links Magazine’s Thomas Dunne has written a compelling review of the above-mentioned Kilmore nine at top-ranked Carne. “It’s a certain kind of golfer who is attracted to big-dunes links courses,” Dunne begins, no doubt thinking of me. “They’re hardy and fun-loving, more accepting of quirky design, and, perhaps, a bit more interested in pulling off heroic shots than strictly adhering to a card-and-pencil mentality.” He goes on to correctly describe Carne as the “Big Daddy” of big-dunes courses and the Kilmore as “an array of memorable holes within the grand and chaotic dunes. My favorite is the mid-length par-four 8th, where the green complex seems to rise from the valley floor like a primitive dagger.”

As the Kilmore beds down into its natural surroundings, it remains to be seen how the club will deploy the new nine. A composite routing in which [the Jim Engh/Ally McIntosh] holes are folded into Hackett’s back nine is one compelling possibility, as this combination would produce one of the most thrilling big-dune experiences in the game. However, Hackett’s front side, while set in more modest terrain (relatively speaking — it’s still Carne!), might out-punch the original back nine purely on the merits of their respective holes. The ideal solution, of course, is simply to play all 27.

Click here for the rest of Dunne’s essay. And click here to book a round at Carne. (Full disclosure: I am an honorary lifetime member, but I receive no commission for referrals.)

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Irish, Scottish Links Contend for No. 1 at Fabled Askernish Open

Ralph Thompson, the recently-retired majordomo at top-ranked Askernish Old, has been busy with preparations for this week’s Askernish Open — but not too busy to complain about the current and unprecedented placement of Ireland’s Carne Golf Links as co-No. 1. “I believe after your visit this week we will regain our rightful and solitary position as No. 1,” he writes from his Hebridean hideout on the isle of South Uist. “If not, then we will bury you in the rough. Even with your long legs you will still not be noticed. Yes, it is that extreme this year.”

Searching for balls

Askernish golfers could find more than lost balls in its world-class rough. (John Garrity)

Putting aside the threatening tone, which I’m used to, Thompson’s words leave me wondering if I’ve packed enough golf balls to get me through three days of competition on the Old Tom Morris-designed ghost course. If the rough is deep enough to conceal an NBA small forward, it will easily consume my meagre stock of Pro V1s.

Not that I care. My real purpose in returning to Askernish is to complete my “This Old Course” series on Askernish, which began a couple of years ago in Sports Illustrated Golf+ and will conclude this fall on Golf.com. To facilitate that coverage, I am traveling with state-of-the-art digital cameras, notepads, a pocket recorder, mosquito netting, quinine pills, a safari jacket and a fully-operational Bomar Brain. All this gear is currently piled on my bed at the Glasgow Marriott, which has long served as my base camp for expeditions to Ayrshire, East Lothian, the Kingdom of Fife and the Scottish Highlands.

This visit, as I patiently explained to Ralph, will have no bearing on the Top 50 rankings, which are issued by our staff at Catch Basin on the basis of scientific calculations far too sophisticated for either of us to comprehend.

Top 50 on TV:  Nothing this week, but an 18-year-old Englishman won the U.S. Amateur last week at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., currently No. 31 on the Top 50. Coming 100 years after Francis Ouimet’s stunning victory there in the 1913 U.S. Open, Matt Fitzpatrick’s victory avenges the historic humbling of the British greats, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

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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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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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Summer’s Best Hole Used to be a Dud

“What’s your favorite golf hole?” asks a reader from my immediate neighborhood. A child, actually. My grandson, if you’re going to get all fact-checky on me.

Well, Jack, I have many favorites. Readers of my golf memoir, Ancestral Links, know about my obsession with the par-4 seventeenth at second-ranked Carne. But they may not know that my favorite hole at Carne is either the par-4 third, with its rumpled fairway and two-tiered green, or the par-4 ninth, where you drive into a box canyon before playing blind up to a pinnacle green. Wait no, my favorite is probably the quirky twelfth, which requires an approach shot from a switchback fairway to a dunetop green best reached with ropes and crampons. Or if not the twelfth, how about the imposing fifteenth, a par-4 so rugged and natural that I tend to credit meteor impacts, and not Eddie Hackett, for its strong features.

