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.
Date: November 17, 2019