A brutal case of jetlag has no chance against the likes of Lahinch.
After 18 hours just getting to Ireland from my home in Nevada, jumping on a bus for an hour-long ride to the island’s famous southwest coast, checking into six-year-old Doonbeg Resort and diving into a tune-up round on its decade-old golf course — easily Greg Norman’s finest work, at least in the northern hemisphere (more on that in my next entry) — followed by the welcome dinner for the second edition of the Great Irish Links Challenge, exhaustion was sure to follow. And it did.
But that falling-off-the-edge feeling doesn’t always translate to deep sleep. That’s why they call it “lag.” The clock read 10:30 p.m. when my head hit the pillow in my spacious cottage suite’s bedroom, but my body said it was still midafternoon. Tossing and turning finally yielded to slumber around 1:30 a.m. I had to catch a bus to Lahinch, 30 minutes up the craggy, village-studded coast, just six hours hence.
It was gonna be an ugly round, I feared.
Then, as the bus rounded the type of tight, narrow corner that pretty much defines Ireland transportation, came my first glance at the heaving dunes that contain the course, and the bleary-eyed fear evaporated. Within the hour, after hitting my first tee shot into a biting northern gale, I was in love.
A 120-year-old “course by committee” that continues to evolve with design tweaks here and there, Lahinch’s original links — the shorter and flatter Castle Course is just across the road — may have no rival in the world-class southwestern Irish canon. It’s as a vital part of the village that surrounds it as the Old Course is of its famous Scotland home. Hook your tee ball on the par-4 third — the first of several blind drives to come — and you’ll watch it bound over a road, skip past a marina and drown in the Atlantic. At the famed par 3 fourth, known as “Dell” and one of three surviving Alister Mackenzie holes, you’re asked to find a green you can’t see from the tee. All you know is that it’s 125 yards away, somewhere behind a giant dune, and a small white stone is your aiming point. It works beautifully, as does every hole here — seaside and inland, uphill and downhill, quirky or straightforward. If you’re as great a links golf fan as I, you’ll find yourself thinking, “This is genius.” It happens again and again and doesn’t stop until you drop your last putt on the par-5 closer.
Lahinch now owns a big piece of my soul. I will play it again, and soon. Perhaps even later this week, though I can’t imagine the weather turning out any better — all cold and cloudy bluster for the first nine, giving way to lesser breezes and sunny brightness down the stretch. Nor can I hope for a better caddy than Hank, a joke-telling 30-year vet with 10 children and 25 grandchildren who guided my through every chute and hidden bunker and dunetop green with what I can only describe as life-lovin’ grit. Nor can I expect a better post-round meal than the rich, creamy seafood chowder and deftly done fish and chips I washed down with a couple of Guinness in the second-floor restaurant. This first impression will stick with me forever, long after the jet lag is gone and I’m back in my high desert home.
And to put the cherry on top of a sweet day, my Links Challenge team ham-and-egged its way to 71 Stableford points, putting us near the top of the day one leaderboard.
Pinch me: I’m in Ireland, I’m playing incredible golf among great new friends, and I have three days to go, including another round at Doonbeg, followed by Ballybunion. And it ain’t a dream. Sleep deprivation is a small price to pay for this brand of Irish magic.