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Lahinch

County Clare, Ireland

By: Dermot Gilleece

Appeared in May/June 2002 LINKS

In a proud tradition dating to 1892, when the original layout was designed by Old Tom Morris, Lahinch Golf Club can boast some marvelous characters. Locals still revel in the tales of Mick O’Loughlin, a butcher from Ennistymon, and his legendary tussles in the South of Ireland Amateur Championship.

One of these was against a Judge Gleeson, who was advised never to concede a hole, no matter how bleak things appeared. O’Loughlin was waiting at the green after reaching the short 6th (the Dell) in one, while the judge still hadn’t reached the putting surface after six swings. The exasperated butcher turned to the gallery and exploded: “Is he expecting me to drop dead?”

Alister MacKenzie arrived at Lahinch in 1927, on a tour in which he also did layouts for the Limerick, Muskerry and Cork clubs, largely at the behest of Sir Alex Shaw, the acknowledged father of golf in Ireland’s North Munster area at the time. It was during MacKenzie’s stay in County Cork that he put a 31-year-old Galwayman named Jack Fleming in charge of construction.

Neither MacKenzie nor Fleming seemed to have a problem with the blind shots at Lahinch. The perils of Lahinch’s criss-cross routing aren't fully eradicated, meaning precautionary measures must be taken. For example, the safety of players on the 18th fairway, which crosses No. 5, is monitored by the regal presence of a retired policeman named George Benn, known appropriately as George the Fifth.

Another great Lahinch talking point through the years has been the manner in which MacKenzie’s famous ridges were removed from the greens during the 1930s, with the exception of the 9th and 11th. And though it would be easier to get a Lahinch man to confess to being unfaithful to his wife, it is believed that the culprit was none other than John Burke, the greatest golfer ever to come out of the village.

A Walker Cup representative in 1933 and winner of no fewer than 26 amateur championships, nine of them at the national level, Burke conspired to flatten MacKenzie’s greens almost from the outset. It is believed that a fragile putting stroke left the great man somewhat vulnerable on the new surfaces, and word is that he succeeded in getting a motion to flatten the greens through an extraordinary general meeting of the membership, at which there was an attendance of only nine.

Now, the current members are making reparation for the sins of their forebears. According to the club's secretary/manager Alan Reardon, “In 1998 and early 1999, we a number of architects, including Martin Hawtree. And with a view to focusing each applicant’s mind, we asked, ‘If we decide to go with you, what will you leave us with when you're finished?’”

Only Hawtree delivered the desired answer: “A restored MacKenzie golf course.”

“The big element of MacKenzie for me is the boldness of his design,” says Hawtree. “And he got bolder and bolder as he went on. This may be the reason a lot of the greens at Lahinch were later flattened out by John Burke in the 1930s. They may have been just a bit too extreme.”

In 2001 Phil Mickelson, Mark Calcavecchia and Billy Mayfair played 36 holes at Lahinch before going on to the British Open. During the visit, Mickelson was presented with a Lahinch blazer as an honorary lifetime overseas member.

The honor stemmed from a visit Mickelson made to Lahinch in 1991 as a member of the American Walker Cup team, prior to the matches at Portmarnock. Afterward, in a magazine article, he named Augusta National and Lahinch, respectively, as his favorite parkland and links courses in the world.

Year ago another American visitor, told of Mick O’Loughlin's insatiable passion for golf, suggested that he must not have made much money from his butchering business. A local replied, “No. But think of the friends he makes.”

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