A number of people were involved in the creation of Old Head Golf Links: Dr Joe Carr, Paddy Merrigan, Ron Kirby, the late Eddie Hackett, Liam Higgins and Haulie O'Shea. The course opened for play in 1997 and it's laid out on a narrow headland, jutting out for two miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Old Head Golf Links has to be one of the world’s most exhilarating sites upon which golf is played. You feel as though you are on the edge of the world here at Old Head and if you suffer from vertigo, some of the tees might present a problem. Three hundred feet up, looking over the edge of the cliff, you will notice seagulls gliding below you. Atlantic waves crash onto the rocks, booming and echoing as they smash into the cave tunnels. It certainly takes your breath away.
Take some extra golf balls; you may well lose a few unless you are really on top of your game. There is little margin for error along the edges of the holes bordering the cliff-tops. The signs should be adhered to; they warn you off looking for balls for obvious reasons! Take note of the marker posts, or should we say “Stones of Accord” (the club’s logo) – they give you the right line for your tee shot.
Old Head really is a very special place indeed. The peninsular tells a lamentable tale, perhaps mourning the loss of life (many vessels sank in this vicinity). The Lusitania went down here too, in 1915, not because of the rocks, but courtesy of a German torpedo. Or perhaps it’s the spirits seeking peace from golf balls peppering their ancient burial ground at the approach to the 10th hole.
There are many memorable holes at Old Head, none more so than the 17th, called “Lighthouse”. It's a long par five requiring a bold second shot to the right-hand side of the fairway, anything left will leave a blind approach to the green that is nestled in a punchbowl on the edge of the cliffs. The 18th is a dramatic closing hole that should be played from the high back tee for maximum drama. Our favourite hole, is the do-or-die par five 12th – it’s one of the most outrageous holes in golf – whatever you do with your tee shot, don’t bite-off more than you can chew.Anyway, we recommend that you dig deep and pay the green fee at least once. It’s unlikely you will play a more dramatic course anywhere in the world.
Old Head is without question one of the most scenic locations for golf on earth. The issue is whether the golf is as good as the scenery? To borrow a Texas expression -- Old Head is "all hat and no cattle" -- which equates to a course centered on the appearance than the actual substance.
When you first arrive at Old Head the views are nothing short of intoxicating -- most especially when the clouds have lifted and the sun glistens off the Atlantic Ocean.
The peninsula which Old Head is situated rests on 220 acres of land that juts out over two miles into the Atlantic with majestic views featuring unrelenting waves crashing against the rocks far below.
One of the misconceptions concerning Old Head is the usage of the word "Links" in its official title. Nothing could be further from the truth. In comparable ways -- Old Head is akin to how Pebble Beach describes itself -- a "Links." That doesn't mean to say the course doesn't play firm but it's not as firm as what you will find on a legitimate links course. The layout provides for five par-3 and par-5 holes respectively. The remaining eight holes are par-4's.
Unlike Pebble Beach - Old Head possesses too many holes defined as pedestrian. In straightforward terms -- they don't add to the totality of the site - just vanilla in terms of strategic elements. Those holes represent one-third of the course and includes such holes as the 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 13th holes.
Just beyond the aforementioned holes are those I rate above average -- having elements of quality but not enough to be defined as especially memorable. Those include the 3rd, 9th, 10th, 11th, 14th and 15th holes.
The visit to Old Head centers on the remaining holes. They border the edge of the property and each is well done. The 2nd hole livens the proceedings considerably after a dull opener. The par-4 dog-leg left provides for both a heroic line of play over the protecting bunkers on the left side and there's a bailout area provided for the meek of heart. At the 4th the intensity of the setting ramps up considerably. Appropriately named "Razor's Edge," the 4th requires two consecutive top tier shots to execute. The green is also well-placed -- literally hanging on the side of the plunging cliffs -- the slightest pulled approach means certain death for one's golf ball. The backdrop is also inspiring -- with the famed Lighthouse standing guard.
The return nine is the better of the two sides and it's helped with the likes of the 12th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes. The 12th is a daring risk/reward par-5. The tee shot must be played over a part of the edge of the property - those who opt to cut off the corner had best deliver a first rate effort. The green is reachable for the strongest players but the green is pushed ever so close to the edge where any missed shot is forever doomed.
The 16th is a quality par-3 although a bit over shaped. The penultimate hole -- is a rollicking dynamic par-5 hole with a serpentine fairway. The ending hole -- called Sanctuary -- needs to be seen by any player from the extreme championship tee which sits at the base of the impressive Lighthouse. The hole turns left in the drive zone and concludes immediately near the clubhouse.
The sad thing is that there was the possibility for a truly stellar golf course. Old Head is the poster child for the "dumb blonde" award. Blessed with a jaw-dropping seductive outward appearance but when forced to show the inner workings the design itself, with few exceptions, is more about the view than what's contained within its boundaries. A real pity.
by M. James Ward
There are some contradictions within this piece and a general lack of pragmatism. For example, the last paragraph suggests there only "few exceptions" whereas the author endorses 12 holes as being at least above average. That represents a comfortable majority of holes !
Even many of the feted courses of the world do not have 18 great holes; there is always a compromise. There are at least 6 holes at Old Head that live long in the memory.
The author compares OH with Pebble Beach, a place I love. PB could be challenged in that considering the land available and the money available, it should be better. On this note and a glance at the overhead shots of the land shows that there is very little spare land on the peninsula. As such, some sympathy is required: the obvious question is "what else could the architect have achieved".
Very little coast line is not utilized and those holes which enjoy that topography are truly staggering. Old Head is not an essay on course design it is a monument to the land it resides on and to this end it is sublime.
It would be a shame if potential visitors to OH were it some way deterred to make the pilgrimage on the basis of this, in some respects, ill conceived review. A trip to Old Head should be any golfers "bucket list".
ps - the reference to "dumb blondes" is staggeringly inappropriate and atavistic. It is also simply wrong in terms of most people's interpretation
Old Head is an experience that I’ll never forget, despite the shortcomings of some interior holes. I’d return in a heartbeat. I agree with Oliver – the last paragraph is inappropriate and at best clumsy male chauvinism.