Feature Review Old Head of Kinsale
There’s no question that Old Head of Kinsale Golf Links is one of the world’s most dramatic golf experiences. The apostrophe-shaped peninsula, which hangs off the bottom of Ireland, is home to as luxurious a golf experience as you can imagine. Holes sweep over the landscape, above 300-foot cliffs, using the peninsula’s lighthouse as a focal point. The 4th green sits right under it and the 18th tee box is just as close, but on many holes it is there, serving as a reference point.
The course opened in 1997. Given its reputation it is hard to believe it is so young. That is testament to the work put into the course. When you tackle the par three 16th, consider the quality of the green… most winters it gets washed away by the sea.
You play over velvet, rhythmic fairways and greens, between explosions of pampas grass and around endless golden bunkers. And all the while you have ocean views and the sound of waves thundering against the cliffs. It is almost soporific. The difficulties here do not come from the course, because it wasn’t designed to be difficult. As long as the ball stays on land you should find it and it should be playable. But if the wind blows, all bets are off.
One of the key points to mention is the green fee. It is expensive (£130-£180) but you’ll understand why when you get here. This is a pampered golf experience from the moment you arrive – both on and off the course. The clubhouse is both wonderful and welcoming. It is also important to remember that Old Head is accessible for all golfers. There is no ‘private’ element and the course is in demand – not surprising considering it is only open from April to October.
The Golf Course
The par is 72, with the white tees measuring a very manageable 6,450 yards. Undeniably, the wind is the main threat, but there are strong shapes to holes, the bunkers will punish (although not indecently so) and fall-offs around the big greens will challenge your short game… assuming that the fall-off isn’t over the cliff.
The 1st is a par 4 that heads gently upwards swinging around bunkers. There are no views and nothing overly dramatic… no, they leave that for the 2nd tee box. There are some lengthy green-to-tee walks here but they are always worth it and the 2nd is the one that gets the adrenaline pumping. You walk past ruins of the old lighthouse until you arrive at a tee box that shows off the hole in all its glory… for it doglegs sharply around the cliffs. Lush, rolling fairway slides off the land and down to the waves below. It is a remarkable moment and quite a knee-trembler if you favour a draw.
The course is laid out to maximise the thrills with nine of the holes directly above the Atlantic: holes 2 to 4, holes 7, 12 and 13, and a stunning four hole cliff-top finish.
Old Head has five par fives and five par threes, four of which are cliff-bound. And with three of the par fives under 500 yards (white tees), it emphasises the golf club’s desire that you have fun and give yourself scoring opportunities. This is not tough golf from start to finish, not unless you find it tough to tear yourself away from the views and concentrate on the fairways and greens ahead of you.
The wind can blow and the fog can roll in, but Old Head of Kinsale offers the kind of adventure that every golfer should experience at least once.
Par 4 4th
Called Razor’s Edge for obvious reasons, this par four is straighter and therefore tougher than the 2nd hole. At 415 yards it also demands a longer approach but every shot you take, including your putts, is at risk from the drop to the ocean. The green is squeezed into a narrow space beneath the lighthouse, presenting one of the most dramatic golf shots you will ever hit.
Par 5 12th
This dogleg skims across the cliffs, with the fairway sitting out of sight above the tee box. It will feel as if you’re driving at the cliff face itself. Find the fairway and enjoy the victory, before realising that more cliffs await as you approach the green.
Par 3 16th
163 yards parallel to the cliff top, with the lighthouse providing the backdrop.
Every hole that presses up to the ocean deserves a mention and while the inner holes lack the same drama they still possess the elegance and mounded design you’d expect from an American-style course. It may be expensive – it may even be over the top – but it is a golf destination that has to be experienced. Add it to your bucket list and consider hiring a caddie as well… because you’ll also have hired a tour guide. Let them take your bag so you can wander to your heart’s content.
More information available at www.oldhead.com
Kevin Markham is an Irish golf writer, blogger and photographer who writes for a number of Irish and UK golf websites & magazines. His book 'Hooked: An Amateur's Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland' was published in 2011 and reviews all 350 golf courses which he played whilst travelling round Ireland in a campervan - which is told in his new 2014 book 'Driving the Green - An Irish Golfing Adventure'.
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