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Lahinch is derived from the old Irish name Leithinsi, a half island. The village dates back to the 18th century and grew in popularity thanks to George I, who believed that eating periwinkles and sea-grass was healthy.
Golf at Lahinch dates back to 1892. Three local Limerick golfers laid out an 18-hole course, assisted by officers of the Scottish Black Watch regiment who were stationed in Limerick at that time. In 1894, Old Tom Morris was commissioned to make improvements to the layout and he made excellent use of the natural terrain, especially the giant sand dunes. Old Tom believed that Lahinch was the finest natural course that he had seen.
In the mid 1890s, the West Clare Railway made the town more accessible and consequently, people flocked to Lahinch to stay at the new Golf Links Hotel. The whole town lives and breathes golf. Bernard Darwin wrote the following in his book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, published in 1910: “The greatest compliment I have heard paid to Lahinch came from a very fine amateur golfer, who told me that it might not be the best golf in the world, but was the golf he liked to play best. Lest this may be attributed to patriotic prejudice, I may add that he was an Englishman born and bred.”
In 1927, Dr Alister MacKenzie redesigned the course, relocating a number of holes closer to the bay. The redesign work took one year to complete and featured undulating triple tiered greens. William McCavery took over as the club’s professional at that time and his first task was to assist with the introduction of the new layout. He would serve in that role for the following sixty years.
Unfortunately, in 1935, the same time that MacKenzie was designing Augusta with Bobby Jones, the Lahinch committee decided that his greens were too tough for the average golfer. John Burke was granted the remit to flatten them out. Happily, in 1999, Martin Hawtree knowledgably reinstated MacKenzie’s characteristics, completing Lahinch’s restoration.
Lahinch is an enchanting place to play golf. It’s rugged, distinctive, unusually varied and immensely entertaining. This traditional out and back layout is situated next to the lovely beach of Liscannor Bay.
During the last week of July, Lahinch hosts the South of Ireland Championship, an annual occurrence since 1895. The “South” is a matchplay competition, which attracts many spectators and some great amateur golfers, although it is unlikely that anybody will beat John Burke’s record. The “King of Lahinch” was the South of Ireland champion 11 times between 1928 and 1946.
Views across the bay from the 3rd are uplifting. This 446-yard par four, has a blind drive to a hidden fairway and the approach to the green is obscured by a hill on the right. The 4th is a short par five named Klondyke. It's one of the most unusual holes in golf and an Old Tom speciality. The tee shot needs to find a narrow rippled fairway located in a valley between dunes. A blind second shot then has to negotiate Klondyke, a towering sand dune that straddles the fairway some 200 yards away from the green. It's certainly a quirky hole but it's also very memorable.
What's the best way to follow such an eccentric hole? Why, another highly peculiar one, naturally! Left untouched since Old Tom Morris first fashioned it over a century ago, Dell is the renowned blind par three 5th, its green nestling between towering sand hills that surround the narrow green on all sides. A stone on top of one of the dunes indicates the hole location from the tee so golfers are advised to factor in the wind direction, pick the right club for the yardage then take aim for the hidden flag.
The Old course at Lahinch is a gem, but take note of where the goats are. If they are sheltering near the clubhouse—take your umbrella—you are in for a wet round.
Lahinch Golf Club staged the Irish Open for the first time in 2019. The event was a treat for the pros, especially Spain's Jon Rahm who won the title by two shots. Englishman Robert Rock grabbed the headlines on Saturday after carding a record-breaking 60. Rock birdied the last six holes during round three and had a 35-foot putt for eagle on the last for a 59 but missed by inches.
This is like being one of The Famous Five,” claimed our pal as we walked the mown paths through the dunes before emerging for the big reveal of yet another jaw-dropping golf hole.
Our quartet were in awe of our surroundings as our forecaddie tried his best to point us towards glory.
However, he often found the greens as tricky to read as a palmist looking at a hand without lines.
It was hard to blame him, they are some of the most confounding complexes in the world.
Lahinch is simply fantastic. It has maintained its staggering natural beauty and the views over the Atlantic and the Inagh River estuary will live long in the memory.
