Friday, June 13, 2008

The mighty Lahinch

[Photo: Lahinch par 4 1st]

Not surprisingly, Lahinch was a big event. Having played Ballybunion only a couple of weeks ago, I was about to find myself caught up in the Ballybunion vs. Lahinch debate. It is one of the most fiercely contested discussions about golf on these shore. Here are two venerable and world-famous links. How on earth can you compare them, or decide which is a better ‘experience’?

I had tried to play Lahinch years ago, on a stag bash for one of my best mates, but it was washed out. And now I was back again, and it was raining the night before I was due to play. Ballybunion had been played in beautiful sunshine, so it didn’t bode well on the comparison front.

Fortunately, by the next morning, the rain had vanished. I was on the tee by 7am, and I had finished by 9.55am. My scorecard said I was 4 over par. Easy!

But there were two important factors at play: the first was the lightest of breezes that never seemed to touch a ball; the second was a man named Martin Barrett.

When my wife and I first moved to Gorey a few years back, we found a physio to look after our various strains and pulls. Her name was Aileen Barrett. Sadly she left after 18 months, but not before we discussed golf and her ties to Lahinch. Her father, Martin, is a man of some importance up this way and is well known, both for his golfing prowess and his contributions to Lahinch golf club. Today he looks after the Overseas Membership, but he is a man who plays links golf beautifully. He plays off 5.

[Photo: par 4 4th – ‘Klondyke’]

I met Martin on the 1st tee, and it was similar to having a caddy (an experience I have enjoyed just once). He drove off first on every hole, leading me by example (there are plenty of blind drives), and pointed out the dangers around the green (some big fall-offs are best avoided!). On the greens he let me do my worst, all the while discussing the various merits of golf courses around Ireland (and the world) and, in particular, the club’s recent developments at the hands of Martin Hawtree. With so many courses changing for changes sake, it was intriguing to hear how Hawtree had tried – successfully it seems – to reinstate Mackenzie’s original vision for Lahinch. It is sublime, and playing it on a fine day just showed it off all the more. Two of Tom Morris’s original holes remain: holes 4 and 5 [see pics], and these are pure brilliance.

[Photo: par 3 5th - ‘The Dell’. The white stone on the dune is moved daily and signals where the pin is positioned]

So where do I stand on the Ballybunion vs. Lahinch debate? Quite simply I don’t! If you play one you have to play the other. Perhaps the back 9 at Ballybunion will prove too alluring, or perhaps the sensuous rhythm of Lahinch will take your fancy; perhaps Ballybunion’s enormous, rollercoaster dunes are just too unforgettable, or perhaps you will find perfection in the pure links challenge that Lahinch throws at you time and again. Believe me, it is well worth your time finding out.

[Photo: par 4 14th – two big par fours (14 and 15) side by side mean you will have wind in your face on one of them]

I played the comparatively lightweight Castle course in the afternoon, before heading back to Ennis and the hospitality of Mark and Christine. I even helped out with the cooking, and it was a change to be chopping rather than hacking.

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