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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lahinch Epitomizes Great Links

Sixth hole at Lahinch
Sixth hole at Lahinch. Photo courtesy of the club.
You'll find every distinguishing feature of great links golf at the Old Course at Lahinch in County Clare, Ireland. Hard, fast greens. Narrow, rumpled fairways. Blind shots. Tangled rough. Wind, rain, intrepid golfers, and goats. Yes, goats. Local lore holds that when you encounter the goats munching their way around the course, you can expect an interlude of bad weather. From my experience, local lore is dead-on.

Lahinch Golf Club
But it's the links landscape that makes Lahinch one of the world's great golf courses. When Alistair Mackenzie first saw saw it in 1927, he said, "Lahinch will make the finest and most popular course that I, or I believe anyone else, ever constructed." Mackenzie, whose credits include Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Pasatiempo, used the natural features of the wind-swept seaside to shape his holes among the dunes.

The course was originally laid out in 1892 and re-designed 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 all but about 20% of the green, was Old Tom's handiwork. In 1999, Martin Hawtree modernized the course.

From the tips at 6,950 yards and at par 72, Lahinch demands a firm stroke and steady nerves. The heavy, wet wind off the Atlantic affects every single shot, including your putts. You play the wind from every angle, too, since 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.

Fourth hole at Lahinch
The fairway on the fourth hole at Lahinch. Photo courtesy of the club.
Blind shots add to the fun. The fourth hole, for example, is a simple 475-yard par five. It plays straight away downwind, too, which should mean a birdie fest. But forty-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. It blocks the hole 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.

The par fours make Lahinch. Eight of them are over 400 yards and none are automatic pars. Even the uniquely short 279-yard thirteenth hole can give you fits. It's eminently drive-able, but be sure to hit the green or you'll be left with an impossible up and down. It is followed by two monsters, the 461-yard fourteenth with its deadly mounds blocking the approach to the green and the 460-yard fifteenth hole, where bunkers off the tee and near the green challenge long hitters.

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.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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