OLD HEAD GOLF LINKS, KINSALE
If you have more than a passing interest in golf you will have seen photos of the Old Head Links at Kinsale. It has one of the most spectacular settings in the game and the views don't disappoint. If anything, they over deliver. Just when you think the course can't get more spectacular, another hole emerges in from of you and gets you reaching for you camera.
This is high-end golf. The green fee is 260 Euros and you won't get past the guard at the front door without a tee time booked. This is a course which was designed for an international membership. When we were there, there were representatives from many countries (though hardly any from the UK). One American walked in to be greeted by a 'welcome home' from the waitress in the restaurant. His face lit up at being recognised back in his Irish club.
Before getting on to the course it's worth a word about the clubhouse. It had one of the oddest atmospheres I've ever felt in a golf clubhouse. It was like arriving in a 3/4 star Florida theme park hotel. I was expecting something pretty plush but instead it felt a little dated and wasn't a place I felt I could just sit back and relax in.
Anyway, to the golf. One of the challenges with this amazing property must have been the routing - how to use the cliff faces to full effect without making the experience too disjointed and I would say they have pulled that off pretty effectively.
There is a great selection of tees - 6 in total - so you can choose the right set for your standard. Do pay attention to this bit, it will make a massive difference to your enjoyment of the day. You really are tremendously exposed here so do expect some wind. However, the greenkeepers take conditions into account when they are setting up the morning which is nice of them!
The course has 5 par 5s and 5 par 3s which makes for a good variety and, with many vast greens, I imagine you can play the course twenty times and never see it the same twice.
More than half of the holes give a view of the water, with many asking you to carry a cliff or play along the side. It is amazing the extra pressure that puts on you. The cliff edges don't have any walls running alongside and even though you know it is very unlikely you will find yourself tumbling down a cliffside, it does play tricks with the mind.
It would be fair to say that the holes which run along the water are the superstars here. They have mixed it up very cleverly so the cliffs are on both the left and right hand side depending on the hole, so there are plenty of questions asked whatever your ball shape.
The other holes suffer in comparison and there are a couple of head-scratchers. How the open Par 4 14th can be stroke index 1 (it was 3 wood and wedge for one of our group) I will never know.
From there, the finish is a great one though. The driveable par 4 15th is a classic risk/reward hole; 16 is a par 3 which played into the wind for us and even a well struck 4 iron didn't have any hope of covering the 150 yards to the front of the green. 17 is a long par 5 (575 yards from the whites) which tumbles back towards the lighthouse before a daunting tee shot on the 18th takes you home.
The condition of the course was interesting. The tees were in pretty rough nick which was a surprise given this is 'millionaire golf'. The fairways were fine, though don't expect the run that you would get on a proper Links course - this is a real hybrid of a links and parkland. The greens were excellent, running very true and fast enough at 9.5.
The course was definitely interesting, and very playable despite the scary setting. As long as you don't go too far off-line you will normally find your ball and there are usually plenty of options to get to the green. Really lasting memories from Old Head are likely to be of the setting though, rather than of too many of the actual golf holes. While that makes for a great day out - which I would encourage you to do if you get the chance - it probably means it'll be a one-off visit, rather than the first of many.
BOOKING THE COURSE
The course opens in mid April and closes at the end of October every year. For the first and last couple of weeks the green fee is 170 Euros a round before rising to an eye watering 260 Euros. If truth be told, this does not represent the best value you will get in golf. If it weren't for the setting, it would be tough to justify a green fee north of 100 Euros. You can't book directly online but there is an enquiry form to fill in here and there are no restrictions on what day of the week you can play.
We didn't really get to see much of the area as we added Old Head on to a trip to play Ballybunion, Lahinch and Doonbeg - all 3+ hours north. We stopped in Limerick en route from Doonbeg which made for a good night out.
Kinsale itself looks like a great spot though and is a well-known weekend stop for visitors from Cork just over half an hour away. We stayed in Cork which has good flight connections to the UK and beyond so works well as an entrance or exit point to all the golf in these parts.
Old Head Golf Links
Tel: +353 21 477 8444