2013 Golf Getaway in Southwest Ireland
A great long weekend on the auld sod: There are many old golf courses and more than a few great ones in Ireland, but you can count on one hand the number that are both old and great. Southwest Ireland has two of them, not to mention a “new” course that is
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Lahinch Epitomizes Great Links
You’ll find every distinguishing feature of great links golf at the Old Course at Lahinch in County Clare. Hard, fast greens. Narrow, rumpled fairways. Blind shots. Tangled rough. Wind, rain, and goats. Yes, goats. Local lore holds that when you encounter the goats around the course, you can expect an interlude of bad weather. From my experience, local lore is dead on.
The course was originally laid out in 1892 and redesigned by Old Tom Morris in 1894. The present fifth hole, a 154-yard par 3 that plays more like 180 over a dune that blocks your view of most of the green, was Old Tom’s handiwork. Alister MacKenzie, who redesigned the course again in 1927, is given credit for the current course, although it was modernized for today’s game by Martin Hawtee in 1999.
From the tips at 6,950 yards and at par 72, Lahinch demands a firm stroke and steady nerves. The wind off the Atlantic affects every single shot, including your putts. You play the wind from every angle, too; MacKenzie routed the holes so that six play into it, six play with it, and six play across. But you play the landscape as well. Fairways can be as narrow as 20 yards and thread their way through dunes covered by knotty rough. The heavily contoured greens look slow, but they roll fast and are guarded by numerous deep bunkers.
Blind shots add to the fun. The fourth hole, for example, is a simple 475-yard par 5. It plays straight away downwind, too, which should mean a birdie fest. But 40-foot-tall Klondyke Hill stands in the middle of the fairway about 300 yards from the tee, blocking all views of the fairway and green beyond so completely that a club employee is stationed atop it to let you know when it’s safe to hit over. Your strategy? Hit your blind second shot over the white rock on top of the hill and trust it.
A good second round (or a first if you’re looking for an easier warm-up) is the Castle Course at Lahinch, which plays a little shorter through less hilly terrain, but still requires precision shot-making due to several water features. It’s par 69 at 5,488 yards.
Greens fee: Old Course: €120 ($162); Castle Course: €30 ($40) lahinchgolf.com
Getting to Southwest Ireland is easy with direct flights to Shannon from several East Coast airports. A good central place to stay is Kilcooly’s Country House (golfballybunion.com) in Ballybunion, a congenial small hotel with character, a fine dining room, and an intimate, well-stocked bar. The place is filled with antiques and tasteful bric-a-brac, but unlike so many Old World hotels, the rooms are spacious and uncluttered.