Dingle Golf Links

The Dingle Peninsula was festooned with Kerry flags when I visited. The county known as The Kingdom had just triumphed for 35th time in the All-Ireland Gaelic football championship. The Kingdom’s colours of green, white and gold decorated every house and pub, every car and pedestrian. Gaelic football is serious religion in these parts.
Leaving the distraction of football celebrations behind, I headed west a few miles to Ballyferriter. Just beyond this village the hills sweep upwards to the cliff peaks known as The Three Sisters. Nestled beneath them is the most westerly golf course in all of Europe, the 6,696 yards, par 72 championship links of Dingle Golf Club, also known by its Irish name, Ceann Sibéal (Sybil Head).
The Clubhouse at Dingle
The Dingle peninsula is a Gaeltacht region, where Irish is the predominant language spoken by the local people. Every hole is named in Irish and all signs at the club are bi-lingual.
Dingle Golf Club was founded in 1924 and for many years they had a 9 hole course to the east of Dingle. In 1970, the legendary Eddie Hackett was summoned to design a new course at Ballyferriter. Eddie was renowned for his ability to make courses fit the landscape, rather than have bulldozers change landscapes to suit courses. Dingle was no exception. Later changes in the nineties were done by Christy O’Connor Jnr.
There are no great towering dunes or yawning valleys at Ceann Sibéal; you won’t back off in fright at your first glimpse and every hole is visible from the clubhouse. The course has a gentle, pastoral look, but don’t be fooled; this is a links full of subtlety. A burn (stream) threads inescapably through twelve of the holes like a snake in the grass, with deadly consequences for a good card. I asked marketing manager, John Slye, for the name of this watery irritation but it seems there is no proper name, it's just known as The Burn. There are plenty of names the members use, all unprintable and you may want to add to the list by the end of your round.
It was a soft day as I stood on the first tee at the highest point of the course, looking down on an inviting par four. It is a straightforward 400 yard hole until you near the green and your first meeting with the burn as it meanders through a deep gorge across the front of the green. If you go for the green you have to make it because the steep bank in front will send any timid shot backwards into the water. Like nearly all the greens in Dingle, it is big and undulating, and true.
The second is a 200 yard straightforward par three with bunkers left and right of the green. There is space here to run in from the front.
Finding the fairway on the par four 3rd is all important as the ubiquitous burn winds its way up the right. A large green receptively slopes towards you here but too much club could put you into the houses at the back of the green.
The 4th Hole
The 4th is another par four with out of bounds on the right and the fairway keeping to the right. Caution is advised here as a good drive could easily find our old friend the burn at 280 yards. You could make a big splash in a buggy here as there are no little side walls on the narrow bridge to keep you straight!
Dingle is a fairly open links. There is hardly a tree in the area so I was surprised to hear the club has a state-of-the art leaf-blower. Apparently it is useful for blowing the grass from the bunkers after the boundaries are trimmed!
The par five 6th has a good carry off the back tees and trouble all the way on the right where a series of ponds await a careless fade. Otherwise, this is a straightforward hole and a good par opportunity. The next hole, a par four, will make you work for a score as you avoid trouble all the way along the right of this slightly doglegged index five. Keep middle to left of the fairway but if the prevailing winds blow, a par here will be well deserved.
The ninth hole is called “An Ifreann”, Irish for hell! This long index one par four is a great hole, with water cutting the fairway diagonally about two hundred yards from the back tees. Staying left helps here but you will still have long way uphill to reach the green at the clubhouse. Laying up could be a wise option as the green slopes severely to the right and landing on it is no guarantee of staying, despite its generous size. A big dip awaits to the right to pull you well off the green.
The par three 10th is the only real blind shot on the course. Looking out on a fine view of Smerick Harbour and Clougher Head, the flag is barely visible 190 yards away and it is all carry. The prevailing westerly wind makes for a good test and out of bounds left adds to the challenge.
Rugged Terrain on the 9th
The 11th is a good par five with our old friend the burn crossing at 283 yards, very reachable, especially downwind. With trouble all the way a par here is a good result.
Jeff Howes redesigned the par three 12th, an uphill 155 yards that is well guarded by bunkers. The green will kick the ball right here.
 “Crosaí’s Corner”, the par five 13th, is named after green keeper Muiris Crosaí whose family home is near the corner of this dogleg. The burn crosses the hole twice and with 240 yards minimum to carry the corner, a three shot strategy is wise here. Uphill to the green, with out of bounds all along the right, this is no easy par.
The par four 14th  is all downhill and this makes it fairly short. Plenty of trouble around the green with the burn cutting very deep on the left.
The 15th is a 410 yard par four. The burn winds up the right for the first half of the hole and then you are faced with out of bounds left. Accuracy off the tee here is a must and to make the two tiered green in two.
The relatively short 16th, a 366 yards par four, has plenty of trouble on the left and again crosses the burn, which is reachable down the left. The green is wide but fairly shallow and it is easy to overshoot into some mean bunkers and deep rough. Despite the killer slopes on this green, I find it hard to believe the story that one lady member took twenty three putts on this two tiered green!
One of the toughest holes on the course is the par four 17th. The burn crosses at 270 yards and then there is a line of fairway bunkers guarding the approach to the green. Plenty of trouble around the backward sloping two tiered green makes this a tough hole where a bit of luck would not go astray.
The finishing hole, a par five just over 500 yards is uphill to the clubhouse. A really good drive is needed here if you want to carry the grass fairway bunkers 70 yards out from the green in two, otherwise a lay up is wise. A deep pot bunker guards the left of the enormous green where a three putt is not out of the question.
 © Ronan Quinlan 2007

