The dream trip continues, this time onto Lahinch Golf Club, again along the Atlantic Ocean, and again one of the top golf courses in all of Ireland. Rated by Golf Digest Ireland as the 4th best course on the island, and 65th in the world by Golf Digest, this course had also come highly recommended to me by some friends that had made their way out there. We made the drive up from Tralee the night before, settled into our B&B in Doolin, and set out early Thursday morning for our 8:50 tee time. The course had a lot to live up to, following Waterville, Ballybunion, and the aforementioned Tralee, but the beauty of playing golf in western Ireland is how different each course and experience can be. At no point did any of these courses blend together or feel repetitive, and Lahinch was certainly no exception.
A short 20 minute drive from Doolin (including 6 km on a two-way road barely wide enough to fit one car) brings you to the car park. The tee sheet is full, but the grounds are very quiet on this Wednesday morning. The vibe is deficient in flamboyance, which is consistent with the other Irish clubs I’ve encountered. There’s no extravagant clubhouse, no fancy driving range with balls stacked in triangles (at least, I didn’t see one), and no one greeting you in the parking lot trying to wipe your ass and take your clubs for you. They immediately and quietly deliver the message that this place is about the golf, and it’s about the golf course. It’s a real life illustration of quiet confidence, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
After registering in the pro shop, we were sent to check in with Tony at the first tee. After exchanging some small talk for a few minutes, we ended up in his starter’s hut at the computer as he mapped out our route for the 3.5 hour drive we had in store for us after the round ended. The hospitality is real, and it’s such a key ingredient to your experience in the country. You can’t put a value on feeling welcome, comfortable, and at peace with your surroundings, and the effect it has on your enjoyment of your day in these momentous places. We stayed in that hut for several minutes (perhaps mostly just to stay warm) as we exchanged stories, although we were much more interested in hearing Tony’s stories than we were in telling our own.
We were blessed with another perfect sunrise, and I was able to roll in a birdie at the opening hole to break open what was about to be a really special day. The only regret of the day was that my phone decided that it wanted to malfunction while I’m playing one of the most beautiful and spectacular golf courses I’ll ever play, and almost all of the photos on my phone went gray and can not be retained. Gone. Kaput. So forgive me for the lack of photos in this post, especially considering I was obviously taking pictures of the most scenic holes (I did grab some other photos from the interwebs, and found some relevant tweets as well).
Similar to what stuck out us at Ballybunion, the closely mowed pathways between holes, and from the tees to the fairway, were a tremendous touch. Any offline shot on these golf courses has you trekking through the dunes looking for your ball. Going up and down these slopes for 18 to 36 holes a day, with the wind often not helping the situation, can be exhausting. It wasn’t until we got to Carne, which didn’t have these paths manicured in the same fashion, that we realized how much energy this saved us, and how necessary it is for your feet.
— Iron Lady Golf (@ironladygolfer) October 14, 2016
Lahinch Golf Club
The ocean-side beauty of Lahinch starts on the third hole, as you tee off next to a surf school along the shore, up a hill to a blind landing area. The hole bends back towards the water, and the waves crash in the background as you pick out your target line to approach the green. The fairway sits up on a platform, and is of course framed by picturesque dunes that you must avoid at all costs. Not only is it visually ideal, it’s also a hole that just sounds different. Once you clear the dunes between the tee box and the fairway, the sound of the waves hits you, and you feel completely shut off from the rest of the world. It’s a bliss that is only offered in a few places around the world.
The 6th hole has a similar shape to the 3rd hole, but with a much more dramatic downhill approach to the green. The fairway has a run out at about 270, so you’re forced to lay back a bit off the tee. A solid 3-wood down the right side left me with a 6-iron in, and the approach into the 6th at Lahinch is one of those shots that just sticks in your mind visually. The ball seems to stay in the air forever against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean as you sweat out what kind of effect the wind will have on it, and it’s truly one of the coolest approaches I remember hitting in my lifetime. Ireland is just the best. I’ll fondly reminisce about the pure 6-iron, and hopefully forget the 3 putt that ensued.
