I was preparing to write a few lines about the wonderful CordeValle Resort Golf Club, No. 50, when the chime rang and Woodcock ran in with the latest dispatch from our chief Irish course rater, David McCormick. McCormick, a New Yorker, moonlights as my literary agent, but his real passion is golf. Or at least I thought so until I read the synopsis of his recent trip. “I played 36 holes each day except Saturday,” he wrote, “when I went into Dublin (instead of playing Portmarnock Golf Club) to see the sights and meet a friend.”
Course rater David McCormick, in an obviously doctored photo, at Carne Golf Links, Ireland. (John Garrity)
Instead of playing Portmarnock? Turning to Woodcock, I quipped, “Those must be some sights, and that must be some friend.”* In any event, the absence of fresh data on the eight-time Irish Open venue forced me to move course-designer/golf pro Eddie Hackett’s longtime workplace to No. 4 on the Top 50 Contingency List, behind The Country Club at Brookline.
*Showing that he’s the consummate professional, McCormick submitted a concise and sober report on his Dublin frolic: “Almost every pub I passed or went into had the U.S. Open on the big screens. It was fun to watch with such passionate golf fans, and with McDowell in the chase the pints were plentiful.”
To be fair, we sent McCormick to report on courses in the scenic northwest counties of the Irish Republic. And report he did. “Well, I fell in love with Murvagh Golf Club, a course in Donegal. Played it in the morning with two members from near Belfast and in the afternoon with a young Irishman living in England, who was home for a golf holiday. Murvagh is just a sweet layout. Doesn’t have the elevation extremes of Carne, but it’s deceptive and, when the wind kicked in, quite challenging. I loved the County Sligo Golf Club*, too. Very stately and many memorable holes. Their #17, the number-1 handicap hole — long, blind, uphill, with a second shot to a sloping green — is not as hard as Carne’s 17th, but I bogeyed it both times.”
*Also known as “Rosses Point.”
David’s multiple references to the Carne Golf Links, No. 3, comes as no surprise, as the Hackett-designed Mayo landmark is the benchmark for untamed Irish links courses. “Carne is extraordinary,” David continues. “Also, they were incredibly kind to me — comped my golf and my hotel, wouldn’t even let me buy lunch. I played with Eamon Mangan*, John Healy and Noel Reilly, this year’s captain of the Belmullet Golf Club. Very nice gents. I also met Edmund McAndrew, who told me about a somewhat eccentric guy named Geraghty who comes in to the post office to pick up his pension dough and is clearly a relative of yours.”**
*For more about Mangan, who worked with Eddie Hackett on the design and construction of Carne, read my book, Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations, available online and at better bookstores on both sides of the Atlantic.
** All of the Geraghtys are eccentric, and they’re all relatives of mine.
“Eamon also took me on a tour of the new nine, and that was a total treat. I think you or somebody — Chip McGrath? — should write a piece on the building of that nine, working with the architect [Jim Engh], but also telling how the locals have taken matters into their own hands in lots of interesting ways. There aren’t too many stories (or new courses) like it, as you know.”
David sounded only two false notes in his Carne report. Here’s the first: “The weather was perfect.” (To back up this absurd claim he sent a terabyte of photographs showing Carne’s fairways as parched and brown as a hillside in Sudan. Amazing what you can do with Photoshop!) Here’s the second: “I told Eamon I’d help spread the gospel of Carne.” That, of course, would violate the Top 50 Code of Acceptable Practices. Personally, whenever I praise an agreeable links such as Carne or Askernish — as, for instance, when I call either or both of them “the greatest golf course in the world” — I am careful to point out that the Top 50 is the last word in course rating, and thus immune to subjectivism and bias.
Lodging Tips: The spiffy Broadhaven Bay Hotel in Belmullet is by far the best choice for Carne-ivores, but architect Engh swears by the old Western Strands Hotel, a just-off-the-square inn with good food, closet-sized rooms, and a warm and cheery pub. For both charm and scenery, however, you can’t beat Terry and Francis McSweeney’s four-star Stella Maris Hotel, which is an hour’s drive up the coast, between the towering North Mayo Cliffs and Downpatrick Head. “I had a very nice night and a delicious dinner at the Stella Maris,” David McCormick wrote in a post script. “Oh, and Terry says hi.”