Lahinch – Goats, Boats but no birds

Gary and David at the famous Lahinch Barometer (refer below)

After a relaxing nights sleep at Kevin and Taba’s with a home cooked breakfast by Kevin we headed off to Lahinch Golf Club, a top 50 rated course for our mid morning game. As is becoming customary our warmup consisted of running from the car, swinging our arms as we walked, putting on our glove and bending down to put the ball on the tee. Not the ideal preparation but it seemed to work with both our drives splitting the first fairway.

The course is tough but fun. It places a premium on driving accuracy with many drives requiring pin point precision through the dunes, a feature we are becoming used to.

A number of course changes over 10 years ago by Martin Hawtree has improved the course significantly, including opening up vistas on several holes with new green sites also being constructed. There is so much good land at Lahinch and one could easily visualise additional holes feeding their way through this landscape.

The par 3 holes are a feature of the course offering challenging tee shots to heavily bunkered greens with fall off areas for shots not struck perfectly. Many of the par 4’s required long irons or more to reach the putting surface.

The club has been focussed on improving the golfer experience, both visually and in the challenge of the golf course. Grassed pathways have replaced previously unsightly gravel paths giving a sense of flow to the start and finish of each hole.

The original course was designed by Old Tom Morris with Dr. Alister MacKenzie recommending a fair bit of work on the putting surfaces to create a greater challenge.

The club showed great foresight a number of years ago by constructing a rock retaining wall along the boundary between the course and the ocean. This will prevent deterioration of the oceanside golf holes from the heavy seas that are common in this part of the world.

Paddy, our host and past Captain of the club, has grown up around Lahinch and was recalling countless amusing stories during the round. Among the more memorable was his way of extracting some excitement from many of the visiting American golfers. The 5th hole is a blind par 3 where the pin cannot be seen from the tee. As a caddie of the group in front Paddy would sneak back to the 5th green – unseen by the approaching golfers. He would pick up the ball and place the ball in the hole. He would then wait for the roar and chuckle to himself.

If by chance you are American and played Lahinch in the 70’s, scoring a hole in one on the 5th, just ignore this story!

Paddy also tells select visitors that the large depression in the fairway on the 6th hole is the result of a German bomb dropped during World War 2. We almost believed it until we saw Paddy with a slight smile on his face.

The Lahinch Barometer sits inside the clubhouse. Rather than showing air pressure it has a note that simply says “see goats” – a reference to the local inhabitants who are extremely accurate in predicting the weather. If you see them heading back to the clubhouse then beware of the incoming weather.

A 2 hour drive from Lahinch to our accommodation alongside Ballybunion – Teach de Broc including a 20 minute ferry ride across the water. Aoife, Seamus and Dermot operate a very friendly, comfortable 14 guestroom property a mere 3 iron away from the golf course. Perfect location and a great place to stay if you are visiting.

Shot of the Day

Another departure from our normal shot of the day. After David blistered a hybrid from the rough on the par 5 18th 220 metres to 30 feet we were all set to award this the shot of the day. But the script had to be rewritten. With Kevin and Gary being 1 down to David and Paddy coming to the last hole the scene was tense. David was safely on the green and Kevin was 50 metres short of the green. A delicate gap wedge into the hole for an eagle 3 halved the match and clearly won the shot of the day.

Overall birdie tally

Gary (0 birdies, cumulative 41)
David (0 birdies, cumulative 14)

Tomorrow we tackle both courses at Ballybunion – the Old and Cashen courses. Exciting times and hopefully the weather will hold. Stay tuned…

By golfselect

Doonbeg – Funny name, great course

Our last day at St Andrews was greeted with an amazingly clear morning and perfect golf course photography weather. Gary was excited and headed out the door at 5am to capture the Old Course at its finest. David was more sensible and slept in.

A 9am departure for the 1 hour drive to Edinburgh Airport and then the 1.5 hour flight to Shannon Airport in the South West of Ireland was the first part of our big day. A quick stop at the local Vodafone store to get an Irish SIM card and then onwards for the one hour drive to Doonbeg Golf Course.

Kevin McGrath, another of Gary’s business colleagues, greeted us and we hit off the first hole at just after 5:30pm along with Kevin’s partner Taba in overcast but rain free weather.

The Irish town of Doonbeg is home to a wonderful Greg Norman course known by the same name. It is dramatic in its appearance and has a feel and flavour similar to the way the designer played his golf in years gone by.

Bunkers have an unkempt look about them and frame holes beautifully. The heavily moving landscape features large dunes with greens positioned perfectly into the side of these massive dunes or perched precariously on ledges with nothing separating the green from the Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop.

During construction the course design was challenged by some environmentally sensitive areas to protect an endangered snail which prevented maximum utilisation of the prevalent dunes. The course however is still fantastic and wonderfully routed taking full advantage of the available real estate.

A number of holes stood out for us including the par 3 9th with the ocean running down the left hand side (we both hit the greens with 4 and 5 irons respectively) and the short par 3 14th which makes the postage stamp hole at Royal Troon look like a post office! This green is intimidating. Sitting on the cliffs edge and although only playing 100 metres, it measures about 7 metres wide at the front and looks tiny. With the wind coming off the water a precise shot is required to find the putting surface.

The well preserved stone buildings and walls scattered through the course gave a sense of character which fitted in well with the style and feel of the course.

An unusual feature we encountered was a “greenside” bunker on the 15th. Not in the normal place but one in the middle of the green! If you hit the green in the wrong place you might find yourself having to putt away from the hole for your next shot. Thankfully this bunker did not come into play.

