One of the most satisfying aspects of writing the 125th history of Lahinch Golf Club in 2016 was the opportunity to meet up once again with three of the most illustrious winners of the South of Ireland Championship and another who captured the Irish Close over the great links.
Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Paul McGinley, and Pádraig Harrington all went on to achieve great things in the professional game while never losing their affection for Lahinch. These are some of their thoughts to describe those halcyon days.
“Lahinch was always a happy hunting ground for me. I was a member of the Irish team that won the Home International Championship and Triple Crown there in 1987. I was pretty inexperienced at the time, only 19, and the captain, Eamon Curran, kept me in reserve until the final afternoon when I was drawn against the great Scottish player George MacGregor. We had a tremendous battle in tough conditions and I was proud to halve my match against an opponent of that stature. There was always a delightful atmosphere on the week of the South.
“I travelled down with several friends and shared rooms, ate with them, drank with them and as soon as one was knocked out, he’d go out and caddy in the next round for those still in the hunt.
“1990 got off to a great start for me when I won the Spanish Amateur Championship followed by the North and South and finally the Close Championships. The South and Lahinch were always that little bit different and having your name on the trophy and your picture on the clubhouse wall among all the others was very, very special.
“I was 14 days before my 22nd birthday when I arrived in Lahinch in July 1990. All the country’s top players were there, guys like Garth McGimpsey, Tom Corridan, Jody Fanagan, Denis O’Sullivan and South experts Liam MacNamara and Paraic O’Rourke. I don’t remember a whole lot about the actual matches except that I believe I beat two tough Lahinch golfers, Martin Barrett and Padraig McInerney, on the way to the final and also the up and coming Raymond Burns who would shortly afterwards join me on the professional tour.
“The records say I beat Pádraig Harrington on the 18th in the semi-final. Jim Carvill won at the 17th against Paul McGinley in the other semi. Jim was a good friend and a fine player but I was on top of my game and finished the final off at the 15th. It was an achievement I look back on with great pride and we celebrated fittingly. There were few better places than Lahinch to do just that!
“I suppose the golf course, like so many others, will have its critics but I always thought it was a gem, especially for a match play event like the South. The par 5 Klondyke and the par 3 Dell are on the quirky side I suppose but what would Lahinch be without them?”
“My first memories of Lahinch are of staying in a B&B and caddying for dad. I did that five or six times, 13 years of age up to 19 before I started playing my first South. The first time I ever broke 70 was on the other course across the road during the South. I went out at six o’clock after dad had finished playing and shot 69.
“I have great memories of the clubhouse, I can still see it and feel it ... all the photos on the wall of the various finalists thinking that one day I’d like to get my picture up there as well.
“Finals can be easily won because fellows are tired after a long week and the standard often is not great. But the final Philip Johns from Australia and I played ... Brud Slattery himself said it was the best final he had ever seen. I was one up playing the 18th and hit a drive and two iron on to the green to 25 feet and that was how I won.
“It was a great tournament. I have very, very fond memories of the people, of the members, of those old amateur days when it was true amateurs who played and not all young guys like it is today. Yeah, great characters, true amateurs who lived for the game. Great atmosphere, great crowds. It was a very important win for me because it kind of solidified my Walker Cup place. A big win in a big year. It kind of established me as the number one amateur in Ireland.
“I thought it was a fabulous golf course, the way they should be. The Dell and Klondyke may be anachronisms and long may that last. Dell is not a hole you would design nowadays but it is synonymous with Lahinch. With the shape of the green, you have to hit an accurate iron shot in there. It’s good, really good, and Klondyke, hitting over the hill, you’ve got to know what you’re doing.
“Lahinch is just a fun, nostalgic place for me.”
“It was my 21st birthday the Sunday of that week, the second qualifying day in the South. I remember it as quite a bizarre week on a lot of levels. I think there were four of us in one room in a B&B.
“I ended up playing my roommate Ricky Elliott (nowadays caddie for four times major winner Brooks Koepka). We played each other in the last 32 on the Monday afternoon.
“I remember going out there with this massive storm on the horizon. It blew a hooly and lashed down all afternoon. I wouldn’t say we had one person watching us. I beat him on the 16th.
“And Ricky ended up caddying for me until I played Tim Rice in the semis. Tim was Ricky’s college team-mate at Toledo and didn’t want to caddy against him. So Chris Brown, a fellow Portrushman who was travelling with us, took my bag for the last two rounds. I had caddied for Ricky previously in the South so he was returning the favour to me two years later. I caddied for him when Jody Fanagan beat me in 1999. Yeah, it was a fun week. I beat Tim in the semi-final and Ken Kearney in the final.
“Lahinch was part of what we did. We just hopped in the car and drove down there. That was probably my third or fourth South. It was just such a great week. We had a couple of jars.
“A funny story. Ricky and I were walking home but we were both playing the following morning and so pulled ourselves out and left the lads who had been beaten at it. We were passing Kennys on the main street and we flipped a coin to see whether we were going home or not, heads for bed, tails for another pint. No matter the result, we went for the pint anyway, after all it was my 21st birthday! Whatever I drank, he had to drink as well.
“I always loved Lahinch. It was unique. A class golf course, fantastic. It’s old school, great. I love the course, I love the people, I love the town and I always enjoyed my experiences at the South of Ireland.”
“The greatest thing about Lahinch and the South was that it was a holiday week and the festival that went with the championship. Everybody went down there, my parents Paddy and Breda and my in-laws Dermot and Mary. We used to set off with six or eight of us trying to get into the car. I think everybody enjoyed what went with the tournament.
“I have really happy memories of spending time there with Caroline. A fun place to be. We were only kids, 18 or 19, and I always loved the social side of the thing. I remember Caroline and her sister Suzy singing in the bars.
“As you would expect, I was taking the golf seriously but, of all the championships, that was the one that most people genuinely blocked off. It’s a great town and a great place and I think the golf course lent itself very well to that style... lots of birdies, fun golf course, it was funky, there were some really tricky shots and holes and for match play it was very exciting.
“Yeah, just a great exciting golf course. I loved the Dell and Klondyke. But the whole course was like that.
“Of the two finals I lost, I don’t remember the David Higgins one at all. I lost to Jody Fanagan but two weeks later I was back in Lahinch and won the Close.
“I beat Richard Coughlan in the final. I was very motivated because of losing the South two weeks previously for the second time and I hadn’t won the Close up to then and knew it was my last chance to do so because I was turning professional soon after.”