LAHINCH, IRELAND - Anyone who has been fortunate enough to play golf in Ireland will tell you the experience “takes your breathe away.”
I didn’t think they meant that literally – until the day I stood gasping for breathe on the first tee at an incredible golf course that shares its name with this picturesque town on Ireland’s west coast.
“I … can’t …
The gale force winds sweeping in off beautiful Liscannor Bay were sucking the words right out of me as I attempted to communicate with a Lahinch member named Ben.
“Don’t … try … to … speak. Just … hit … the … ball,” Ben yelled between gasps.
Have you ever tried to hit a ball into a wind tunnel?
My cap went further than my drive.
Later, in the cozy confines of the Lahinch clubhouse, Ben told me “you picked a bad day to play the Old Course – Lahinch has two magnificent layouts – because the wind is blowing in the opposite direction to which the course was designed.”
No matter which way the wind blows, there is never a bad day to play Lahinch. This patch of green is one of the most amazing golf courses in the world. Often referred to as Ireland’s St. Andrews, the Old Course sits on the edge of the ocean and above a beautiful beach, rewarding golfers with one breathtaking view after another.
The furry dunes, hollows and slopes that characterize this course test every aspect of a golfer’s game and in most cases the weekend duffers who travel here from around the world fail miserably.
But that’s okay. Lahinch is one of those “I must play before I die” courses and the experience of competing here is far more rewarding than what a scorecard reads.
Words like “stunning, charming and endearing” are used by those who have played Lahinch, but then again those descriptions apply to almost all of Ireland’s collection of great golf courses.
The course that first opened in 1892 is one of the quirkiest you will ever play – huge sand dunes sit in the middle of Lahinch’s tight fairways and because there’s so many blind shots one begins to wonder if the services of a seeing eye dog would be best employed.
Two of golf’s most famous holes can be found at Lahinch. The Klondyke, a narrow par-5 that runs headlong into a giant sand hill and hides a narrow green on the other side, and the Dell, a short par-3 hidden completely by dunes, are legendary among golfers. Both are well worth the price of admission (110 euros) on their own.
This course has had more facelifts than Joan Rivers – six at last count – and some of the game’s greatest designers have left their imprints here. Among them, architectual genuises like Alister MacKenzie and Old Tom Morris, the creator of St. Andrews. Morris was the one who created the Klondyke and the Dell when he reconfigured the course in 1897.
Oddly enough, Mother Nature and her biting winds try to reshape Lahinch daily.
While those winds can punish golfers, they can also reward them. Wind-assisted drivers on some holes can turn duffers into Duffy Waldorf, one of the PGA’s noted long hitters. But on most holes, the ever-present wind exasperates players by pushing their shots into the long, furry rough that borders all holes.
Ben and other local members at Lahinch love to share tips on how to play the fabled course with visitors over a pint of Guinness – the visitor gets the tips and the tab.
The arrival of a mini-bus crammed with Americans bedecked in all the latest designer gear interrupted my conversation with the locals, who rushed to the large windows overlooking the first tee.
“I say he’ll miss the ball completely,” said one of Ben’s friends as a stylish American teed up his shot.
“He’ll go no further than 100 yards,” predicted another.
The first prediction held true. The embarrassed American quickly reloaded and hit – his ball sailed less than 100 yards.
The locals broke into laughter and returned to their drinks, this time offering suggestions on where a visitor could find the best plate of fish and chips in their small County Clare village that is built up over the sea.
Lahinch’s enchanting main street is highlighted by a one block stretch featuring a pub, a clothing store, a pub, a restaurant, a pub, an inn, a pub, a souvenir shop, a pub, a postal station, a pub …
“You’re not two minutes from the 18th green and a pint of Guinness in Lahinch,” said Ben.
While the Dell and Klondyke are the most talked about holes at Lahinch, the group of fairways – sixth, seventh and ninth - that stretch along the sea are equally memorable. Then there’s the magical 12th and the dangerously driveable 13th. And every hole in between seems to offer something memorable for a visitor to take home and relive over a pint of imported Guinness in the months after a trip here.
“Maybe this is where they should be playing the 2006 Ryder Cup – the highly-emotional event that pits America’s best golfers against Europe’s - instead of the K Club,” said one of Ben’s friend’s in reference to the world renowned tournament awarded to the Arnold Palmer-designed course located near Dublin.
I eagerly agreed with the Lahinch member – until I played the K Club.
The two Palmer courses that make up the K Club are parkland beauties set amidst the splendour of the Irish countryside. The castle-like Georgian estate that is the centerpiece of the K Club is Ireland’s only “Five Red Star Resort” and a perfect venue to host golf’s royalty.
Unlike weather-challenged Lahinch, the K Club courses are more suited for the homogenized game pros like to play – wide fairways and large greens are the norm here. And look Tiger, no wind!
However, the pros won’t get off easy at the K Club. In the highly-charged format that is the Ryder Cup, players will face some severe tests. The K Club has been the site of the European Open since 1995 and professionals regard it as one of the toughest courses on this side of the Atlantic.
Lahinch and the K Club are often mentioned alongside Ballybunion and Royal County Down as the best courses in Ireland. But in a country that appears to be just one large fairway, it’s hard to find a bad golf course.
They all take your breathe away!
Power carts are available at Lahinch but most everyone walks the Old Course. / Caddies can be hired at Lahinch for between 25 and 45 euros / For information on Lahinch, go towww.lahinchgolf.com / Lahnich is located on the western coast of County Clare. Its two courses sit on the edge of town. / The Old Course at Lahinch is the one most golfers like to play but the Castle Course, named for the ruins of a castle tower that sits nearby, is equally enjoyable and far less crowded. / The yardage on the Castle Course is only 5,620 yards while the Old Course plays to 6,697 yards. The winds that swirl around the old course makes it play much longer.