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Legends of the Green Isle

In northwest Ireland, the winds howl and the rains fall on some of the world's purest and most remote links golf courses
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Andy Garcia, Mar/April 2004

(continued from page 2)

The fairways at Carne toss and turn fitfully over the heaving landscape. You can get a month of links bounces in one round at Carne, where not every good drive is rewarded nor every bad one punished. The ’umps and ’ollows that so characterize links golf are in abundance at Carne and a perfectly struck ball may end up in the bottom of a pit. But a poorly struck shot might also benefit from an unexpected carom.

While the front nine is challenging with some interesting holes, it is the back nine that will burn an indelible stamp in the memory. From the par-5 10th, its green sitting in a pocket in front of an immense dune, to the tortured roller-coaster ride of the par-5 18th, the back nine at Carne never fails to impress or inspire.

The uphill par-4 15th makes you wonder whether you need a caddie or a Sherpa. To the right, all the way up, is an enormous dune ridge with about as much exposed sand as you are ever likely to see in Ireland. The club is planting the face of it with marram grass to ensure that the ridge is not worn down by the winter gales, but the gaping exposure of sand is wondrous.

The par-3 16th plays steeply downhill into an amphitheater of dunes and you could well imagine the mystical community of Brigadoon taking shape at the bottom of the hill. The long, tough
par-4 17th has two deep pits that threaten tee shots on either side of the fairway. But it is the view of a huge dune canyon to the right that can stop any golfer in his tracks. The canyon has no golf hole at the moment, but the club has some ideas for the future.

The 18th presents a very substantial challenge. The green on the par 5 can be reached in two by longer hitters, but the average player will have to decide between laying up more than 150 yards from the green at the top of the hill, or letting his second shot roll down to the bottom of a ravine fairway and face a severely uphill blind third shot. Carne will take the measure of anyone who plays it.

Connemara Golf Club
Ballyconneely, County Galway

Ed Hackett’s credo—“Nature is the best architect. I just try to dress up what the good Lord provides”—may be expressed best at the Connemara Golf Club, due west of Galway at nearly the exact middle of the Irish Atlantic Coast.

Connemara was the dream of Father Peter Waldron, a young priest who realized the secular necessities of the poor Irish coast in the late 1960s. The area needed something to draw both Irish and international tourists, something to bolster a depressed economy.  Golf seemed like just the thing, and as it turned out, Hackett was just the right architect. When he arrived at the site in 1970, Waldron told him that there wasn’t any money yet to build a course. That
didn’t stop Hackett. He put pins and stones in places for the tees and greens and told the locals to pay him when they could, to construct the course when they could.

So with a dreamer of a priest, an icon of an architect and locals willing to build their first golf course, Connemara Golf Club was born. In the end, it is a very natural and humbling place, 27 holes of charming golf that will keep you wanting to come back for more.

Connemara doesn’t have the dramatic dune landscape typical of northwest Irish courses. The land is distinguished by rocks and rock outcroppings, though they seldom come into play unless you hit a very bad shot. The rocks provide backdrop details for the holes, props at the side of a stage. They are most apparent at the short par-3 13th, a hole chiseled out of a rock basin. It is the first of a series of dramatic holes that conclude the marvelous back nine and provide a fitting climax to Father Waldron’s dream.

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