The Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale, County Cork has been ranked by Links magazine as the most spectacular golf course on the planet (Spring 2011 edition). Truly one of the most unique golf courses ever conceived in the history of golf, it is built on a diamond of land jutting out over two miles into the Atlantic Ocean. The links and practice area occupy 180 acres and the remaining 40 acres are of unspoilt cliff (rising in places to over 300 feet).
I was fortunate to play the Old Head on a recent trip to Ireland. As a Cork City native, I was particularly thrilled to be playing on this world-class venue located just 30 miles from my childhood home. I cannot claim a noteworthy score for my round, but the game took a back seat to the unique experience of playing golf amid all these magnificent views. The holes that are played along the cliff tops especially took my breath away.
Old Head is surrounded by the ocean on all sides and stretches over 7,200 yards. The par 72 course, is comprised of five par 5’s, five par 3’s and eight par 4’s with six tees per hole. With an ever-changing sea breeze, the course provides a stern test to the touring pro and high handicapper alike. It is designed as a walking course where members and guests are encouraged to walk the links with a caddie, and Old Head boasts the largest group of professional caddies in the country.
In the 19th and 20th centuries the headland was used by local farmers – mainly rough grazing for sheep. In 1989, the land was acquired by two brothers, John and Patrick O’Connor, who brought in Ron Kirby, a former designer at Jack Nicklaus’s golf design services; Paddy Merrigan, an Australian course architect and agronomist, Liam Higgins, one of Ireland’s best known golf professionals; and the late Dr. Joe Carr, Ireland’s most successful amateur golfer. The course was opened in 1997 and quickly became a favorite with amateurs and professionals alike.
The designers were careful to work the natural surroundings into their layout. There have been countless shipwrecks in the sea off Old Head, and over the centuries primitive lighthouses were built to assist navigation and warn against invasion. The remains of two lighthouses built in 1667 and 1814 can still be seen near the 7th tees, while the most modern lighthouse, built in 1853, is located on the southern tip of the headland behind the 18th tees. The designers of the course also planted over half a million shrubs and plants, creating new wildlife habitats for pygmy shrews, bank voles, kestrels, foxes and hares.
Another relic of the past to be found is the Stone of Accord (the imprint of which Old Head uses as a logo), a free-standing rock with a hole near the top through which the sun shines, indicating the change in seasons. In pre-Christian times couples would exchange wedding vows by linking hands through the hole. Business deals were also sealed using the same joining of the hands.
After our round, we headed back to the clubhouse to the Lusitania Bar (named for the British ocean liner sunk by a German u-boat in 1915. The vessel went down 11 miles off Old Head with a loss of 1,200 lives, an event that contributed to the U.S. entering the war). After relaxing while taking in stunning vista of the Atlantic Ocean and the Old Head Lighthouse, we (my father, Brian, my brother Niall, and my wife, Liz) were treated to a tour of the 15 luxurious suites, which are beautifully furnished and offered magnificent views. We also checked out the fitness suite and the thermal spa, which an overnight stay will grant you access to. As we were so close to home we didn’t stay the night, but I did promise Liz that we would be back. The Old Head, with its standing stone, spa and most of all, spectacular golf, is the perfect spot for a second honeymoon or any occasion at all.
The Old Head Golf Links is located 7 miles beyond Kinsale, one of the most scenic resort towns in Ireland, and only 30 minutes from Cork Airport. For more information on Old Head go to: www.oldhead.com. Tel +353 21 4778444 or email [email protected]