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.
If I ever return, I’ll take a fast speedboat to the far end of the headland on a moonless night, strap my clubs to my back, scale the cliffs, repel the myriad of staff attempting to keep me out of the sleek, ultra-modern clubhouse then - as I burst through its doors – there, sitting beside the open flame fire in the middle of the lounge, will be one of the O’Connor brothers sitting in a deep bucket chair, stroking a white cat, cackling, “Ah, Mr. McCann, I’ve been expecting you…”
Only joking, of course, but Old Head, with its lush tropical vegetation throughout the property, feels like a remote island somewhere in the Azores (on a warm day, admittedly) which once doubled as a location for old Cubby Broccoli 007 movies; complete with helicopters flying in and out too! It is virtual golf come to life on earth, a fantastic golfing experience that every serious player should sample at least once.
Let’s get one thing straight though, it is NOT a links golf course - and never could be after so much top soil was trucked in during construction on its 180 acre site. However, the conditioning when I played on the second day of the season in April 2008 was second to none, with great attention paid to detail on the paths and steps around the teeing areas as well as the grass mounding and bunkering around the greens – several of which had been completely re-laid over the winter. Fairways are generally wide so handicappers of all abilities can score well.
Breathtaking is the only word to describe the first view of the cliffs from the second tee but even this sight is surpassed when standing on the 12th tee, and my photos could never do justice to the panorama before me – definitely one of the most awesome holes I have ever played!
Put aside the fractious arguments about public access to the course and be thankful that, if you are prepared to pay top dollar, you can pay and play here at all as it is simply the most stunning place to play golf. I’m so glad my week long trip to Ireland ended here on such a high.