It also boasts some of the quirkiest holes in high-level golf.
These include the 4th, a descending par-five in a valley before a blind tee shot over a giant dune with a green 150 yards beyond.
The obstacle is so huge that there is either a green or red flag to denote whether people are still playing on the other side and a ball spotter is on permanent duty.
I was thrilled to nail a par there and another on the famous short fifth whose narrow green lies over a mound which completely obscures the target.
They might be the most well-known of Lahinch’s holes but, for me, the 6th is its most beguiling.
Curving from right to left, long tee shots can find themselves in a crater which looks as if it were moulded by a meteorite and has a huge sand trap at its base.
Shorter hitters will require a long iron into a green with the azure ocean as its backdrop. A group of surfers were being taught how to ride the waves as we putt out above them.
They would have been disappointed on this day because we were enjoying some of the most benign weather possible on the County Clare coast.
My initial fears that Lahinch would not meet expectations began to dissipate as we downed a plentiful Irish breakfast and looked down the first.
The clubhouse has been refurbished but maintains tradition with dozens of photos and paintings to represent the club’s past, including portraits of its architect, Old Tom Morris and Alister MacKenzie who was later brought in to add his unique spice.
The welcome in the pro’s shop was matched by that of the caddie master and his team but I admit to nerves we launched on the first.
By comparison to the later drama, this is a fairly plain uphill par-four with few perils.
The blind shots begin on the par-five second which drops over a brow before feeding down towards a green framed by the seaside village. This is the first time Lahinch’s magnificent views come into sight.
The third is the first of the trademark blind tee shots. Decent strikes will follow the central path over the hill – bad ones like mine will result in balls dug into one of the dunes on either side.
The adrenaline really kicks in on the 4th, 5th and 6th and never subsides until the post-game Guinness.
The 7th is one of the many holes which prove why a caddie at Lahinch is essential, demanding a tee shot over a hill and potentially ball-eating rough either side of a relatively slim fairway.
Every par-three is a beauty and are very different in length and challenge.
The 8th comes in off the sea and is perched above a chasm. Its flag was at the front of the green and posed tough questions over club selection. I was in awe of one of my compadres nailing a birdie.
The 13th looks out onto the ocean and is a downhill clip. I was very excited as my straight nine-iron floated towards the flag only to run about 12 feet past.
The bending 16th was a different proposition, playing at nearly 200 yards into a sloping green which, I can attest, feeds off into a sand trap if the player goes directly at the target.
Indeed, one of the regular pieces of sage advice from our caddie was to ignore flags and go for the widest landing areas on the putting surfaces. The run-offs are unforgiving.
The homeward nine is when the mown paths through the dunes become most exaggerated and one reveals the wonderful par-five 12th.
This is arguably Lahinch’s most photogenic hole, with the estuary down the left of a curving fairway and the castle ruin to the right.
It is followed by a very curious par-four whose green can be found by a well-struck tee shot down its left-hand side. On the right is what is known to the locals as the ‘mine’ – a devilish grass crater.
If I were to be picky about Lahinch I would say that the opening and closing holes don’t share the wow factors at the other 16.
I would also add that there is an inconsistent level of sand in the bunkers.
One of my compadres and I discovered it to be very compacted in two traps and consequently failed to score, whereas, the quality was perfect in others, allowing for straightforward escapes.
But these were mere pinpricks on a fabulous day at a truly glorious golf course. It is fair to say that Lahinch is out of the way on Ireland’s west coast but it is certainly worth the journey.
the place to go
Lahinch is a classic and fun course. I cannot add much color to the proceeding reviews other than to the knucklehead who gave it one ball.....
This is a must course on any Ireland itinerary.
My caddy did tell me that The Dell is the most aced hole in the world. He said that periodically the caddies are counselled to put a governor on their enthusiasm......
My favorite course in Ireland, history, fun, varied and beautiful. Many memorable holes, some are quirky, which I love. The Dell is the short hole with the green between two dunes, a white rock is placed on the hill to tell you the line of the pin. Wonderful town and a must play while in Ireland.