Since my photos of this hole disappeared, I tracked down this tweet to try to give you an idea of the scenery:
— Destination Golf (@Dest_golfguide) October 5, 2016
The 7th is another solid par four along the water, and then the 8th and 9th take you inland back towards the clubhouse. After a strong par four 10th, the fun picks back up with the stellar par three 11th. Teeing off back towards the water to a picturesque green set against the dunes, we reached for our cameras before selecting a club. A back left pin position, and a green shape that encouraged a draw was very fitting to my eye, and I stung an 8-iron back into that corner, only to miss the short birdie putt.
The medieval tower remains across the street at the Castle course serve as the perfect target for your tee shot on the par five 12th. Back into our strongest breeze of the day, it wasn’t reachable for us, but it was still a beautiful hole to the eye, both from a golf and a scenery perspective. The left side is banked by a beach that runs the entire length of the hole. If you bail out right off the tee, you’ve gotta hit your lay up shot back towards the out of bounds stakes, and hope that you’ve judged the distance properly. A good tee shot here is rewarded, and a poor one has you really struggling to get home in three.
The 13th is a great little driveable par four, and with the wind at our backs, easily reachable with a three wood. Here I carded my fourth and final birdie of the day, and held on for dear life trying to scrape out a respectable round. The finishing holes would most certainly have something to say about that though.
Before I moved abroad, I frequently played golf throughout the year (with the obvious exception of Chicago winter), and had my handicap at around 1.0 when I left the states in the fall of 2014. Now, I’m lucky to play four times a year in Amsterdam, and though I’ve made one previous trip to Scotland and Ireland each prior to this trip, my game is in a bit of disarray. My handicap has shot up to 4.5, and while that likely will not garner much sympathy from anyone reading this, going from somewhat regularly threatening to break par to struggling to break 80 is a tough adjustment, even with the lowered expectation that comes with not playing much golf.
At Lahinch, I played my ass off to get it to -1 through those first 13 holes. I was striking it pure, lagging some putts from well off the green, and saving a bunch of pars from mid-range. But a quick glance at the scorecard at what was in front of me (as well as the fresh memory of my choke at Waterville just 48 hours earlier) had me on high alert. Holes 14, 15, and 16 go 451, 439, and 192, and while these yardages may not seem that deep, on a links course the yardage on the card frequently does not correlate to the length at which it plays. Just a hint of wind in either direction, and it can play 40 yards longer, or 40 yards shorter. Even in a cross wind, the ball seems to not want to travel the full distance you would expect it to. We had a cross wind on 14 and 15, and even after solid drives, required 3-iron and 5-iron approaches into the green.
Then the 16th played back into the wind from 192, and my 3-iron (normal carry distance about 220) came up well short. I managed to skirt through these holes unscathed, and after a sloppy bogey on the 17th, I had the reachable par five 18th to get it back and try to break par. That wasn’t meant to be. An embarrassing eagle chip that missed the green left me scrambling from eight feet to make par. When it fell, I let out a huge sigh of relief. My dad, usually rather devoid of emotion regarding anyone’s score, patted me on the back and called it one of the best rounds he had every seen me play.
What an incredible way to cap off a magnificent day of golf, with easily my best round in the last two years, on one of the greatest golf courses I have ever set foot on. While this is probably the least interesting part of the story to you reading this, to me, it was what helped make our day out at Lahinch stand out among the other fantastic courses we played. While I sincerely love the challenge of links golf, I have never been able to score well in this style of play. While there was still a great emphasis on driving the ball straight, hitting it in the tall stuff did not mean that you automatically lost your ball. I personally love when a links course punishes you for hitting it in the stuff, but not to the point where you can’t find it.
As if everything I mentioned above isn’t enough motivation to get out and play Lahinch, it’s also only about 15 minutes away from the Cliffs of Moher, one of the top tourist destinations in the world. We popped over to find people of all nationalities climbing to the edge of the cliffs to get their selfies, tour buses unloading hoards of people, and many others out there just soaking up the day. We couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that this was just a bonus on our already incredible trip, and that many of these people were probably basing their trip around the Cliffs of Moher. Did I mention that Ireland is the best?
In case you missed it, Part I of the Western Ireland series on Waterville can be found here, Part II on Ballybunion can be found here, and Part III on Tralee here. Part V on Carne Golf Links is still to come. For more from No Laying Up, follow @NoLayingUp on twitter and Instagram:
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) October 13, 2016