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XI: Lahinch

We rolled into the town of Lahinch, tucked into Ireland’s Southwest Coast 10 minutes from the awe-inspiring Cliffs of Moher, in the late afternoon and went for a stroll to stretch the legs. Lahinch is an idyllic town flocked to by surfers for its waves, golfers for its linksland and holiday-makers for its picturesque setting. Quintessentially Irish pubs and quirky stores and cafes line its charming main street- a melting pot of people all there for reasons which make them smile and the type of town which makes an Irish road trip, clubs or no clubs, an unmissable experience.

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The links of Lahinch are seamlessly connected to the town and the surf!

The best thing about Lahinch is that you can’t take a walk through town without catching a glance of the golf course. The course is the beating heart of the town and like the St Andrews and North Berwicks of the world, its routing pushes you out of the town and pulls you back in down the stretch- a glorious way to walk a golf course. In my lifetime, I will never forget unknowingly stumbling from a bar turning right and being smacked in the face by the countless overbearing dunes of Lahinch Golf Club – from the outside, it looked like the ideal site for a course, adventure golf in its purest form and the most magical playground for golfers.

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Lahinch's magical tumbling linksland leading to the 7th green

You can immediately tell whether a golfer has played Lahinch by dropping two words; Dell and Klondyke. No matter where you are in the world these words will always be chased by a wide smile, deep laughter and probably an expletive of some description – a rare feat for golf holes around the world! These two holes, numbers four and five, make up perhaps the most eccentric one-two punch of back to back approach shots on the planet, navigating two large dunes by going straight over the top of them rather than around.

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The fully blind approach into 'Klondyke' 

From the tee, Klondyke is extremely confusing- a par 5 which threads between two dunes and seemingly comes to a roadblock with a large dune separating the green and fairway. Klondyke’s second shot gives you the option of trying to hit a long iron over the dune onto the green in two, or laying up with the short iron. With nothing but a stone on the hill to aim at, and a bloke standing atop the dune telling you whether your shot was any good- there are few greater thrills in golf.

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Is there a more provocative hole on the planet than 'Dell'?

The Dell is on a short list of my favourite holes in the world. A 150 yard par 3 which plays completely blind over a dune, the ecstasy of its tee shot surpassed only by the magic of its green complex. Cresting the dune to learn the fate of our tee shots, the shallow bowled green sitting in a depression brought about the biggest smiles of the day, its uniqueness retained more than 100 years later.

Truth be told, these two all-world holes may well be a magical diversion from the compelling qualities of the holes surrounding them. From start to end, Lahinch’s layout is compelling and flooded with excellent holes- the stretch from the third tee to the eighth green was an hour and a half of the most fun I have ever had. Each of the par fours ask a different question, and the course is conditioned in a manner which perfectly matches up to the bold contours- proper links golf at its finest!

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The stunning approach into the 6th green closes perhaps my favourite 4 hole stretch in the world

The green sites and their immense variety are central to the quality of the golf course at Lahinch. No two approaches are the same, perched and bowled, uphill and downhill, slopes and knobs all combine across the layout to make for intriguing, complex and downright joyful approaches at flags. The gorgeous seaside greens at three and six, the perched up green at the ninth, the table-top thirteenth and of course the Dell perfectly encapsulate the variety of the greensites and the shots they demand, perfectly suited to Lahinch’s landscape and rolling terrain.

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Green complexes like that of the 9th are the heart of Lahinch Golf Club

What people think about Lahinch probably says a lot about how they think about the game of golf- its quirks, eccentricities and characterful use of its natural landscape is perhaps matched only by The Old Course at St Andrews in my experience. In keeping with the spirit of St Andrews, I couldn’t help but feel that the thrills, variety and fun have been derived from a step away from the conventional approach to design, an ignorance of any rules and an allowance for the purity of the land to dictate the layout.

 

There is no designer on Earth who would have the courage to build holes like this anymore, which to my mind is a damn shame and probably an indictment on the spirit of todays golfers playing for the number on their card rather than an enrichment of their golfing soul.

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For people who play the game in search of fairness and predictability, Lahinch probably isn’t for you, but it doesn’t care and hasn’t done for over a hundred years. Lahinch cares only for those who want to feel the thrill of the big random bounce, the magic of a hike in the dunes and the exhilaration of hitting shots into the unknown, a masterpiece in the invigoration of the travelling golfer and perhaps the most joyful round of the trip thus far. The feeling of walking off the 18th green at Lahinch and the endless days spent musing over its qualities are the reason for making trips like this- a pilgrimage for smiles, wonder and setting a golfing heart alight.

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