Lahinch golf club - 18 POINTS
There is a good chance you have never heard of Lahinch. It doesn't hold big events on the tour and it's not home to one of the Irish golfing superstars of recent years. However, if there has ever been a golf course deserving of 'hidden gem' status, this is it.
The course was laid out first in 1892. Tom Morris got involved a couple of years later and Alistair Mackenzie (of Augusta fame) later on. Apparently there were a few other changes over the years which were less well received but the architect Martin Hawtree (of Trump Scotland and Turnberry renovation) has been working on it over the last few years and it is now restored to its post-Mackenzie pomp.
Lahinch is a courses that you will find yourself grinning at while you are playing and you'll look back with an even bigger smile. In the world rankings it is positioned between North Berwick and Friar's Head and it can really hold its own there.
The course is a classic 'out and back' layout, starting and ending in the town. That's just one of the similarities to North Berwick. The course has a similar feel to it, with several holes best described as 'quirky'. The par 5th fourth (Klondike) isn't a long hole but requires an uphill drive before you decide whether to lay up before a huge dune or try to get one over the top and rolling down to the blind green. In our group, the player who went for it in two was rewarded with a birdie while the rest of us had to settle for pars.
The next is a short par 3, but again, totally blind and so there is a little bit of 'hit and hope' which adds a different kind of pressure to the shot.
The blind tee shots carry on after that, and there are definitely more on this course than I usually like - I am normally prefer being able to see everything laid out - but that in no way detracts from the experience here. This is no County Down where you will get to the brow of a hill only to look in bewilderment for your ball. A good bit of advice from the starter was to aim at the grass paths cut into the hills and that worked pretty well all the way around.
While the first few holes are very good tests, the course really gets an injection of 'wow' when you get up to the 7th and have your introduction to the holes along the estuary. These holes are just so attractive, and playable at the same time. Sure it helped that the sun was shining when we got to them, but even on a less-than-perfect day I imagine these holes leave you happy.
As the course comes inland again there are maybe a couple of slightly weaker holes but then it's up to the dunes again for another dose of magnificence.
It could be said that the finishing stretch is the weakest part of the course with little about it particularly memorable. That's a shame and the modern houses built on the back of the 16th don't help, but that's a minor quibble.
Anyway, Lahinch really is a fantastic, quality course. Of the four we played on our trip - others were Ballybunion, Doonbeg and Old Head - this was the one we unanimously thought was the best. It didn't beat us up, but it made us think all the way round. The condition was excellent - probably the most consistently good of all four.
I would have no hesitation at all in recommending Lahinch to any golfer, regardless of standard - there really is something here for everyone!
BOOKING THE COURSE
Well, anywhere that has Christmas ornaments on-sale in the pro shop for 45 Euros a pop knows its market. This is a very popular place with our cousins from across the Atlantic and the green fee matches. In the summer it's 190 Euros a round regardless of the day. You will get a second round for 120 and that would be money well spent. In fairness, in the off-season the cost drops quite significantly and if you want to take your chances on a Tuesday morning in January it's only 50 Euros each.
I had wondered whether going through a packager - like Golfbreaks.com - made sense but there was no obvious cost benefit of going through a bespoke golf operator.
You can see availability and book online here. However, if the time you are after isn't available, do give them a call as they keep some tee times back from the system for members or desperate visitors!
The course starts and ends in Lahinch which looked like a fun place to spend a couple of days (although we had to move on pretty quickly). It is real US golf tour heaven around these parts and the pro shop had one of the most extensive selections of logoed goods I have ever seen!
It's worth noting that there is no driving range here - just a 100 yard pitching area and some nets to hit into. We had turned up a couple of hours early to hit some balls and ended up in the bar a little prematurely - so plan accordingly!!
Lahinch is pretty handy for Shannon which is accessible from several UK airports. The course itself is less than an hour from the airport and you are just over half an hour from Doonbeg which is another must play course in these parts.
Lahinch Golf Club
Tel: +353 65 708 1003