Castles and golf courses – the lost years

Lahinch Golf Course was just a blur in the window as I drove past during my lost years to golf.

This article originally appeared in Inside Golf where Michael Green writes a monthly column.

Lahinch is a town on the west coast of Ireland. It’s more of a sleepy, seaside village than a town but it has a quaint Irish charm about it and it has become a popular spot for surfers – courtesy of the regular and very cold swell that sweeps in from the Atlantic Ocean.

For well over 100 years though, it has been home to one of Ireland’s most famous and beautiful golf courses and has always been a hugely popular spot for golfers.

Lahinch Golf Club has two stunning links golf course that were originally designed by Old Tom Morris and later redesigned by Alister MacKenzie.

The courses roll and weave naturally among the wind-wrecked dunes in a way that makes it seem like the courses were always there with only flagsticks added to the site.

Phil Mickelson has mentioned that Lahinch is one of his favourite links golf courses in the world and Tiger Woods played the course several times in the lead-up to Open Championships.

The Castle Course is perhaps not surprisingly set among the ruins of a castle. It makes for some stunning views out towards the ocean and if you’re travelling between the popular tourist spots on the west coast of Ireland, you’re almost certain to pass right by the golf course.

The ruins and fairways lie no more than 50 metres from the road.

You would expect any right-minded golfer to drive by with his face hard-pressed against the foggy window then to screech to a halt to get a closer look at this heavenly sight.

But I didn’t.

Sure, I noted the beauty of the place and even commented on the incredible castle filled vista. The only other time I’d seen a golf course winding its way around the ruins of a castle was on a putt-putt course on the Gold Coast.

But I didn’t say much more. Nor did I stop and check out the course. I just drove on by. In search of the next pub.

It pains me now to think that I passed an opportunity to get a closer look at such a magnificent golf course – but it was just bad timing really. I crossed paths with Lahinch at a time in my life when golf just wasn’t on the radar.

I’d spent many summers as a junior golfer at my local golf club, either on the golf course, the range or playing pool in the clubhouse. It was a school holiday tradition and I spent time at the golf course than at home.

But almost overnight the practice range, clubhouse, iced coffee’s and sand wedges were replaced with university, nightclubs, beer and girls.

It’s a common story, and one that golf clubs are still fighting hard to overcome to this day.

For 18 – 30 year old’s, the entertainment that any golf club can offer just doesn’t cut it when a larger life begins to open its doors.

Even the most promising junior golfers are forced to make a decision on whether the improbability of achieving a professional golf career is really a risk worth taking.

I fought the distractions for some time believing I could still play plenty of golf while juggling these other commitments but resistance was futile.

Five hours at the golf course in the hope I’d drop my handicap by 0.3 and grab myself a sleeve of balls in the club competition just wasn’t cutting it any more.

Particularly when there was study to be done, parties to attend and a part-time job to fund all these extra-curricular activities.

As the membership fee went from a lowly junior rate to a lofty adult one, the writing was on the wall.

The inevitable travel bug kicked in and not only was I no longer a member of the golf club, I was soon half a world away.

Golf, for a time, was something other people play.

I look back now and wonder what I was thinking as it wasn’t just Lahinch Golf Club that I passed without any desire to tee up.

Countless other magical golf courses were well within range during those lost years. Muirfield, Royal Liverpool, Bethpage and Shinnecock Hills were nothing more than a short distractions on the map. There was no urge to play these golf courses, let alone get out of the car to take a look.

Nowadays, I go out of my way to find a golf course and yearn for a free afternoon to walk around any golf course let alone some of the world’s best.

I’d happily fly halfway around the world tomorrow and forego an afternoon at the pub to go to play a golf course with a castle on it.

I might even do it just to drop 0.3 off my handicap.

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