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Currently ranked no. 24 in the British Isles and 8th among Irish courses, some might say that Lahinch Golf Club's Championship Course has nothing to complain about, but others are less easily satisfied. This is one of the world's very best links layouts, deserving of being at the top of the Irish rankings and for sure among the best ten in Britain and Ireland. But do those extra few steps up the ladder mean so very much? Actually they do, especially when visitors are trying to figure out, which courses warrant attention on a brief one-week Ireland golf trip.
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Lahinch is one of those special courses that simply should not be missed by any true blue, golf aficionado. It's a layout that simply has everything -- history, good looks, pedigree, variety and as tough a challenge as can ever be conjured up by a single course. No less important, it delivers a heck of a lot of fun. It was a long meandering route that eventually got Lahinch to the gem we have today.
The course saw its first light of day back in 1892 when a group of wealthy merchants from Limerick City, assisted by army officers from Scotland's famed Black Watch Regiment, who were stationed in Limerick at the time, discovered what is today's Lahinch Golf Club. The Scots were sorely missing the links golf of their homeland and the merchants, who had formed the Limerick Golf Club, were eager to have a links course of their own.
United by a common cause, Scottish military and Irish civilians joined forces and set about laying out 18 holes on a piece of desolate linksland they had discovered in the tiny fishing village of Lahinch. It was a full 40 miles from Limerick, but with a regular train service from the city to Lahinch by the West Clare Railway, accessibility was not a problem and on April 15, 1892, the rudimentary 18-hole Lahinch golf course opened for play.
Within two years Lahinch was already a success and the greatest golf architect of the day, Old Tom Morris of St. Andrews, was brought in to suggest improvements to the course, adding even more of a Scottish accent to this unique links. The accent only became stronger in 1927 when Dr. Alister MacKenzie, another distinguished Scots architect was hired to undertake a major refurbishment of the Old Tom Morris' work.
It took a full year for MacKenzie to complete his remodeling, which accentuated the links aspects of the layout, integrating more of the sand hills into the design, whilst retaining the thoroughly natural flow and appearance of the course. Elevated and multi-tiered greens were also added, increasing the demands the layout placed upon players. Convinced that he had created a course destined to be one of the world's best, MacKenzie left Lahinch a very contented man.
Unfortunately, he had not realized what a fickle group the Lahinch members were. Within 7 years the members came to the disastrous decision that they had produced a course far too difficult for the average player and in 1935 work was undertaken to replace the multi-tiered greens and simplify the challenge. Ironically this was at about the time Dr. MacKenzie was working with Bobby Jones, designing Augusta National.
In 1999 the members had another change of heart. With the innovations in technology and equipment, they yearned for the golf course MacKenzie had once provided them and again decided to change things, bringing everything back to the way Lahinch was in the early 1930's. The great English architect, Martin Hawtree was hired for the task of resurrecting MacKenzie's gem of 60 years earlier, a job he accomplished with total faith to the original and in masterly style.
For all of its complicated, back and forth history, it is perhaps surprising to many that the end result is such a remarkable links - a genuine classic and one of the best, not only in Ireland, but in the entire British Isles. Phil Mickelson has gone on record as saying that this is his favorite links course of all and few who have had the privilege of playing here would disagree.
The variety of different challenges Lahinch manages to serve up in just 18 holes is quite astounding and every one of them is memorable. The surrounding sand dunes bring reminiscences of Ballybunion and the wind, always present, but never predictable, brings an element of exhilaration that demands total concentration from start to finish. Knowing where the hazards are located is a definite advantage and reason enough to play mighty Lahinch at least a couple of times.
Accuracy is always rewarded, as is ability with the bump and run approach, demanded by so many links layouts. And be ready for the very special 4th and 5th holes, formerly the 5th and 6th on Old Tom Morris' original design, laid out well over a century ago and the last remaining remnants his handiwork. The 4th is an awesome par-5, where the second shot must be flown blind over a massive sand dune and the 5th, a short par 3 to a blind green, is no less of a thriller. You'll come away with a newfound respect for those golfers of yesteryear.
Despite, or perhaps because of the circuitous route taken in producing the Lahinch we can all experience today, the layout is very special and a one of a kind gem, no Irish golf itinerary can afford to miss. We can only hope the members of Lahinch Golf Club will allow the jewel that is now theirs, to sit around undisturbed, for at least a century or two.
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