Get my drift? It’s hard to pick my favorite hole on any one course, never mind the thousands of courses that we visit every year to compile the Top 50 ranking. Like most sentient golfers, I love the Road Hole at the Old Course, the lighthouse hole at Turnberry, the eighth and eighteenth holes at Pebble Beach, the par-3 sixteenth at Cypress Point, the majestic tenth at Augusta National, the drive-over-the-beach first at Machrihanish, and the baffling ninth at Ft. Meade’s City Mobile Home Park Golf Course. I’ve currently got a crush on the closing hole at 51st-ranked Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, which calls for two precise shots over scenic marshland to the accompaniment of turtles splashing in an adjoining canal.

Hillcrest No. 5

Hillcrest’s fifth hole, like good chili, has improved with age. (John Garrity)

That said, my favorite hole of the Summer of ’12 is the par-4 fifth at 45th-ranked Hillcrest in Kansas City, Mo. It’s a surprising favorite, because the No. 5 was maybe my least favorite hole when I caddied and played at Hillcrest as a boy in the late fifties.    Tree-lined and level from tee to green, it rides a ridge that drops off on either side, most sharply on the left, with the slope starting in the center of the fairway.

This was a serious defect, a half century ago, because Hillcrest had not yet installed fairway sprinklers. The summer fairways were bone-hard and brown. That made the tee shot on No. 5 impossibly difficult. Drives hit straight down the middle kicked left off the ridge and bounded through the trees and down the hill toward the tenth green, forcing a blind recovery shot from a steep lie. A slicing drive, on the other hand, would either wind up in the tree line or fly over the trees into the sixth fairway.

Hillcrest’s fifth hole was so bad, in fact, that I remember members cursing the nincompoop who had designed it: a Carolina pasture-plower by the name of Donald Ross.

Well, that was then. Hillcrest has been irrigated for decades now, and the fairways no longer bake in the summer sun. The fifth hole is now what Ross hoped it would be — a challenging par 4 of classic simplicity. The drive still causes your heart to flutter, but the fairway is much more receptive. If you miss left, bluegrass rough keeps most balls from plunging down the hill. “Tough, but fair” is the consensus of local golfers. That and, “Maybe that Ross guy wasn’t such a slug, after all.”

Having played Hillcrest often this summer, I’ve come to love the fifth. There’s nothing fancy about the hole — no gaudy bunker complexes or faux mounding — but the view from the tee (or from the green back to the tee) is classic. It’s an archetypal hole, a Ross variation that echoes holes from Pine Needles (T51), Mid-Pines (T51), Oak Hill (T51) and Aronimink (T51).

So yeah, Jack, I’d say my current favorite is the fifth at Hillcrest. Now if you limit it to the approach shot, I’d maybe choose the eighth hole at Askernish or the par-5 seventeenth at Royal Birkdale, where Paddy Harrington made his eagle ….

But that’s enough for now. Thanks for asking. And yes, we can play catch after dinner.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the pros have taken their season-ending cash grab to 145th-ranked Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., site of the BMW Championship. That brings back memories of John Daly at the 1991 PGA Championship, which I covered for Sports Illustrated. I recommend Cameron Morfit’s oral history here on Golf.com, or you can check out my contemporaneous coverage from the SI Vault. Either way, you can ignore Henry Ford’s dictum that “history is bunk.”

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Climate Change Forces Golfers to Adjust to Lesser Hues

AUGUSTA, GA. — You’ve no doubt heard that unseasonably warm weather in the South has forced Masters officials to dump truckloads of ice on their azalea beds to keep the famous shrubs from blooming prematurely. This may or may not be true. I was going to walk out to Amen Corner yesterday to find out, but it was too damn hot.