Played 2 rounds and was a wonderful experience. The golf purists will say that the design is perhaps not as good as Royal County Down and Portrush and while that may be true its has some really unique holes, amazing views, some of the best caddies anywhere and the chance to watch people surfing while out playing. Among the most enjoyable rounds I have ever played.
By my own personal rating system, I have Lahinch Old as the 57th best golf course I have played. It certainly belongs among the world’s best. It is one of the most natural golf courses as well as the quirkiest. It is the rare golf course that actually benefits from the hills upon which some of the holes are built.
I have played it in the worst of conditions. The first time I played it I was a single. The wind was howling and the rain was heavy. Two people quit coming down the second fairway and went into the clubhouse. As we came around the hill before the decent to the fourth green, the caddie pointed out that the eighteen hole was open, so he and the third player left. The caddie left me a trolley. Other people vacated the course as I followed them around with the exception of four American ex-pro baseball players, who stayed in front of me as they were definitely playing a match and did not want to stop. I did finish and my joke later was that I took a shower in my raingear in order to get less wet. I must admit I did not remember much of the course after the sixth hole as my concentration was on finishing.
I have also played Lahinch Old as the first one off on a morning of absolute sunshine and a low breeze. Although I was held up by maintenance a few times, I finished in just under two hours and had adequate time to study the course prior to my next visit.
My favorite holes on Lahinch Old are 1, 3, 5-7, 10, 12, 15 and 17.
Whether it was Old Tom Morris, Alastair Mackenzie or Martin Hawtree who deserves the most credit for this links course, whoever had the most impact certainly produced a golf course that is withstanding the test of time. It does not matter what Jon Rahm shot to win the 2019 Irish Open (in perfect weather) or that the course record is now 60, this is a golf course that is challenging yet playable, quirky yet fair, rolling yet smooth, blind but also right in front of you. It has a wonderful mixture of doglegs and long and short holes. There are tight driving lines and there are wide driving lines. There is deep rough and there is light rough. There is truly something for every golfer on this golf course.
The greens are a good mixture of undulations, tilted and they roll smoothly. They are not particularly quick other than the obvious downhill putts.
The eighteenth is perhaps the easiest green on the golf course but it is a welcome site after what has come before.
The bunkering is very good both in placement, depth and length of the bunkers.
I really like the first hole playing right in front of the clubhouse and the starter hitting uphill to a short par 4 that plays perhaps 30-40 yards longer. You must avoid the two fairway bunkers on the left side and the one on the right farther up. There are two devilish bunkers front right of the green for which balls landing short of the green will come back into it, both on an approach shot or for the bunker shot hit too weakly. The green slopes from back left to the front right and can be speedy. I think this hole can be both a birdie hole as well as a double bogey hole.
The second is a downhill double dogleg par 5 that is one of the easiest holes on the golf course. If you have struggled on the first, as long as you avoid the four fairway bunkers, this is the chance to get it back despite the green have five bunkers in front of it and one to the right. The rough on this hole is not particularly difficult and offers a chance at recovery. The hole plays down into the town almost as if you are hitting into the houses behind the green.
The third requires another uphill tee shot, this one blind and asks you to favor the left side of this dogleg left. It is a relatively long hole made longer by the hill. The green is fronted by two bunkers and a dip so the approach shot must fly to the green. Into the breeze this hole is very difficult, but without a breeze it is loads of fun. I think the green, while looking flat, is sneakily difficult. A bonus to this hole is the splendid view of the Atlantic Ocean.
For me, the Klondyke fourth is a very easy hole if you can place your drive in the narrow fairway. A ball hit slightly up the dunes on either side of the fairway will kick back down towards the middle of the fairway. The tee shot appears more daunting than it is. The next shot is blind over the mounds at the end of the fairway and one must try to follow the flag marker on the side of the hill. The green is flat but long. One must trust their yardage as a ball hit too far can roll through the green and out of bounds. Trust in one’s golf swing is so important!
