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Lahinch Golf Club Old Course

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County Clare

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Flanked by grand dunes just northwest of Lahinch, an unpretentious town overlooking a majestic beach on Liscannor Bay, is one of the most remarkable links in Ireland.  The elevation changes, hummocky ground, and sandy soil afforded divine golfing terrain and it is in these dunes that the most astute members of the Black Watch decided to build a course in 1892.  It shouldn’t be surprising that the members of the Black Watch knew their golfing ground, they were Scots.

There was a slow evolution to the Lahinch with more and more holes eventually being built in the dunes over the course of 35 years.  It took what may be the most acclaimed architect in history to fully see the promise of the dunes and in 1928 Dr Alister Mackenzie designed a links with all 18 holes playing over, around and through the monumental sand hills.  Not usually mentioned in the same breath as MacKenzie’s most famous designs; Royal Melbourne, Cypress Point & Augusta National, such is the fame of Lahinch, this work could be described as MacKenzie’s most important in Great Britain and Ireland.  Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the new Lahinch design, the Good Doctor had the profound sense not to eliminate Klondyke or Dell, two of the most celebrated holes in Ireland.  The course recently underwent an extensive rebuild with several holes altered and the numbering changed.  Despite some controversy over Hawtree’s decision to replace MacKenzie’s fabulous short 11th, the changes are on the whole very good.

Holes to Note

The third (the old 4th) rises sharply to a fairway which blindly runs out of room.  The approach plays over a valley to a plateau green.

Klondyke (the 4th) is wonder of age old golf.  The drive plays up a slip of fairway and abruptly butts into Klondyke, a huge dune blocking the line of play to the green.  There is nothing to do but play over Klondyke.  The green is spacious and not overly difficult.  For those who reckon hitting the second as far as possible is the solution to Klondyke, the wall to rear of the green is turfed at angle that will launch balls out of bounds!

After surviving Klondyke, Dell (the 5th) is next up.  On the tee the golfer is greeted by a large dune with a white rock shining like beacon.  The green is tucked between two dunes the likes of which can produce pin ball like tee shots.  Klondyke and Dell are pure fantasy golf, but in Ireland fantasy is often confused with reality.

Continuing on the 3-7 stretch of holes which I believe places Lahinch in a league apart from any other Irish links, from the 6th tee there is no hint of glory for the drive is a bit mundane following a fairway which looks like a road plowing through a hill.  What can’t be seen is magnificent hole played straight into the Atlantic where the short grass dead ends at around 250 yards into a large hollow with wee bunker at its floor.  After one sets this distraction aside, the downhill approach is none too easy.

The funky run comes to end on #7.  Much like #3, this hole climbs a hill in the saddle of dunes and turns left.  While 50 yards shorter than the third, this hole is superior.  The approach to a very long green is very difficult to decipher.  Additionally, there is a drop-off midway up the left side of the putting surface.

The side finishes with a cracking short two-shotter; its green hugging a right side dune. From the highest point on the course, a drive up the right leaves a nasty approach down the dune and over a bunker to a long and narrow green – maybe five club lengths from front to back.

I seem to recall the 13th being a more dangerous hole to attack before the Hawtree changes.  Even so, this very short par 4 is bags of fun.

The strength of Lahinch is unquestionably its par 4s.  The variety of lengths, use of terrain, wind and how they counter-punch the fives and threes and even other fours is outstanding.  There isn’t a hole in the group that can in the least be considered as indifferent. The penultimate hole fits the above description perfectly.  There is more room left off the tee than it appears, but two blind bunkers on the corner of the green make this safe play troublesome.  An elephant’s graveyard runs down the middle of the fairway pushing drives left or right. As on a few earlier occasions, there is slight step-up to the green which mandates an extra push for the approach.

What a golf course!  Golfers expecting an inferior hoe here and there will be happily disappointed.  Lahinch is most famous for Klondyke and Dell, and while invigorating to play, there are several holes which are far better. However, the course would definitely not be Lahinch without these two and the three holes which bookend them.  If there was ever a course which beckoned golfers to book a plane ticket, Lahinch is it.  It is marvellous that Shannon Airport is only 45 minutes from Lahinch….

Doonbeg GC: A newish links designed by Greg Norman with a stern reputation as a difficult test.