* Wind is the dominating factor in this part of the world. You could play Dingle forever and it would never be quite the same as the last time. What visitors call a gale, locals describe as a “gentle Zephyr” - links players are accustomed to a bit of wind.  In Dingle, it blows in from the bleak Blasket Islands across Ferriter Bay and sweeps up Slea Head, sweeping the exposed course in its path. If you get a calm day be grateful, but don't expect it.

*Remote it may be, quiet it is not. Dingle is a thriving, bustling, cosmopolitan town. Everything is geared for the visitor. You will find music in the pubs every night of the week, with audiences from every corner of the globe. You could not be lonely in Dingle, this is a place where people like to talk and sing and dance and they embrace strangers enthusiastically. When you leave, take the Connor Pass road to Tralee. It is a slower route, a mountainous road, but worth every minute you delay for the spectacular views.

  • Dublin 344 km (214 miles) about 4 hours
  • Shannon Airport  175 km (110 miles) about 2 hourd
  • Kerry Airport  58 km (36 miles) 1 hour
  • Cork    150 km (92 miles)  2  hours

Carne Golf Links

A Jewel in the Wilds of Mayo

A magnificent rainbow arched the western sky as we neared Belmullet. The old stories tell us there a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There was no pot gold at the end of this one, but there was a treasure. It’s called Carne Golf Links.
The Clubhouse at Carne
North west Mayo is probably the most isolated and least developed area of Ireland. The last stretch of the road to Belmullet crosses a desolate expanse of bog. You would have to wonder what stimulated the earliest human facing this landscape to keep going, maybe the first settlers arrived by sea. And maybe its seclusion contributes to the warm welcome given to strangers on the peninsula.
Erris Tourism, a community owned and controlled company set up to promote visitors to the area, built an eighteen hole golf course on 260 acres of commonage that opened in 1993. And what a truly inspired golf course they built! Belmullet Golf Club, which had operated a nine hole course nearby since 1925,  became the resident club at the new course. 
It is difficult to exaggerate the rugged splendour of Carne. Positioned on a peninsula between Blacksod Bay to the east and the wild Atlantic to the west, the course - the last to be designed by legendary links designer Eddie Hackett - uses the towering sandhills and deep valleys with minimum disturbance of the natural contours. Hackett believed in using the natural lie of the land: “I find that nature is the best architect,”, he said, “I just try to dress up what the Good Lord provides and if ever the Lord intended land for a golf course, Carne has it.” And it works beautifully. They did not move mountains to build Carne, they threaded a golf course through them. Massive sandhills and staggering scenery help make this one of the most impressive links courses you are likely to see anywhere.
Described locally as “Nature’s Gift to Golf”, the course is carved out of the coastal dunes, following the lie of the wild land, rising and falling as nature dictated. There is a degree of blindness on many holes. The dunes and valleys create naturally isolated fairways, with many raised tees and plateau greens giving an established feel to this relatively new course. It feels like it has been there forever.
The fact that Carne is not one of the best known golf links in Ireland may be due in part to a shortage of accommodation for visitors the area - until recently. Now there is the splendid new Broadhaven Bay Hotel and Leisure Centre. The modern ninety bedroom facility offers Play & Stay breaks and a free shuttle service to the golf course, about five minutes away.
The Belmullet peninsula is a Gaeltacht, an area where Irish is the native language of the older people and all signs are in Irish and English. Carne golf links follows the same pattern but, not being overly manicured, its minimalist approach also extends to the signage. Unobtrusive arrows point the way but you have to keep any eye to where you are going. I am told they are thinking about putting up a few more signs. It would be a shame to overdo it, as the bare natural appearance is an important ingredient of the course’s character. It is only a minor inconvenience for those playing the course for the first time and the cure is delightfully simple - play it again.
