- Neil White
“This is like being one of The Famous Five,” claimed our pal as we walked the mown paths through the dunes before emerging for the big reveal of yet another jaw-dropping golf hole.
Our quartet were in awe of our surroundings as our forecaddie tried his best to point us towards glory.
However, he often found the greens as tricky to read as a palmist looking at a hand without lines.
It was hard to blame him, they are some of the most confounding complexes in the world.
Lahinch is simply fantastic. It has maintained its staggering natural beauty and the views over the Atlantic and the Inagh River estuary will live long in the memory.
It also boasts some of the quirkiest holes in high-level golf.
These include the 4th, a descending par-five in a valley before a blind tee shot over a giant dune with a green 150 yards beyond.
The obstacle is so huge that there is either a green or red flag to denote whether people are still playing on the other side and a ball spotter is on permanent duty.
I was thrilled to nail a par there and another on the famous short fifth whose narrow green lies over a mound which completely obscures the target.
They might be the most well-known of Lahinch’s holes but, for me, the 6th is its most beguiling.
Curving from right to left, long tee shots can find themselves in a crater which looks as if it were moulded by a meteorite and has a huge sand trap at its base.
Shorter hitters will require a long iron into a green with the azure ocean as its backdrop. A group of surfers were being taught how to ride the waves as we putt out above them.
They would have been disappointed on this day because we were enjoying some of the most benign weather possible on the County Clare coast.
My initial fears that Lahinch would not meet expectations began to dissipate as we downed a plentiful Irish breakfast and looked down the first.
The clubhouse has been refurbished but maintains tradition with dozens of photos and paintings to represent the club’s past, including portraits of its architect, Old Tom Morris and Alister MacKenzie who was later brought in to add his unique spice.
The welcome in the pro’s shop was matched by that of the caddie master and his team but I admit to nerves we launched on the first.
By comparison to the later drama, this is a fairly plain uphill par-four with few perils.
The blind shots begin on the par-five second which drops over a brow before feeding down towards a green framed by the seaside village. This is the first time Lahinch’s magnificent views come into sight.
The third is the first of the trademark blind tee shots. Decent strikes will follow the central path over the hill – bad ones like mine will result in balls dug into one of the dunes on either side.
The adrenaline really kicks in on the 4th, 5th and 6th and never subsides until the post-game Guinness.
The 7th is one of the many holes which prove why a caddie at Lahinch is essential, demanding a tee shot over a hill and potentially ball-eating rough either side of a relatively slim fairway.
Every par-three is a beauty and are very different in length and challenge.
The 8th comes in off the sea and is perched above a chasm. Its flag was at the front of the green and posed tough questions over club selection. I was in awe of one of my compadres nailing a birdie.
The 13th looks out onto the ocean and is a downhill clip. I was very excited as my straight nine-iron floated towards the flag only to run about 12 feet past.
The bending 16th was a different proposition, playing at nearly 200 yards into a sloping green which, I can attest, feeds off into a sand trap if the player goes directly at the target.
Indeed, one of the regular pieces of sage advice from our caddie was to ignore flags and go for the widest landing areas on the putting surfaces. The run-offs are unforgiving.
The homeward nine is when the mown paths through the dunes become most exaggerated and one reveals the wonderful par-five 12th.
This is arguably Lahinch’s most photogenic hole, with the estuary down the left of a curving fairway and the castle ruin to the right.
It is followed by a very curious par-four whose green can be found by a well-struck tee shot down its left-hand side. On the right is what is known to the locals as the ‘mine’ – a devilish grass crater.
If I were to be picky about Lahinch I would say that the opening and closing holes don’t share the wow factors at the other 16.
I would also add that there is an inconsistent level of sand in the bunkers.
One of my compadres and I discovered it to be very compacted in two traps and consequently failed to score, whereas, the quality was perfect in others, allowing for straightforward escapes.
But these were mere pinpricks on a fabulous day at a truly glorious golf course. It is fair to say that Lahinch is out of the way on Ireland’s west coast but it is certainly worth the journey.