This review was written by my good friend and golfing buddy, Keith Olbrantz. He has traveled to Scotland and Ireland enough to make any golfer jealous, and every time we speak he seems to have a new trip lined up. Enjoy his review of Lahinch, a place he’s played quite a bit, below!
I have been fortunate enough to travel to Ireland on 5 different occasions, 4 of which were Golf Trips. My first trip was in 2005 and I have been in love since then. The imagination required and (in my case sometimes) rewarded by links golf makes for a great day on the course. Even though I am now eligible for my Senior Club Championship, I am an avid walking golfer and love that Links golf is a walking game. I have had the pleasure of playing 21 different links in Ireland/Northern Ireland.I loved Lahinch the first time I played it in 2005, and may have lost all objectivity when playing an evening round as a single back in 2007 and shooting my links score personal best. I have been lucky to play it 4 more times since then and it still remains my favorite.
Lahinch is often called ” The St. Andrews of Ireland. Although on a smaller scale, there are some resemblances. The course is on the west edge of the small city center and truly feels fully woven into the fabric of the town. The first tee is sandwiched by the immediately adjacent clubhouse, pro shop and caddy shack, and there is no hiding your tee shot from the people milling about.
The course combines strategy, scenery, and variety, along with a bit of quirkiness to create an incredible links experience. The front is routed among high dunes along the beach. The back 9 is in lower links land inland from the front but still with a fine variety of holes. Architects that have contributed to the wonderful canvas of the dunes include Old Tom Morris (1894), Alister MacKenzie (1926), and Martin Hawtree (2000).
Hole #1 – Teeing off with caddies watching on one side and bar patrons on the other can be nerve-wracking for some, but the tee shot is not terribly demanding as long as you avoid the left fairway bunkers. Drives hitting the fairway kick right to leave an uphill approach to a green protected by a right front slope and bunkers.
Hole #4 “Klondike” – Nobody would build this hole today. I am so glad someone did in 1894.
The tee shot points towards narrow fairway that lies in a canyon between big dunes. The second shot is completely blind over a large dune. A Marshall sits at top of dune to let you know when it safe to hit. An aiming stone painted white gives you the line. Hit the right club on this line and you may have an eagle putt. There is the wonderful anticipation that occurs during waiting to find out the fate of your golf ball. There is a stone boundary wall immediately behind green, so do not go long!
Hole #5 – The famous par 3 “Dell” hole follows the Klondyke requiring another blind shot with a mid or short iron. The green is 10 yards deep situated between two dunes. An aiming stone again provides the playing line. Again, this hole embodies the element of chance as frequently appears in the game of links golf.
Hole #6 – Another semi blind tee shot using the middle of a tabletop plateau as the aiming point. A drive of over 240 yards risks reaching an old mining pit in the middle of fairway, (I stupidly hit driver into the wind here on my last trip and earned an unplayable) so a fairway wood or long iron is smarter play off of the tee. When you reach your tee shot you are rewarded with a wonderful view of a beautifully sited green backed up by the beach and ocean. Savor this view before the challenging 150 to 180 yard approach to a narrow and well bunkered green with drop-off on both sides. Par is very good here!
Hole #7 – If you did not play #3 well, #7 gives you another chance with a similar layout. Keep drive under 230 yards from white tees or you can go through the fairway. Similarity to #3 will disappoint some, but fantastic views of the bay and the town of Liscannor in the distance will not disappoint.
Hole #8 – A very strong par 3 added in the early 2000’s in place of the old par 3 third. A forced carry over a valley lined with long fescue creates a tough, but fair landing area in front of green. Dunes and bunkers flank the green.
Hole #9 – The tee box is one of the highest spots on the course and allows a survey of the back 9 terrain. The ninth is a great par 4. While it looks like the upper right side of the fairway would give best view of green, a greenside bunkers and sharp right to left ridge make it difficult to hold the green from the right. A drive that finds the lower left side gives a better angle into the elevated green.
Hole #10 – The course leaves the higher dunes on the back nine, but remains a full-on links. A long par 4 with an elevated green provides the challenge here. The green slopes from left to right with a slight ridge between the left and middle third.
Hole #11 – A beautiful par 3 heading toward the Inagh River Estuary. The tee shot is a mid to short iron in normal winds. The deep bunkers on the right need to be avoided, as do the dunes a little further off the green. The green slopes back to front with a mildly elevated back tier.
Hole #12 – An old castle ruin makes a great backdrop to the drive on this par 5 – the line is 10 yards right of the ruin. The Inagh River Estuary runs along the left side of this hole and is out of bounds. At low tide the locals and their dogs enjoy strolling on the sandy flats. A number of bunkers discourage going for the green in 2, but it is possible “if you’ve got the shot.” Otherwise you can lay up to an easy wedge distance and have a real birdie chance.
Hole #13 – A great drivable par 4 if not playing in a headwind. Miss the green short right and you find a deep pit with long fescue. Miss short left and the slope will send your ball left away from the green – with the three tired green sloping back to front you will need a good wedge to make your par. Find the right line and birdie or even Eagle is a possibility. Slightly short of the green but in the middle also allows a good chance for birdie.
Hole #14 – The “Bottleneck” hole. A long par 4 slightly downhill. Two large dunes narrow the fairway from 55 yards to 120 yards in front of the green. Miss the fairway and you may not be able to see the green or flag. If you end up on one of these dunes—good luck!
Hole #16 – A beautiful downhill par 3 the to a well bunkered green. Bunkers on the left tend to collect misses on the left edge of the green. Misses to the right feed toward the right greenside bunker. Balls landing on the left front do release to the right making it the ideal target for a front pin.
Hole #18 – A reachable par-5 makes for a dramatic finish. Multiple flags flying adjacent to the clubhouse make for good targets off the tee. The right side of the fairway is ideal, but multiple bunkers on the right must be avoided. Longer drives to the left can find left fairway bunkers as well. A layup should favor the left side of the fairway. Those going for it want to stay on the right half of the green. There is a fall-off on the left side of the green, which makes for a tough up and down.
There is a nice bar/restaurant on the second floor of the clubhouse which overlooks the first tee. It is a very nice place to relax after your game. Lahinch has numerous hotels near the course that cater to golfers. I have to mention my favorite hotel in Ireland – The Vaughn Lodge, which is a par 4 away from the Lahinch golf course. There are great views of the links from the front of the Lodge. The food is incredible, the service fantastic, and there is a great library across the lobby from the restaurant.