Born in a Dublin pub in 1910, twelve years before Irish independence, Hackett survived a Dickensian childhood of periodic penury and grave illness (he spent long stretches in hospital with
While Eddie was still a teenager, the family fell on hard times and so Hackett was thankful to get a job as a clubmaker at the Royal Dublin Golf Club.
He worked on his game, became an assistant professional, and in 1939 landed the job as the head professional at the exclusive Portmarnock links for the princely sum of 10 pounds a week.
"As the professional I was never allowed into the clubhouse," Hackett remembers."I'm an honorary member now, and I still don't go into the clubhouse. It's just the way I am."
Hackett left Portmarnock in 1950 to take part in an ill-advised business venture. The next few years turned out to be the worst of his life, and he spent another nine months in bed in a near-fatal battle with meningitis.
Hackett returned to golf almost by chance in the early 1960s when the Golfing Union of Ireland asked him to give teaching clinics across the country. One of the clubs was looking for someone to design a golf course (one of the first full-length courses to be built in thirty years) and Hackett's name was recommended. He stumbled his way through the job and suddenly he was an expert. For all intents and purposes he was Ireland's only golf architect.
"In those years, there was no one else to go to," says Hackett, "unless you went to an English architect, but they were expensive. All my life I've been charging too little, but at that time, you see, I wouldn't have the confidence in my abilities."
On occasion, Hackett even tried to convince clubs not to hire him.
"I told them that if I was in your position, and I wanted to make some money, I wouldn't use Hackett, I'd use a Nicklaus or a Palmer or a Trent Jones."
In two notable cases, clubs followed his advice, and hired Arnold Palmer (Tralee) and Robert Trent Jones (Ballybunion New). Both are worthy efforts, built on spectacular terrain, but they have a theatricality out of sync with the great Irish and British links. The consensus in Ireland is that they don't rank with Hackett's best, which have an air of maturity and grace rare in young courses of any kind.
Hackett's courses tend to be long from the back tees, with clearly visible landing areas, large greens and spectacular elevated tees. Despite his great love for the classic links of Ireland and Scotland (which he played as a young professional), Hackett eschews one of their most common features -- blind tee shots and hidden hazards -- and prefers to make a hole's challenges clearly visible in the modern style. Every one of his links courses is enormously enjoyable, even thrilling to play, with at least a half-dozen holes that will stop you dead in your tracks in admiration.
Because Hackett's layouts are so sensitive to the natural terrain, there is always a consistent style and rhythm to his links that takes its theme from the specific natural surroundings. Nothing seems artificial or imposed. Hackett would be horrified to think his courses looked like one another -- he doesn't want to leave his signature about. He doesn't talk so much about designing golf holes as finding them, and he is proudest when he can point to a hole and say "it's just as nature."