Published: February 2006
Lahinch is one of Ireland’s ultimate locations. It combines two of my passions: links golf and surfing. The connection may seem tenuous but at Lahinch both are readily available at the very highest level. Lahinch lies south of Galway in County Clare on the south west coast of Ireland. It’s a stunning stretch of coastline and has some fantastic breaks along the never-ending beach. The town itself is in essence all about fishing, surf, golf and then there’s the ever-present Atlantic.
We soaked up the surfer atmosphere at the two decent bars on the front with great views of the breakers. It was only after 20 minutes or so that we spotted the expanse of haphazard dune formations that make up Lahinch Golf Club. Considering the contrasting types you associate with golf and surfing, it’s surprising that here, everyone mucks in to create a laid-back fun atmosphere.
Lahinch Golf Club was established in 1892, and it looks as if little on the course has changed. The original course was apparently laid out by “placing feathers on the ground to indicate the location of the teeing ground and the holes”. Like many of the courses along this stretch of coast, the clubhouse has an air of days gone by. There’s nothing gauche or over the top, just a feeling that you’re attending a very exclusive club. Make sure you take a look at the display cases highlighting the club’s history. Forget Tiger Woods and Nike’s focus on fashion. There’s a picture of a club member in what seems to be the 1920’s, teeing off on the 1st in plus fours, tweed cap and smoking a pipe. Now that’s style.
The first is one of the most imposing tee-off positions I’ve seen. You have to walk around from the Clubhouse to the Pro-Shop behind the 1st tee. The Clubhouse runs along the left and a lot of people mill about the pro-shop to the right of the tee. There are acres of land to aim for, but the design gives you a strong sense of the gallery effect. Thankfully we all drove off well. It’s the only time in the 18 holes where there was any sense of claustrophobia. The rest of the course feels more expansive as a result. The 1st itself is a relatively easy par 4 uphill, with the elevated green protected by bunkers on the right. The greens here didn’t take long to make an impression. They were like lightning.
As with many a good links, the course doesn’t seem too imposing when the sun’s shining and the wind hasn’t found its voice. But there’s normally a tricky wind in this part of the world that has a habit of changing direction at will. Once again we were lucky with the weather and only had a slight breeze to contend with. The 2nd was back down the hill and we had the breeze at our backs. It’s a shortish par 5 but with imposing bunkers all the way along the fairway left and right. The green itself is a large tabletop whose contours can easily outwit average golfers like us.
It soon turned out that the first two holes weren’t a true indicator of what lay ahead. The 3rd is quite an imposing hole where you have a blind drive high up over 30ft of dune ground to an elevated landing strip. Don’t miss-hit your drive. I did. The rough at Lahinch isn’t at all merciful. Belt a shot way off line and it’s a thankless task trying to retrieve it. Your second shot requires a fair degree of accuracy, as you need to carry some nasty looking humps and hollows. With the 3rd spread over 400 yards - inevitably into the wind – you know you’re up for a fight after this hole.
The next is a cracking par 5 called ‘The Klondyke’. It’s a relatively short par 5 at only 472 yards, but every yard of it has character. The Klondyke refers to a huge dune in the middle of the fairway that hides the green and forces you to make your second or third shot a blind one. Where exactly the green is, is a matter of guesswork. Once you’ve made your way round the Klondyke and onto the green don’t expect any favours. The contours on this hole are pretty hostile.
We finished the front 9 with respectable looking cards and hoped to keep up the momentum. The back 9 didn’t disappoint and offered up similarly tricky tests with challenging pin positions and narrowing fairways. The greens at Lahinch are in the true links golf tradition. They’re wide and rolling but often steeply contoured. Putting is a real adventure. The final holes live up to expectation with some amazing designs that require some seriously creative shot making. By the time you finish, you’ll know you’ve been tested in every aspect of your play.
We found the condition of the course superb when playing in May 2004. There’s a lot to be said for a course that’s over 110 years old. Lahinch has an air of nobility about it. You respect the course from the first all the way to the 18th. It gives you a fair opportunity to play well but occasionally reminds you who’s boss and challenges your character. Unlike most Parkland courses, there are occasions on some of the par 3’s where you have to play your shot onto the bank of the hole and let the contours take over. The views along the beach holes are truly inspiring with ever changing colours and weather systems, whatever time of year. At times, there’s a mystical feel to Lahinch that provides a welcome distraction when your purple patch comes to an end. Even an average round is unforgettable here.
Considering its status amongst the knowing circles of Irish Links Golf, the green fees are pretty reasonable. The Old Course is €135 a round at time of writing (May 2005). In a very similar way to Ballybunion, Lahinch has an old world charm that new courses can’t replicate. The area ‘s of indisputable natural beauty but there’s also a feeling that this course has nothing to prove. Any work done at Lahinch is minor as the real design was carried out by Nature itself. The history of the club stands firm and the only question is whether or not you’ll be able to live up to the test.
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