The famous Dell hole is next, a par 3 of 150 where one can only see a small piece of the right side of the green due to the dune fronting most of the green. Dunes surround this hole so a ball hit too far can end up on the dune on the other side with a difficult recovery shot. Once again, the green is relatively long horizontally but short vertically and fairly flat. The difficulty is in the blind tee shot and not leaving it short or too long. It is a fun hole as to both the guessing game (play it slightly right of the white stone) and the trust in hitting the club you have chosen to go the length you typically hit it.
The sixth requires a walk up to the tee from the green of the fifth and you play along the top of the hill on this slight dogleg left. You cannot “top” your second shot or it will fall down into a gully of deeper grass with a bunker at the bottom. Another grass bunker follows the first one. The green sits on a shelf with fall offs all around it and the view of the Atlantic Ocean behind it. The green has two bunkers and is marvelously undulating as is the land surrounding it. You cannot be short with your approach due to the slope of the land towards those two bunkers on the right. Hit it long to the right and you will have an uncertain lie in grass and mounds.
The par 4 seventh hole requires a similar tee shot to the third hole, uphill and blind. From the tee this is the best view of the beach along the Atlantic Ocean. This sharp dogleg left has dips and hollows as it falls slightly downhill to the green. It is a wonderful rolling fairway to view for the second shot that you do not want any part of. From the fairway there is a wonderful view of the bay. The green itself sits slightly to the right of the fairway and again you do not want to come up short due to two bunkers and potentially an uneven lie. The front left bunker is particularly nasty. The green has some “hidden” tilt to it.
The eighth hole is a short par 3 that is another chance for redemption as long as you are not short with the tee shot as the land slopes down from the front of the green, potentially taking your ball into a front bunker or pretty far down the slope. Bunkers are also right and left of the green. The green slopes right to left but is easy to read.
The ninth tee is the highest point on the golf course and offers a lovely view of about half of the remaining course yet to be played. It is a very nice par 4 ending in a long and skinny green more than 55 yards in length. The fairway tilts right to left which is good given the best angle to the green is from the left side of the fairway as the green tilts also right to left.
The tenth goes back opposite of the ninth, a longer par 4 that has a narrow fairway that if you miss to the right you will be in mounds or a gully in tall grass with a blind recovery shot. One can have a hanging line on the fairway. The green is well surrounded by four bunkers and has nice undulations to it. I really like this hole.
The eleventh is a mid-length par 3 that offers three bunkers fronting the green. The front right green is blind from the tee and is very difficult to save par. I found this to be the prettiest par 3 on the golf course as you play to the farthest corner of the course. There is roll off to the right, left back and front of the green but the green is one of the easier ones on the course despite a ridge in it.
The twelfth is the longest hole on the course, a par 5 with out of bounds down the left side of the gently curving left hole. This is the last of the splendid views of the beach and ocean but offers your first real look at the tower ruins on the Castle course. With the four bunkers fronting the green, I found this hole to be almost a perfect design for a par five. It has adequate length, it has a side one must avoid yet it has mounds down the opposite side of the fairway. It ends in a very good green complex. It is also the first hole on the golf course that I consider to be essentially flat.
For me the thirteenth is the weakest hole on the golf course, a short driveable par 4. Because I am a fairly straight but short hitter it is not one that I go for off the tee, but for the longer and better players, this hole offers a lot of strategy. The perception of the hole depends greatly on the abilities of the player. Two bunkers protect the left side and mounds, a gully, and tall grass protect the right and back side. The green has three tiers to defend itself. Even as a short par 4 this hole will have its fair share of bogies.
Fourteen and fifteen are long par 4’s going in opposite directions with the fourteenth having a partially hidden green with a valley as an entrance between dune mounds fronting it. There is a ridge in front of the fourteenth green which tilts slightly right to left. If you cannot reach the green the wise play is to lay up short in the middle of the fairway from 100 to 50 yards in. While many would likely call out the fourteenth as one of their favorites, I prefer the fifteenth as it has a more interesting green complex after a more difficult driving line.
The final par 3 is also the hardest par 3 on the course hitting from an elevated tee to a well defended green which also has nice slopes to it as well as run offs to all sides, particularly into the right side bunker.
