Golf has a Gaelic accent at Lahinch on Ireland’s windy west coast. Just don’t let that medieval castle ruin your game!
The world has plenty of good golf courses—usually big, sweeping swaths of land that hug coastlines, hike up rocky slopes, pierce clouds and creep through timber. But there aren’t a lot of great ones, the kind that grab you from the first hole, squeeze you in the middle and draw you in so deep you can’t imagine playing anywhere better. Lahinch is one of them.
Lahinch Golf Club, a 127-year-old golf course on the southwest coast of Ireland, is among the world’s finest. (The sport’s best will be here in July for the Dubai Irish Open). And you don’t go to Lahinch to gamble in a casino, dine in the Michelin-star restaurant or lie on a sandy beach (even though it’s one of Ireland’s foremost surfing locations). You go hoping to find that quintessential Irish golf experience that swirls in the back of your mind: emerald green grasses, salty ocean spray and heavy clouds cracking open with drenching rains that soak deep into your bones and can only be warmed by a peat fire and old whiskey.
Standing on the third tee box of the Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club recently, the churning Atlantic over my left shoulder and the number 2 green to my right, I found it easy to pretend that golf originated here, in Ireland, rather than in Scotland, a few hundred miles east across the Irish Sea. A 30 mile-an-hour rainstorm whipped in off the ocean, first slapping my ball off its wooden tee, then batting the tee shot into knee-deep rough. I popped the ball back to the fairway on my second shot, where it bounced between uneven patches of turf and soil as if the course were a pachinko machine. I saved par with a punch shot to the left edge of the green, allowing the wind to nudge the ball close to the hole for a tap-in.
The rain stopped when my foursome reached the par-5 fourth hole, a narrow fairway that threads to a green tucked directly behind a 35-foot-tall sand dune known as Klondyke Hill. A burly man stood atop the dune, directing traffic. When he waved his red flag, I hit. My approach shot had to fly over the dune then land softly on the other side.
“Sorry, lad,” the flag man called to me as I hiked to the green.
“The wind got the best of it.”
The par-3 fifth hole is no less of a challenge: a 154-yard blind shot to a sunken green surrounded by yet more tall dunes.
“There’s an old Irish saying about golf,” says the innkeeper of the Vaughan Lodge, a popular hotel near the golf course. “It says, ‘There’s no links without the sea, and no golf without the wind.’ And no one knew this better than Old Tom Morris.” Morris, of course, was the original designer of the Old Course at Lahinch (he didn’t take all the credit—he said Lahinch was the finest natural links course he’d ever seen) and also of another classic: the Jubilee Course at St. Andrews in Scotland.
By the time my group walked off the 18th hole, we were humbled, sodden, exhausted— yet eager to play it again. But that would have to wait because Lahinch is more than a one-horse town. Across the street from the Old Course lies the Castle Course, a shorter, flatter 18-hole sibling punctuated by the ruins of a 14th-century castle. And we played that next.
Not ready to play Lahinch? Try teeing off at one of Bergen County’s public golf courses. If Mother Nature cooperates, opening day is scheduled for March 18. Visit golfbergencounty.com for updates.
277 Campgaw Rd.,
- Orchard Hills
404 Paramus Rd.,
273 E. Cedar Ln.,
15 Paris Ave.,
- Soldier Hill
99 Palisade Ave.,
- Valley Brook
15 Rivervale Rd.,
River Vale, 201.664.5890