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Lahinch Golf Club: Echoes of the Past

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Along the rugged Atlantic Coast of County Clare, the small town of Lahinch is full of mountainous duneland that runs along the shore, perfectly suited for links golf. The natural sandy soil and undulating terrain serve as a prototype for what modern architects attempt to create. We saw this at Bayonne Golf Club, where architect Eric Bergstrom cited Lahinch as a major influence and modeled the opening hole, “Dell,” after Lahinch’s signature one-shot 5th.

Upon first seeing the site in 1927, Alister MacKenzie said, “It will make the finest, most popular course that I, or, I believe, anyone else has ever constructed.” Herbert Warren Wind dubbed Lahinch the “St. Andrews of Ireland,” with its spectacular seaside setting, a unique blend of championship golf, and warm Irish hospitality that keeps visitors returning year after year.

In this post, we’ll discover the origins and history of Lahinch Golf Club, learn about the unique relationship between the town and the Club, and finally explore Lahinch’s Old Course, its signature holes, and notable events it has hosted. Further reading suggestions and videos will help bring the course to life.

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Lahinch golf club intro

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Lahinch Golf Club Ireland

Origins and History

The story of Lahinch Golf Club starts in March 1892, when two members of Limerick Golf Club – Alexander Shaw and Richard Plummer – ventured to the west coast of County Clare after hearing rumors of ideal links land near the small village of Lahinch. They discovered a vast expanse of towering dunes stretching along the Atlantic coastline, perfectly suited for crafting a golf course in the true links tradition.

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Shaw and Plummer quickly laid out a rudimentary 18-hole course amidst the dunes. The first recorded round occurred on Good Friday, April 15th, 1892. Recognizing the land’s immense potential, the founders sought the expertise of Old Tom Morris, who visited in 1894 and was so impressed that he declared Lahinch “the finest natural course he had ever seen.” He designed a new layout that took full advantage of the rugged dunes and undulating terrain.

In 1907, Charles “Mo” Gibson from the Royal North Devon Club was called to advise on the course’s evolution. The decision was made to develop and expand the seaside holes that play as the 6th and 7th, bringing the course to just under 6,000 yards.

Alister MacKenzie was commissioned to refine and extend the course, which underwent a year-long re-design in 1927. MacKenzie introduced undulating triple-tiered greens and relocated all 18 holes to the sandhills side of the road, taking full advantage of the natural links terrain and dunes. After completing his work on the links at Lahinch, MacKenzie designed some of the world’s top-ranked golf courses, including Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Royal Melbourne.

The Village

A unique aspect of the Lahinch experience is the intimate connection between the course and the charming seaside village it’s named after. Several holes play along the town’s main street, with locals looking on as golfers navigate the quirky bounces and lies. It’s common for a wayward shot to end up in someone’s front garden! The buildings lining the street are a mix of traditional Irish cottages with thatched roofs painted in bright colors and larger Victorian-era homes and inns.

Lahinch golf club town

Lahinch is the quintessential links village – small, charming, and utterly intertwined with the golf course that bears its name. As you stroll down the main street, Lahinch’s two village pubs – O’Looney’s and Cooley’s – beckon with the promise of a perfectly poured pint of Guinness and lively conversation about the day’s round.

The Lahinch Golf Club’s iconic clubhouse is at the heart of the village. This two-story stone building dates back to the late 1800s and exudes the aura of a traditional Irish country home. Inside, the decor leans into a cozy, lived-in vibe with plaid carpets, wood-paneled walls adorned with historical photos and artifacts, and a roaring fireplace that is the centerpiece of the bar area. After battling the elements on the links, there’s no better place to warm up than with a dram of whiskey and a front-row seat to endless tales of woe and glory from that day’s rounds.

The symbiotic relationship between Lahinch, the village, and the golf club is unique. As a golfer, you can’t escape being fully immersed in the fabric of this special seaside community during your stay and rounds. This intimate connection makes the Lahinch experience memorable and utterly distinctive from any other links course in the world.

Notable Events

Lahinch took center stage by hosting the 2019 Irish Open on the European Tour. The tournament was won by Jon Rahm, who edged out the likes of Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood with a dazzling final round 62. The old links provided a stiff test, with only four players finishing under par for the tournament. Rahm’s victory further etched Lahinch’s name in the annals of European golf history and showcased the course’s championship pedigree to a worldwide audience.

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One of the most prestigious events hosted by Lahinch is the South of Ireland Championship, an amateur tournament that dates back to 1895, just three years after the club’s founding. This championship has crowned many celebrated winners over the decades, including Darren Clarke (1989), Paul McGinley (1991), and Graeme McDowell (2000). Three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington also won the Irish Amateur Championship at Lahinch in 1995.

Lahinch has been at the forefront of Irish ladies’ golf since the club’s early days. In 1904, Lahinch hosted the Irish Ladies’ Championship for the first time. The local Clare Journal described the scene: “The links now are at their best. There was brilliant sunshine as play opened on Monday. The three Miss Hezlets from Portrush were a great attraction.” Miss May Hezlet, who at one point had a remarkable +6 handicap, emerged as the champion that year. Lahinch would go on to host the Irish Ladies’ Championship an impressive 11 more times, solidifying its place as a premier venue for elite women’s golf in Ireland

This July, Lahinch will host the prestigious Arnold Palmer Cup, a Ryder Cup-style collegiate golf event pitting the top American university players against their international counterparts. Lahinch will join the list of classic links, such as Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, and the Old Course at St. Andrews, to host the event since its inception in 1997. Lahinch has also been selected to host the 51st Walker Cup in 2026, the third Irish course to host after Portmarnock and Royal County Down.

