What a month July 2019 will be for Irish golf.
In a span of three weeks, the famed Old course at Lahinch Golf Club will host its first Irish Open, followed by the return of The Open Championship to the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. Sunny or otherwise, it will be a summer to remember for golfers on the Emerald Isle.
The European Tour event July 4-7, 2019, at Lahinch marks the third year in a row that the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open has broken in a new venue at a special links deserving of the spotlight.
Tour brass knew its 2019 venue had to be at a headliner, otherwise it would fall flat in the heavy shadow of golf's oldest major July 18-21. Lahinch will hold its own, even if Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson don't show up to prep for The Open. It will be the first time American golfers will see the spectacular links on TV. Lahinch's connection to Dr. Alister MacKenzie - the designer of Augusta National - will play a big part in the hubbub leading up to the tournament.
"We are very proud of our great links courses in Ireland and Lahinch has evolved to rank as one of the very best," Paul McGinley told the Limerick Leader. McGinley, the 2014 Ryder Cup captain, will take over host responsibilities from Rory McIlroy. "It will challenge some of the game’s best players to produce skill, creativity and a mindset rarely tested in professional tournaments."
Links courses as hosts
Lahinch continues a fantastic trend of favoring links over traditional parkland venues like The K Club. For two decades from 1991-2011, the only links of the Irish Open were Ballybunion Golf Club (2000), Portmarnock Golf Club (2003) and County Louth Golf Club (2004, 2009). That all changed in 2012 when Royal Portrush staged a record-breaking event that attracted next year's Open, its first since 1951. Royal County Down's 2015 Irish Open was its first since 1939. Jon Rahm won last year during the debut of The Strand at Portstewart Golf Club. Ballyliffin's Glashedy Links in remote County Donegal is prepping for its breakout moment this July.
“I am delighted to announce that the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will be played at Lahinch Golf Club, continuing our desire to take the tournament to Ireland’s great links," Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour, told the Limerick Leader.
A quick tour of Lahinch
What's fascinating about Lahinch will be the players' reactions to its quirkiest - and most famous - holes, the Dell and the Klondyke. I've been lucky enough to play Lahinch several times and photograph it on a beautiful afternoon in 2015. It's great fun for amateurs like me, but cranky pros might not appreciate so many blind shots deciding who wins first prize of the huge purse afforded a Rolex Series event.
When Lahinch was modernized in 2003, architect Martin Hawtree made numerous changes by rerouting four holes, adding two new par 3s (the 166-yard eighth and the 170-yard 11th), rebuilding 16 tees and altering 14 greens, restoring them to MacKenzie's handiwork from 1927.
The Klondyke and Dell holes, the par-5 fourth and par-3 fifth, date back to the original routing by Old Tom Morris in 1892.
Once the fifth hole, now the fourth, the 475-yard, par-5 Klondyke requires a blind second shot over a hairy dune called Klondyke Hill. A flag man stands atop the dune to direct traffic, signaling groups on the fourth hole when it's safe to hit, so golfers walking up the 18th fairway aren't in harm's way. Only on a links like Lahinch could something so awkward still be accepted. How the traffic of players and fans flow in this section of the course during the tournament could get interesting.
The Dell hole, the 154-yard fifth, is golf's version of hide-and-seek. Golfers hit to a sunken green surrounded by dunes. A white aiming rock on the front dune provides the only hint to finding the flag.
There are so many great holes at Lahinch. The par-4 third, sixth and seventh holes all dogleg left through the dunes, revealing stunning views of the Liscannor Bay. The par-5 12th hole heads inland toward the ruins of Castle Dough before bending left along a river estuary. If there is a such thing as a must-watch tournament next year outside of the majors and The Players, the 2019 Irish Open might be it.