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32 miles NW of Shannon airport
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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. MacKenzie was pleased with his work and said: “It will make the finest and most popular course that I, or I believe anyone else, ever constructed”.
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.
Quintessentially, epitomizing links golf, this setting – breathtaking and so enchanting it seems fairytale-like – is however, double-edged: Helplessly exposed, it's defenceless against the often typical brutal conditions. Lahinch is a shot-maker's haven: Creativity and innovation offset awkward stances/side-hill lies; Discipline, patience, and perseverance combat heather, gorse, relentless wind, and inevitable bad bounces/breaks. With intimidating, "hold-your-breath" tee shots (3, 7), ingenious bunker placement (labelled MacKenzie's best), and several blind shots (some world-renowned), Lahinch's options force golfer to think/strategize. Futile and often disastrous, the "Grip it and rip it" philosophy isn't recommended.
Blessed with natural, distinct, and tremendously varying green sites: steep fall-offs (1), along ridges (9), against stone-wall boundaries (18), atop chasms (3) and plateaus (10, 15), maddeningly three-tiered (13), and impossibly nestled between two giant protruding dunes (14), Ireland's annual South Amateur site presents a challenging environment.
Nevertheless, it was modernized/toughened in 2001 by Martin Hawtree, resulting in a "restored MacKenzie course." Lahinch's driveable par 4 (13), reachable par 5's (2,4, 12), and shoreline-hugging, seaside holes (2, 3, 6, 8) make for "fun, exciting" Golf. Dog-legging left and right, holes climb uphill and tumble downhill, over ravines and hillocks, through valleys and hollows, around knolls and hummocks-enhancing this fun and creating a magical Golf excursion. With shots somewhat extinct nowadays... i.e. over Klondyke (4th) – the huge dune interrupting approach shots. The Dell (5th) – a baffling, one-of-a-kind, retro, blind par 3, the 7th drive (over previous green), and the aforementioned 14, Lahinch is a trip back in time, a link to the past, a glimpse of bygone days. Is there a bell golfers ring? No, better – a human, greeting and ensuring golfer's safety while directing "traffic" at the criss-crossing intersection on 5 and 18! (Pinching oneself remedies the "Wake me I must be dreaming" prevalent feeling).
The minimal proximity between clubhouse and first tee means a "most scrutinized swing" and "opening tee shot." Further, engaging quirks include a shared fairway (14 and 15), visible castle-ruins, a hole using two separate greens (11), and goats (Club's logo) acting as barometers (roaming course in good weather, seeking shelter when bad is coming. It’s this oddity that fascinates, educationally mesmerizes us, and puts Lahinch in its own class.
So much more than just a game – here Golf is a way of life! (Sundays the course doubles as a dog park for locals). Eye opening, this interconnectedness is irresistibly enamouring. For students of the game the experience is peerless. Like visiting an old well-kept museum/shrine it thrills while seducing, and tingles the spine while changing the golfer's life. There's only one Lahinch and this timeless design oozing character, while simultaneously disparaging today’s length factor, continues to captivate golfer after golfer. The experts were right. Beau Kazzi
The pro shop at Lahinch displays the title “professional and golf club maker” – and, sure enough, when you go inside, you find an old workshop with a golf club in a vice on the workbench right next door to the counter… all part of the golfing empire of Robert McCavery, 50 years a professional/assistant pro with the club in 2009, though he’s still 10 years shy of the service attributed to Bill McCavery from 1927 to 1987!
I digress somewhat from a review of the Old Course, but it gives you an immediate flavour of the atmosphere as you stand by the 1st tee – you’re about to embark on a round of old-fashioned golf, the likes of which is still played by people steeped in the traditions of the game.
Martin Hawtree is said to have made nearly 100 visits over the five year period that renovation work was carried out here from 1999 and I can pay no higher compliment to that commitment than to say that you would not know anything had been done!
Changing 14 greens, rebuilding 16 tees, adding 2 new par threes and rerouting 4 holes – surely not? The course looks as if it has been in its present form for the 100+ years that golf has been played at Lahinch, such is the quality of the restoration work.
You might read, in advance of playing here, about the quirky “Klondyke” and “Dell” holes, the nearby Liscannor Bridge and ancient O’Brien Castle, the goats on the hillside, the blind shots, the tumbling terrain and the magnificent views of Liscannor Bay – no amount of homework will adequately prepare you for the thrilling golf that you will encounter at Lahinch, believe me.