Eight Days on “The Mullet”

Last summer, I convinced six friends to join me for a week of golf in western Ireland. (More on this trip in a later post.) The last round of our makeshift “West Ireland Links Championship” was at Carne (see my post  The Mighty Carne) outside of Belmullet, County Mayo.  I was particularly anxious for my friends to play Carne because it is my favorite course in Ireland and because I am a member and felt like I was welcoming my friends to my second golfing home.

All of my friends liked Carne to one degree or another, but it became evident to me that two of my friends really “got it.”  The reasons for this say something about the course. One friend had driven up to Carne early with me from Shannon airport (my favorite airport in the world) so that I could pick up my old set of clubs that I store there so I don’t have to schlep my usual clubs through airports.  Doug and I had a free afternoon before heading to our cottage at Mount Falcon, so we played 18 holes at Carne. I felt like Doug really liked the place, less for the golf and more for the scenery.  He is a hiker and walking around anywhere on the Mullet Peninsula (where Carne is located) is pretty spectacular.

Peter, on the other hand, fell in love with the place and the people.  “No worries, not a bother, not a problem”  was the mantra that he brought back from the trip to describe the attitudes of the people he met in this part of Ireland.  Peter is also one of the only people I know who, like me, likes to play golf by himself.  I remember being shocked on the course one afternoon when one of the older regular players in my group told me that he couldn’t remember ever playing golf alone.  I shouldn’t have been so surprised, because I suspect that the vast majority of golfers rarely play solo. When I returned to the game after about a 30 year lay-off, I joined a local country club.  I didn’t know anyone and being naturally anti-social, ended up playing a lot by myself early mornings before driving into work.  Even after I became part of a regular group of players, I would sneak out on drizzly late fall afternoons at my home course where I could enjoy the contemplative walk along the New River and would likely be the only person on the course.

What does this have to do with a trip to Belmullet? Carne, because it is in a remote part of County Mayo, struggles to fill its tee sheets. Those who find there way out there almost always love the course.  But there are a lot of nice courses in Ireland and so it is difficult to find one’s way back very often.  The lack of visitors sometimes makes things difficult for the course, but it is one of the reasons why I chose to join Carne as an international member.  During the week, you can drive to the course at 8:30 and find no one there. Having a great links golf course to yourself in the light of an Irish summer morning is, as they say, absolutely brilliant!

So when I asked Peter if he wanted to join Fred (another international member who I met at Carne on a previous trip) and I for a week’s trip this summer, he immediately said yes- enthusiastically. Fred had to drop out, so Peter and I found ourselves driving down a dirt road past the Eagle Bar in the village of Corclough to find our rental house.  The house, Tara Cois Farraige, turned out to be perfect. I like B&Bs in Ireland, but when I stay put for a week, I prefer to have my own place. What we didn’t know is this place seemed to attract stray animals, including this little guy who must have been dumped out here by someone assuming he would be adopted by one of the local farms.  I know, who could abandon a puppy as cute as this? After convincing him we were not a threat, Peter brought him into the house for our remaining time. With the help of the owner and Mary and Eamon at Carne, Peter was able to find a humane organization that picked him up our last day in Ireland.  “Scrat” is now happily settled into a new home, thanks to Peter’s soft heart.

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 Tara Cois Farraige                                                                   Scrat  

I won’t talk about our golf that week, except to say that my goal of breaking 80 at Carne has once again been left unfulfilled.   Peter, with a compact swing and low trajectory, proved himself to be a natural links course player. He is also probably one of the few people in the world who would actually enjoy spending his evenings sipping Irish whiskey and talking about the difference between Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin’s interpretations of The Peloponnesian War and why this explains the problems of American foreign policy and maybe even more than that.

This trip will also be remembered for two other things.  First,  thanks to Chris Tallott and Eamon Mangan, I now am a member of the Golfing Union of Ireland with my very own spiffy plastic card, “sponsored by AIG.”  Even better, Eamon set up a round with Sports Illustrated golf writer John Garrity, whose book Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations is THE book to read on Carne.  Well, it’s actually the ONLY book, but it’s a very good read.  John is a nice guy and a great golfing companion and I would love to take him up on an offer to play golf with him sometime at Askernish, the Old Tom Morris course on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides that Garrity helped to rediscover and has since been re-opened as one of the most natural links courses in the world.

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John Garrity and Eamon Mangan on the 17th tee at Carne

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The Mighty Carne

It’s almost time to build an ark here in southwest Virginia- it has been raining non-stop for two days. I’m not missing golf that much, however.  I just returned from a week’s trip to my second home- Belmullet, Ireland- where I got in 8 rounds in 8 days. In his really good book, Ancestral Links, Sports Illustrated writer John Garrity notes that Ireland had the best weather in the world- at least for golf.  Why doesn’t anyone understand this? If you play in the rain and wind, it is wild entertainment.  If the wind happens to lie down or the sun happens to peek through, it’s heaven.  It’s almost never too hot, so you can walk 18 even on a hilly links course like Carne without exhausting yourself and you can play all year.  Are you convinced?

I played Carne for the first time in 2006 on a solo golf trip paid for by my lovely wife who had just inherited some unexpected money from an uncle who died with no children.  Ever since my maiden voyage to Dornoch, I had been whining about wanting to go back and play more links golf. So after some money was set aside for useful things like our children’s education, she graciously kicked me out of the house for an incredible three weeks of Irish links golf.  If you want to read a bit about that trip, click on the Ireland Journal link on my homepage.  I played most of the links courses in the west of Ireland, but Carne was my favorite.

Carne is a very natural and very beautiful links course set in the far west of County Mayo, outside the friendly small town of Belmullet.  It’s also very remote- you travel across miles of bog lands to get there. There is so much peat around these parts that there was actually a turf-fired power plant at Bellacorick for a number of years until it was torn down and replaced by a wind farm.  Probably a good thing for the environment, but it employed a lot of local people and nothing smells better than burning turf- well maybe except for the smell of a good peated whiskey.  Carne was the centerpiece of my first trip because of its compelling story. It was built by local people (many of who were out of work) under the direction of a local non-profit company (Turasoireacht Iorrais) established to develop tourism in this traditionally poor part of the Republic.  They hired Eddie Hackett, an amazingly prolific Irish architect responsible for such renowned courses as Waterville, Murvagh (Donegal) and Enniscrone.  The course was designed, built and continues to be run on a shoestring budget which fits the character of the course and the difficulty of attracting large numbers of golfers to such a remote location. Carne was Hackett’s last (and many argue his best) design before his death in 1996.  Finished in the early 90s, the original “Hackett 18” has recently been supplemented by a spectacular new 9 holes (Kilmore 9), designed by American Jim Engh and Dublin architect Ally McIntosh.  Imagine a world class links course where one can venture early on a blustery May morning and literally have the course to yourself.  It was love at first sight and a few years later I became a proud senior overseas life member of The Belmullet Golf Club.

DSCF0693               Carne #11   What a view!

DSCF0785            Carne #17 “Garrity’s Obsession”