The course opens on a high tee box and the views are truly spectacular. Anxious as I was to get going, I found myself turning my back on the par four to absorb the panoramic vista. The opening hole is an uphill dogleg right with the green set on a ledge. Careful positioning of the first shot is the key. The 2nd hole at 200 yards is the longest of the par threes. The green is in a hollow and with a little space around the green a par is not out of the question. Any par you get in Carne is well earned.
The par five 4th starts over a small hill and the fairway is blind from the tee. You would do well to keep a bit right. The fairway is more generous than it appears with the course boundary deceptively close to the left. It is not overly long and careful positioning rather than great length will get you there in regulation.
The 7th is a straightforward 174 yard par three but the green is about fifty feet above you. Clubbing here is everything and with the prevailing wind from the left, making the green is no mean feat.
All of the par threes in Carne are exceptional. The 14th is shortest at 136 yards but with a tight fairway the green makes a small target, sloping front and back. If you can pull yourself away from the magnificent views from the tee box right on the coastal boundary of the course, a par here is a great result. The last par three, the sixteenth, is 155 yards with the green well below the high tee. It should be no more than an 8 or 9 iron. Two large bunkers on the left make accuracy all the more important here.
The 10th is another blind par five but it has a generous fairway that starts uphill and then down to a green in an amphitheatre of sand dunes. The terrific 11th is a sharp dogleg to the right and at 328 yards you try the shortcut over a large hill known to locals as Mount Everest. This is a dangerous route as the raised green, in the unlikely event you hit it, is hard to hold from distance. You would be well advised to leave your driver in the bag here. This is a strategist’s golf course and it defends itself well against big hitters and this hole is a great example of that.
The 12th, a short par four of a little over 300 yards, is a sharp dogleg left. Position is everything here to set up for the approach to the raised green. The rough in Carne is not as unforgiving as many links, but you can still have what a caddy in Lahinch described to me as a “bacon ball” - as I began to grasp my dearth of options on a steep grassy slope where my ball had disappeared, he explained there was little chance of finding it: “If you wrapped a rasher around that ball, Lassie couldn’t find it”.
Carne’s 13th is probably the most ordinary hole on the course, a straightforward par five with only the course boundary on the right to give any trouble. It is known locally as “the calm before the storm” as you move on to the tricky par three 14th and spectacular fairway of the 15th, probably the course’s signature hole. The undulating fairway here rises to a fairly generous green with a sneaky little bunker hidden at the back, one of only twenty-nine bunkers on the entire round.
The par four 17th presents no big danger but reaching in two here is no mean task for the average hitter.  The 18th is a long par five and you could hide a house in the hollow in front of the green. It is branded as “hell” and has spoiled many a good card.
The 18th hole has a hilly fairway
Carne is a stunningly beautiful place and a great test of golf. Comparisons to Lahinch, Portrush and Ballybunion are inevitable, but green fees in Carne are less than half those of any comparable links. The only thing that could be held against it is it's remoteness, but the trip is well worth it and for any discerning links golfer, it is simply unmissable.
I will leave the final word to course designer Eddie Hackett: “ I am thrilled with the way the dramatic Belmullet course has turned out, and again I reiterate my first opinion that ultimately there will be no better links course in the country, or I doubt anywhere," 

© Ronan Quinlan 2007

·         Carne Golf Links was voted no 28 in the world rankings by the American magazine Golf World - November 2005
·         Christy O’Connor Snr had a hole in one on the 164 yard second.
·         There are plans to build another nine holes at Carne. They have the land but this is a project that will not be rushed - it is a five year plan. I hope they remember what Eddie Hackett said: “It took nature thousands of years to create this and I don't want bulldozers to destroy it. Don't change anything after I've gone or I will turn in my grave."

Course Stats:
Length: 6,690 yards
Holes:  18
Par:      72
Hire: Buggies, trolleys, clubs
Caddies: Available on request
Phone: +353 97 82292

*Carne is a member of West Coast Links, a group of six links courses that includes Ballyliffen, Connemara, Donegal, Enniscrone, and Rosses Point. Booking can be co-ordinated between the clubs.