"A bad day on the golf course still beats your best day in work," a wise – and presumably somewhat lazy – man once said.
After paying a visit to the masterful layout at Lahinch Golf Club – home of the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open – it’s hard to see how a bad day would ever be possible at this breathtaking Co Clare links.
The galacticos of the European Tour will take on the 125-year-old masterpiece on the first week of July next year – but lately it hosted a somewhat more modest collection of golfers when the Dublin Journalists’ Golf Society made their annual pilgrimage out West to tackle one of golf’s most awe-inspiring challenges.
We may be more Rory Bremner than Rory McIlroy but, like the Taxman, we keep coming back. Indeed, we’re nothing if not persistent. I tagged along – more in hope than expectation – for just my second visit to Lahinch and for my first time playing there in something approaching ‘playable’ weather after windswept conditions brought my modest golfing talents to their knees three years ago.
For the first time in the tournament's 91-year history, the Irish Open will visit Clare when Lahinch Golf Club hosts the 2019 edition pic.twitter.com/rBYKhlwATH— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) May 17, 2018
Not merely a golf course, more a golf experience, Lahinch is right up towards the top of your ‘Once in a Lifetime’ list. The ancient links has been compared often to St Andrews and there is a definite feel of the famed Scottish layout as you get underway, mere yards from the clubhouse, at the uphill par-four opening hole (‘MacKenzie’).
And again, as you later head for home along the treacherous par-four 17th (‘Pons Asinorum’) and onto 18 (‘Shaw’), a gentler par five which gives even the weekend hacker a chance of a closing par – or, if you’re really lucky, maybe even something better.
Standing on the first tee and later heading towards those closing greens, the beautiful parish of Lahinch provides the backdrop, giving it that St Andrews feel of playing golf ‘in town’. A slightly errand drive down the left side of either fairways on 17 or 18 could leave you shaking hands and making small-talk over the stone wall with a passing pedestrian on their way to the beach.
There’s something simple and joyous in the sight of golfers heading for the course from town without the need for a car. Off up the road you may stroll, with clubs slung over your shoulder or a push-cart trundling along in front. Beautifully primitive.
Variety is the spice of life and Lahinch has it in spades. No two holes appear the same and no hole seems to play the same from one day to the next. As with all links layouts, the wind has its say at every corner and in every nook and cranny.
When Old Tom Morris designed the course back in the late 1800s, he suggested that Lahinch was "the finest natural course" he had ever seen. I’m not entirely sure just how old ‘Old Tom’ was at the time, but presumably he was getting on a bit. it’s a tough walk in parts – I wonder if he took a buggy?
To my untrained eye and unreliable swing at least, the testing layout appears to straddle that fine line between ‘testing’ and ‘fair’. An errant golf ball is punished – and often never seen again – but keep it on the (relatively) straight and narrow and Old Tom’s masterpiece will reward you.
It’s hard to pick a favourite hole, but Lahinch is perhaps best known for a unique, quaint and dare I say ‘quirky’ pair in the middle of the outward nine. The par-five fourth (‘Klondyke’) and short fifth (‘Dell’) both play blind on approach (oftentimes in golf, ignorance is bliss!) with the longer hole requiring not just a keen eye and a steady a nerve – but also a flag-waving ‘point man’ stationed on the hill to let the intrepid swinger know when the green is clear.
But what of this writer’s own game at present? The phrase ‘hanging in there’ springs to mind. We have finally reached the competitive time of year, with ‘counting’ competitions aplenty and Storm Emma et all thankfully a distant memory.
And so the real work begins. I shall rendezvous with my psychiatrist (who doubles as my golf coach), Neil Manchip, in the coming weeks – just enough time for the Mayo-Scotsman to get over his adopted county’s latest Connacht Championship collapse – and set about nibbling a shot or two off this stubborn handicap of mine.
This week allows me a first visit to Royal Curragh Golf Club for an intermediate scratch cup. The Curragh plains are, of course, more famous for thorougbreds of the equine variety – in my first real test of summer, I might well need some Willie Mullins magic to get my quest for Group One status off to a galloping start!
On and on we go, with hope in our hearts, an eraser on our pencil and delusions of adequacy. Keep it on the short stuff, folks…
Follow Eric's quest for a single-figure handicap on RTÉ Sport Online in the coming months. You can read previous instalments here.