Did You Know?

🏰 The “Castle Course” was added in the early 1960s and upgraded to a full 18 in the mid 1970s. Located on the opposite side of the road from the Old Course, it plays to a par 69 at 5,488 yards from the back tees. Dough Castle, dating back to 1306, provides a wonderful backdrop when playing the 7th hole. The castle ruin’s battlement can be vie wed between the 7th green and 8th tee.

dough castle - lahinch golf club

👑 The Castle Course gets its name from this historic Dough Castle, which was originally founded by the O’Connor clan in 1306 under the name “Dumhach Ui Chonchuir,” meaning “O’Connor’s Sandbank.”

⚔️ Though the present ruin is just one remaining wall, Dough Castle was once a tall, battlemented tower with a two-story dwelling attached. Its collapse over time was due to being built on sandy soil rather than warfare.

🧚‍♀️ Local lore holds that the sand dunes around Dough Castle are the haunt of “Donn Dumhach,” the Fairy King. This mythical figure is said to reside within the dune near the bridge known as Crughaneer.

The Old Course

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The Old Course at Lahinch plays to a par 72 and measures 6,950 yards from the back tees. The course is renowned for its undulating fairways, deep bunkers, blind shots, and tiny, heavily contoured greens that demand precise iron play. Notable holes include the 446-yard 3rd, a long dogleg right par-4, and the 577-yard 12th, a three-shot par-5 with stunning ocean views. The greens at Lahinch are exceptionally small, with some less than 20 yards deep, putting a premium on distance control.

Two of the most famous and iconic holes are the 4th and 5th, both originally designed by Old Tom Morris. The 4th, a 449-yard par-5 named “Klondyke”, features a blind drive over a massive dune to a fairway alongside the beach, followed by a blind approach played over a massive 35-foot dune in the middle of the fairway. The 5th is the legendary “Dell” hole, a 154-yard par-3 where the green is tucked between towering 30-foot dunes, with the pin position indicated by a white rock on the dune face. These quirky, blind holes exemplify Lahinch’s unique character. These two holes are among the most famed and photographed in Irish golf.

In 1999, Martin Hawtree was hired to “modernize” Lahinch and restore the original character conceived by MacKenzie. The re-design re-routed four holes and added two new par- 3′s. Sixteen tees were re-constructed, and fourteen greens were completely re-shaped, but the signature “Klondyke” and “Dell” holes were left alone. Today’s “modernized” Lahinch has received worldwide acclaim and consistently ranked among the Top 50 best links courses.

Beyond the distinctive holes, Lahinch is celebrated for its incredible dunescapes, tumbling sandy ridges, coastal views, and firm, links-style turf. The routing takes full advantage of the natural contours, with fairways weaving through valleys and ridges. Lahinch also maintains the tradition with a walking-only policy (caddies available), roaming goats, and an overall ambiance steeped in history dating back over a century. With its sublime setting and quirky architectural charms, Lahinch provides an authentic, world-class links experience. 

Visit Lahinch online at https://lahinchgolf.com

PuttView Golf Books

PuttView Books are detailed yardage and green maps designed to help golfers save strokes, especially under tournament conditions. They offer precise visual representations of courses, including topographic slope percentages, fairway arrows for slopes over 4%, and a dual view of greens accurate to the millimeter. The books are printed on high-quality waterproof paper, sized to fit traditional yardage book covers, and are USGA legal. 

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Further Reading

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Golf Courses of the British Isles
by Bernard Darwin

Summary: “Golf Courses of the British Isles” by Bernard Darwin is a classic text that explores and celebrates the unique beauty and challenges of golf courses throughout the British Isles. Darwin, a revered golf writer and grandson of Charles Darwin, provides insightful commentary on the architecture, history, and character of iconic courses, blending personal anecdotes with expert analysis. His vivid descriptions transport readers to the very greens and fairways of famous venues, highlighting their natural beauty and the intricacies of their design. The book, illustrated with evocative drawings by Harry Rountree, remains a timeless tribute to the game of golf and is considered a must-read for enthusiasts of the sport and its storied landscapes.

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Great Golf Courses of Ireland
by John Redmond

Summary: This book offers a celebration of golf in Ireland, profiling 30 top links and parkland courses across the country from renowned spots like Portmarnock and Portrush to newer destinations like Mount Juliet. It details the history, famous players, and legends behind each Irish course, bringing their stories to life through extensive illustrations and photos capturing the natural beauty surrounding these layouts. Originally published in 1992, updated editions have followed over the years featuring additional content on newly developed courses and the latest enhancements at Ireland’s most storied golfing grounds. Presented in 2006 to commemorate Ireland hosting that year’s Ryder Cup, a special edition focuses on the world-class courses built in the country over the previous decade.

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Hooked
by Kevin Markham

Summary: Now in its third edition, this concise, detailed book is for golfing tourists looking for great value courses, for golfing clubs that wish to go beyond their local area, and for Irish golfers searching for excellent but unsung courses in Ireland. Written from an amateur’s perspective, reviews focus on the energy and excitement of playing each course, giving a true representation of the golf experience, ranking each course, and providing contact information for booking.

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

Videos

Lahinch – Old Course
Lahinch – No Laying Up
Tee Time – Lahinch

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