Masters Week

Augusta National's par-3 course, famous for its horticulture, may not be as bright this week. (John Garrity)

The meteorologist at our Kansas City headquarters, meanwhile, reports that spring is a month ahead of schedule. The dogwoods, redbuds and crabapples are already dropping their blossoms, and the Top 50 staff, in my absence, spend their afternoons sipping cabernets at sidewalk cafés on the Country Club Plaza. My imaginary friend Bert, who runs a snow-blower concession, says that sales are flat. “I’m a global-warming denier,” he says, iPhoning from the sixth hole of Donald Ross’s Heartland Club (No. 45). “But I don’t deny that the world is getting hotter.”

Bert is my imaginary friend, but I’m not afraid to tell him that he’s a dope. “The world IS getting hotter,” I tell him, “but you’re confusing weather with climate. The scientifically-measured increase in global surface temperature since 1980 was roughly a half-degree Fahrenheit, and if the most dire predictions of climatologists come true, it could rise another 4 to 10 degrees degrees by 2100. This abrupt warming could have a catastrophic impact on the planet, melting the polar ice cap, flooding highly-rated links courses and diverting the Gulf Stream, which would turn continental Europe into a year-round skating rink. But that’s CLIMATE. You’ll still have unseasonably cool summers and unseasonably warm winters. That’s WEATHER.”

Snow on Japanese golf course

The cherry blossoms have yet to bloom on Japanese courses. (Courtesy of Duke Ishikawa)

As proof I sent Bert the latest dispatch from our chief Asian correspondent, Duke Ishikawa, who reports that Japan’s cherry-blossom season is on hold. “We really had a cold winter this year,” he begins.

Enclosed several pictures from Suwako CC in Nagano Prefecture. One thousand meters above sea level. Many courses still closed, but Suwako opened on April 1. In two weeks, they shoveled almost a foot of snow. These pictures are evidence of it. This is why our professional tour cannot start this season until after the Masters.

Suwako, Duke points out, is near the Karuizawa 72 course, site of the 2014 Eisenhower Trophy competition (barring the onset of an ice age).

This talk of azaleas and cherry blossoms is not peripheral to course ranking. Many of the Top 50 courses are currently swathed in spring colors, from the dogwoods of 42nd-ranked Hallbrook to the wildflowers of second-ranked Carne. Here’s Duke again on the Japanese golf landscape:

We have a gorgeous cherry-blossom season from the end of March to early April (normally). That’s in the Tokyo area. Our island is longer than 2,000 kilometers, so the cherry-blossom season moves from south (Okinawa) to North (Hokkaido) with a front line of rising temperatures. We call it sakura zensen. (Sakura is “cherry,” zensen means “front line.”) The cherry trees usually keep one week of bloom in each area, so it is a very short moment. We made it a symbol for the Samurai who had to commit hara-kiri suicide in front of his boss after making a mistake. (Please don’t laugh.)

Some of our golf courses have one thousand cherry trees. With more cherry trees in the hills around, it makes us all pink. I occasionally send pictures of this to my fairway ladies, Louise Solheim and Barbara, whose husband is Jack.

Again, it is a great time of year. Sincerely, Duke

New Richmond Golf Club

The New Richmond Golf Club rivals Augusta National for spring coloration. (John Garrity)

Several of the Top 50’s course raters are licensed botanists, so I had them compile a spring-colors Top 5 from the current ranking. Here it is:

1) New Richmond Golf Club, New Richmond, Wis. (132.6)

2) Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga. (128.8)

3) Augusta National Practice Range, Augusta, Ga. (127.1)

4) Askernish Old, South Uist Island, Scotland (124.0)

5) Mid Pines Resort and Golf Club, Southern Pines, N.C. (123.9)

Top 50 on TV: The Masters (CBS).

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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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