There have been many books written on the subject, but for someone seeking the essence of the Irish golf experience, I’ve always had two references: John Garrity’s “Ancestral Links” (see main story) and Tom Coyne’s “A Course Called Ireland,” in which the author walked the perimeter of the Emerald Isle, playing as many links courses as he could, over 16 weeks.
Now, there’s another must-read: “Hooked: An Amateur’s Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland,” by Kevin Markham. Interestingly, it’s the one of the three written by an Irishman. Markham is a 45-year-old copywriter who, much as did Coyne and Garrity, sort of stumbled into his project to review and rank every 18-hole course in the country, all 350 of them.
“I was sitting in a club one day and someone asked me about Newcastle West, ‘Is it any good?’ ” Markham said following 18 holes at Carne Golf Links. “I didn’t know, and the book store had nothing. So (wife) Fiona said, ‘Why don’t you write one?’ ”
He did, traveling 6,800 miles and walking 2,100 more, wearing out three pairs of shoes. “It took me 14 months, visiting every course, 10 rounds a week, driving (and living in) a camper van,” he said, laughing. “My wife had no idea what we were in for.”
Markham’s 374-page effort, unlike Garrity’s and Coyne’s narratives, is a guidebook. The bulk is its single-page reviews of each course, with favorite and toughest holes, and it ranks courses on a points system that considers design, appeal, greens/fairways, bunkers/water, locations, facilities, value for the price and “golf experience.” He includes tee times information, questions to ask, winter/special deals, hotels, airline flights, websites, phone numbers, maps — everything to plan an Irish golf adventure.
He also lists Top 10s for best value, best links and best parkland courses, as well as “must play” courses based on their uniqueness. Markham puts Carne on three of the four lists (he rates it 93 out of 100 points), so he clearly regards it highly.
“I like big dunes, and they don’t get any bigger than here,” he said. “Links golf is the original golf, and I love being by the sea. No one made Carne; nature carved it out.”