Old Head Golf Links
Designers: Joe Carr, Ron Kirby, Paddy Merrigan, & Eddie Hackett
The drive down the narrow isthmus that leads to the Old Head Golf Links gives the unmistakable sense that one is heading to the edge of the earth. Built on a rocky promontory that pierces its way into the Atlantic, this course is simply a thrill-seeker’s paradise. Many have called it “Pebble Beach on steroids,” and the first glimpse of the crashing waves some 300 feet below will likely affirm that title.
By Irish links standards, Old Head is the new kid on the block. The course was developed in the late 1990’s by brothers John and Patrick O’Connor, who had a vision to turn this barren grazing land into an extraordinary ground for golf. The site is as historic as it is breathtaking, with the earliest settlers arriving here a few millennia before anyone ever thought to hit a stone with a shepherd’s crook. The rocky coast served as an important line of defense against would be invaders, however the most significant shipwreck found here came via a German U-boat. The RMS Lusitania recorded her final bearing off the Old Head of Kinsale, and lies some 11 miles south of its lighthouse.
Making our way onto the course, the relatively tame opener gives our senses a good opportunity to steady themselves ahead of the trio of vertigo-inducing holes that follow. These are punctuated by what has quickly become one of the most photographed holes in golf – the par-4 4th, known as “Razor’s Edge.” With the lighthouse standing as backdrop, this is no time to become reaquainted with that nagging snap hook. Anything to the left will quickly be introduced to the ocean floor.
Aside from the intimidating par-3 7th hole, the remainder of the front-9 plays further inland giving us a chance to relax and swing freely before the turn. Of course, “inland” is a relative term at Old Head, as the ocean is always in sight and we’re never more than a short par-4 from the cliff’s edge.
Turning to the back-9, we reach the hole that in many ways has come to define the experience at Old Head: the par-5 12th. It’s here that we’re asked to bite off as much of the cliffs as we dare on a drive that is played to a blind slither of fairway. The advice here is simple… Trust your caddie’s instructed line off the tee, and don’t be surprised when it is out over open ocean.
For all of the exhilaration we find at the 12th, the drama at Old Head is still far from over. The run along the cliffs beginning at the 15th is truly spectacular, highlighted by the par-3 16th perched perilously above the jagged caverns. All of this is punctuated by the long climb up to the 18th tee, where we stand in the shadow of the historic lighthouse and reflect on this singular experience.
The word ‘singular’ seems an appropriate description of Old Head, as nothing else could make a fair comparison. Only here can we find such an array of thrilling holes. Only here can the wind produce drives of 370 and 170 yards in the same round. And only here will we pay a green fee appreciably higher than the collection of historic links down the road. But as you take in the panorama from their outdoor patio, we think you’ll agree… Old Head is one course every traveling golfer worth their salt should experience at least once.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
Your guide to the greatest golf holidays in Ireland
Independent travellers: All roads seem to come from Killarney. Follow the N22 to Macroom and Crookstown. At Crookstown turn off to the right on the R590 towards Bandon. At Bandon, follow the N71, but before you exit Bandon, turn right, following the signs for Ballinadee, then onto Ballinspittle, Garrettstown and Old Head, taking a right at the Speckled Door pub. Follow the signs for the club. And, plan a meal here. The clubhouse food is almost as good as the vistas.