Doonbeg has luxury lodgings on site and a majestic clubhouse overlooking the 18th hole and Atlantic Ocean serving the best seafood chowder in Ireland. We relished another proper meal having not eaten since breakfast that same morning back in Scotland.

Overnight at Kevin and Taba’s house just down the road gave us another taste of the wonderful hospitality we have enjoyed during this trip. We collapsed into bed at just after midnight.

Shot of the Day

A flushed 4 iron by Gary to 15 feet on the 9th hole followed by a putt that crept into the hole was the only birdie of the day.

Overall birdie tally

Gary (1 birdie, cumulative 41)
David (0 birdies, cumulative 14)

The goats of Lahinch await tomorrow and a good nights sleep is needed as sleep deprivation is becoming the norm. Stay tuned…

By golfselect

St Andrews – The Home of Golf, need we say more

The Old Course Hotel sits imposingly on the 17th hole of the Old Course. Golfers playing this famous dog leg must negotiate part or all of the hotel with their drive. Some succeed, many fail – evidenced by the countless golf balls that reside on the roof of the hotel, in the garden, through the roof and in other places.

We were fortunate to be staying one night at the Old Course Hotel thanks to one of Gary’s contacts Iain. This was truly a treat. The top of the hotel has an outdoor lunch sitting area with commanding views over the whole Old Course. It is a great place to soak up the atmosphere of The Home of Golf.

From this vantage point you can see the golfers hitting off on the 17th tee playing over the hotel at the corner of the dog leg. As we were observing the golf from the “safety” of the balcony we noted with concern one golfer who seemed to be aiming too far right as he prepared to hit his tee shot. Ten seconds later and his airborne golf ball flew within two metres of us before drawing back and miraculously finishing on the fairway. A game shot!

The town of St Andrews is best known for golf but it is also a very large University town (population 13,000 excluding the 7,000 students). This week is graduation week and there are students (and parents) everywhere, dressed up in suits and graduation gowns. Quite an interesting contrast to the normal golfing attire that peppers the landscape (especially the “color rich” outfits worn by some of our American friends!).

St Andrews also “boasts” a beach alongside the New and Jubilee courses (to the right of the Old Course). For the one day a year when the temperature exceeds 19 degrees Scots from all over Scotland flock here to work on their tans. The beach was also used for the famous beach running scene in the 80’s film Chariots of Fire.

The first tee of the Old Course is scary. Not because it has rough or bunkers or hazards but because before you is the widest fairway in golf and behind you are many hundreds of sightseers looking to see where your tee shot ends up. It is the widest fairway in golf yet Ian Baker-Finch still managed to hit it out of bounds left and across the adjoining fairway during an Open Championship a few years ago.

Safely negotiated we strode down the first fairway full of confidence. The course proceeds out like traditional links and then turns around and comes back to the 18th in the town itself. The Old Course has 14 double greens and they are big (one green extends over one and a half acres). Interestingly for two former accountants we loved it that the hole numbers of the double green add up to 18 for example 2 and 16, 3 and 15, 4 and 14, 5 and 13 etc (you get the picture…).

The conditioning of the course was exceptional considering the traffic that the Old Course copes with (44,000 rounds a year in roughly 8 months). Tee times start from 6:30am until 6:00pm every day except Sunday (where the course is closed and the Old Course transforms into a park where people walk their dogs, have picnics, kick soccer balls and just have a relaxing day out).

The St Andrews Links Trust administers the allocation of tee times on the Old Course and the other 6 courses under its auspices. They do a great job in keeping everyone happy especially on the Old Course where demand exceeds supply by almost double.

Any golfer can put their name in for the daily ballot (you apply two days prior to your desired date of play) and results are posted by 4:30pm on their website. The ballot is drawn under “government supervision” (we had to say that) and we had visions of hundreds of golf balls enclosed in a large perspex sphere and two golf balls named Burton and Lisbon contained within! Thankfully they were drawn out and we could play!!

Making our way around the course we were initially confused about a number of the bunkers that seems to be in non descript places away from where “most” golfers would hit the ball until we found out that the Old Course used to play in reverse order from time to time. It was upon realisation of this that we saw some beautiful holes shaped the other way to the way we had played them.

Hitting a green in regulation at St Andrews is no guarantee of a par. With such large putting surfaces (up to 80 metres across) taking the putter back past your right ear on your backswing is necessary to get the ball to the hole! Also a word of warning – know which flag you are playing to – white flags are going out and red flags are coming home. Gary hit what he thought was a great shot to within 2 metres of the flag only to be told it was the incorrect flag he had played to! He then needed to hit a 40 metre putt to finish the hole.

At 10:25pm we came to the last tee. A wide hole with out of bounds right, and a fairway that adjoins the first hole, it gave us chills as we thought of all the famous golfers who have played the hole waving to the same crowds we had (well they had a few thousand more than we did). The biggest hazard off the tee is to avoid hitting one of the many pedestrians crossing the 1st and 18th fairways completely oblivious to the golf going on around them.

The obligatory photo on the Swilcan Bridge with the R & A clubhouse in the background, followed by a short approach through the valley of Sin, two putts and we had finished. Wow what a day!

Shot of the Day

Without a doubt the shot of the day was our first tee shot at The Home of Golf! In front of a packed crowd the three of us (Dave, Gary and Ron) split the fairway to raptuous applause (in our minds anyway).

Overall birdie tally

Gary (1 birdie, cumulative 40)
David (0 birdies, cumulative 14)

Ireland awaits tomorrow with a mid morning flight from Edinburgh straight to Shannon (named after our Aussie friend David Shannon) and an afternoon game at Doonbeg. Maybe a Guinness at night (for David) and an Appletiser for Gary! Stay tuned…

By golfselect