Lahinch and the Start of Links Golf Season

I’m not an expert on golf course architecture by any stretch of the imagination, but to paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stuart’s famous statement regarding pornography, I think I know a good course when I see it. And I am truly looking forward to this week’s Irish Open, particularly since it is being held at one of golf’s wonderfully quirky courses,

The Old Course at Lahinch.

Old Tom Morris was the first to formalize the design at Lahinch, including  the famous par-3 5th, known as The Dell. Its green is hidden among a bevy of dunes; a white rock provides the golfer with an aiming point towards the flag. Uptight American golfers tend to despise holes like this (when Wisconsin’s Erin Hills was first built, it featured a replica of The Dell that was greeted so poorly by the general golfing populace that it was eliminated after a couple of seasons); personally, I’d love the to have a go at it.

The great Dr Alister MacKenzie was brought in some thirty years later to do some renovation work, including the addition of several of his trademark triple-tiered greens. Finally, Dr Martin Hawtree (who, among other efforts, “helped” Donald Trump design Trump International in Aberdeen) rerouted the course, bringing the Atlantic Ocean more into view on several holes as well as restoring the magnificent MacKenzie greens that had been neglected over the years.

But the most important design feature of Lahinch, intentional or otherwise, is, as honorary tournament host and 2014 Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley notes, is the pub located some 100 yards away from the 2nd green. After all, this is Ireland.

Perhaps the most legendary member of Lahinch was John Burke, who won the South of Ireland championship there an extraordinary eleven times (Other winners of “The South,” as it’s called by the locals, include major champions Darren Clarke and Graham MacDowell, as well as the aforementioned McGinley). In addition to his golfing prowess, Burke was a fighter in the IRA and participated in the Rineen Ambush, a crucial engagement in the Irish War for Independence. Heady company, indeed.

The Irish Open kicks off my favorite time of year in professional golf, as we get to see pure links golf throughout the month of July. This year is particularly intriguing, as besides getting to see Lahinch, a lot of us will get a first look at Tom Doak’s Renaissance Club, which hosts this year’s Scottish Open and is a worthy addition to the already golf-rich East Lothian coast. And, of course, the Open Championship returns to Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush for the first time since 1952.

But it’s Lahinch that takes center stage this week, and I suggest you set two separate clocks – one to wake you up early so that you tune in to the proceedings on  The Golf Channel, and one set to Greenwich Mean Time so that you won’t feel guilty pouring yourself a Guiness and enjoying a pint with your Irish hosts.

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