My final favorite hole is the seventeenth, a long par 4 hitting to a wide fairway from a slightly elevated tee. Yet the fairway narrows as you approach the green. The two pot bunkers fronting the green are the wildest looking greenside bunkers on the golf course, even if set slightly away from the green. This is a visually intimidating hole from the tee into the green.
The final hole is a relatively easy par five with the only real danger being a second shot that is wild to the left ending out of bounds on the road. There is some additional trouble with the swale left of the green for those trying to reach the green in two. There are adequate bunkers near the green which is slightly undulating but not difficult to two putt.
This is a golf course one could play every day and never tire of it. The wind would be a huge factor in how one plays the golf course. Lahinch Old has just about everything a golf course can offer as I said in my introduction. It certainly is one of the top twenty in the UK and Ireland, which means it should be in the top 100 in the world. Perhaps the only reason it is not is for those who do not like blind shots, or perhaps the par 3’s are considered to be too easy, and lastly, perhaps there are those who think it needs another 500 yards for the modern pro. I do not share their opinion. For me it is fabulous.
Any golfing trip to Ireland MUST include Lahinch, which I rate as one of the very best of an elite group of Irish courses... everyone knows Royal County Down,
Royal Portrush, Portmarnock, and Ballybunion rate with the best in the world, but in my opinion Lahinch compares favourably with this elite group.
Two holes by Old Tom will forever be the calling cards for Lahinch.
The par 5 Klondyke plays down a narrow valley before requiring a completely blind long second over a large dune to a green sited hard against a stone wall, with road beyond.
If Klondyke doesn't grab your attention, then the next hole, the par 3 Dell will!
Dell is a short iron par 3 to a green completely hidden between two dunes. You simply aim at the white rock on the top of the first dune, and hope...
These two quirky holes may be the face and memory of Lahinch, but the sheer quality of the rest of the course will soon become apparent.
McKenzie worked some of his magic here, and although some of that was lost over the years, a remodelling in 2003 by Martin Hawtree concentrated on restoring much of the McKenzie influence and it has worked.
The Lahinch GC logo features goats… But I am not kidding when I say this is a serious golf course and one not to be missed.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Played it for my birthday while my wife and our friends spent the afternoon on the cliffs of Mohr.
I went with high expectations and the course exceeded them x10! It was a perfect Irish day with wind, a squall or 2 and even a rainbow. I hit 2 great shots on 5 and when the spotter came out of his hut and hollered down “Brilliant shot! You’ve done it! Your on the green, first one of the day!” (I 3 putted for par from about 70 feet).
Everything about it was fantastic and the 14th hole called “Twins” might be the best hole I have ever seen on a golf course.
My only previous true links experience was at Bandon Dunes so as I played Lehinch that day I gained a better understanding of where Mr Kaiser got his inspiration.
Only problem is I have to figure out a way to get back there and play it again and again!
Another course that I am in dire need of playing again. In fact, one of the highest on my list.
So much old school quirk and fun blind shots. The second shot on the par 5 4th is one of the more unique second shots on par 5's in golf IMO. Then it's followed up with a totally blind par 3.
What other blind par 3's can you think of? I can think of two that split opinions. I find those holes so quirky that I just love them.
Sometimes when you return to a course after a very long absence you wonder if the next visit will prove your very high opinion of a course right.
My "6" is not casual as I have been fortunate to play some great courses in the USA. We only had 18 holes on a windy day, but wow.
Ballybunion gets all the tour buses, and Lahinch stays "Irish" despite its acclaim and convenient location. Fabulous greens, quirk, vibe... I just absolutely loved it and I will be back.
I’m not sure saying Lahinch is more ‘Irish’ than Ballybunion is fair, Lahinch is one of the few courses in Ireland (as opposed to Ballybunion) that refuses to open its course for Golfing Union of Ireland members to play once a year for a reduced price in a scratch competition. Maybe it’s more ‘Irish’ in the fact that if you have ’connections’ you can avail of a good green fee rate. As you say though it is an amazing course.