This section of the trip was fantastic given the awesomeness of Old Head and the fun things to do near the course. Old Head is approximately an hour south of Cork--Ireland's second largest city. Up until this point, we had spent the last week on the west coast of Ireland--where it was highly rural with "cities" that were more like medium-sized towns. Cork is certainly a city with a fair amount of hustle and bustle, lots of hotels, plenty of tourists (including drunken stag parties), shopping, restaurants, and some museums. I live in New York City, so I do not go on vacation looking for a city, but, to the extent you would like to add that to the mix on your vacation, Cork is a worthwhile stop.
As you drive the hour south to Old Head, you pass through Kinsale, which was my favorite town/city we encountered on the trip. It is a small, quaint port/fishing town, but with plenty to do--fun bars, cool little shops, and tasty fish restaurants. I would suggest an afternoon tee time at Old Head (for reasons I will explain below) and that you spend the morning in Kinsale.
The reason I would suggest an afternoon tee time is because of fog. Old Head is literally on a peninsula that juts out into the ocean--it is barely connected to the mainland. This geography is responsible for the insane views and beauty that is Old Head, but it also means fog is often a wildcard that can ruin a day. And, in fact, it did ruin our day. We were supposed to play on Sunday and then spend Monday in Cork sightseeing. Luckily we had this buffer day in Cork, otherwise we would not have been able to enjoy the course. On Sunday, we left Cork for Old Head and it was overcast in the city. When we got to Kinsale (about 20 miles from Old Head) there was a slight fog. Then, every mile we drove closer to Old Head, the fog got thicker and thicker. We got lost going to the course because we literally could not see the roads in front of us. It was quite the eerie feeling because as you are driving you know that the ocean is immediately to your left or right and you can barely see where you are going.
The three of us arrived at the clubhouse and asked if we can delay our tee time to see if the fog rolls out. It did not. As the pictures below show, the lighthouse at Old Head is its primary feature. You can see it from near every hole on a clear day. On that Sunday, we did not even know it existed. Similarly, you can see the ocean from nearly everywhere on Old Head, but we did not see it on Sunday....at all. We were told that we could come back tomorrow instead when the weather was supposed to be perfect. The problem was that my brother was leaving early on Monday morning so he would be unable to play with us. After much deliberating, we concluded it would be silly for my Dad and I to play the course in horrible conditions if we could play it the next day in great conditions. My brother agreed and played the course with another threesome that Sunday (as you could not get a refund). He said that his day was OK. After the front nine the fog lifted sufficiently so that he could see some of the ocean on the back, but it was still pretty thick such that he could not fully appreciate the course. Unfortunately, I did not take any photos on that first day, so we cannot compare foggy vs. clear days.
When my dad and I arrived on Monday morning it was a gloriously clear day with unlimited visibility, but the wind was whipping. The wind on the last few holes of Tralee was more intense, but there were calm parts of Tralee. The wind blew all day at Old Head. If I had to estimate, it was always at least 35 mph and, at times, reaching 60 mph. As you will see below, rain rolled in for one hole and it was truthfully painful when the drops were hitting us at those speeds.
Overall, it is an absolutely beautiful course and a ton of fun. It is not classic like Ballybunion or Lahinch, but I would love to play this course over and over again. The ocean comes into play on multiple holes and you simply do not get tired of looking at the endless expanse of the Atlantic--you really do feel like you are about to fall off the edge of Ireland and sink into the ocean.
***On all of my reviews, you can now click on the first image to see a slideshow of all images on the page.
This is the lighthouse from the clubhouse. On the foggy day, we certainly could not see the lighthouse, but we could barely see the eighteenth green (which is in the bottom left of this picture). As you can tell, on this clear day, we could see for miles. Couldn't ask for a better day for pictures.
The first is a fairly standard 390 yard par four. It is uphill with fairway bunkers to contend with in your landing area and a green also protected by bunkers.
The second is a great hole--a 376 yard dogleg left par four with the ocean down the left ready to catch wayward balls from the tee or on your approach.
Second tee with green on left.
View of ocean from second tee.
It looks like I am missing a photograph from the par three third, which is a shame because it is a beautiful hole--a 163 yard par three with ocean down the left.
The fourth is yet another hole with the ocean running up the left side--a 415 yard par four. And, for the past few holes where I say the ocean is adjacent to the hole, it is not there just for its looks--a few of us lost some balls into the water. What I really enjoyed about these water holes (and what made them difficult) is the fact that the water comes into play on both your drive and approach to the green.
The fifth is where the course turns inland a bit, but the cool part of the inland holes (even if not all that interesting) is the fact that you can almost always see the ocean. The fifth is a 385 yard par four with a stone wall running down the left, which demarcates out of bounds. I really like the look of the hole with the stone wall, but I am never a fan of an out of bounds being an area from which you could play.
Fifth tee with the stone wall on the left marking out of bounds.
Fifth green looking back torwards tee with lighthouse in background.
The sixth is a boring 468 yard uphill par five. The crazy part about this day was that the yardages on the card were completely irrelevant. Though a wildly short par five, this played as long as any other par five given the wind.
This seventh is a challenging par three. The ocean is on the right with an exceptionally steep drop off (the hazard sticks are very close to the green and anything on the wrong side of those sticks will fall off a cliff down to the ocean). If you bail out left, you are left with quite the difficult chip-skull it and you are over those cliffs into the ocean.
Seventh tee. Unfortunately, this shot does not give you a good idea of the precipitous cliff leading down to the ocean on the right.
The eighth is a 495 yard par five. This was another example of the yardage meaning nothing. I was immensely proud of the par I made after hammering a drive and two fairway woods to get to the green.
I am missing pictures from the ninth hole--a 431 yard par four-- but it is nothing noteworthy. A dogleg left, with three bunkers that have to be avoided off the tee.
The only picture I have from the tenth--a 485 yard par five-- is from the tee because this is the hole on which the storm rolled in. As you can see from the below photograph, there are clouds lingering out in the distance. On the tee, our caddy told us to put on our rain gear because he knew that storm was quickly moving towards us. With 50 mph winds, those clouds descended upon us quickly and it started to pour....and it hurt. Water being hurled at you at those speeds is no fun. For our second and third shots we just ran up to our balls, smacked them, and moved on. Then, as quickly as it moved in, the storm moved out and it was all clear by the eleventh tee.
The eleventh was one of the few boring par threes--a 184 yard par three.
The twelfth tee contained a bit of interesting history. As the plaque below recounts, On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania sank 11.2 miles off the coast of Old Head and currently sits 276 feet below the surface. It was kind of creepy looking out to the ocean where it sank and imagining the chaos that transpired over 100 years ago.
With that cool piece of history came the best hole on the course--a 537 yard par five that requires your tee shot to carry ocean over cliffs. The rest of the hole is equally perilous with the ocean up the left and tall dunes on the right forcing you to hit it through a narrow funnel to the green.
Twelfth tee. The line for the tee shot is just right of the circular cutout that you can see in the cliffs.
12th fairway looking towards green.
The thirteenth is equally insane--a 203 yard par three. Shots to the left will again fall off some steep cliffs into the ocean.
Again, missing pictures of the fourteenth, but it is another inland hole without much going on-- a 411 yard par four.
The last four holes on the course are a great stretch of closing holes. Some are purely scenic, while others combine the scenery with superbly designed golf holes. The fifteenth is a drivable 284 yard downhill par four. I went for it and struck the shot purely, but left it out to the right and it went into the ocean. Had it been straight, it likely would have been beside the green. My dad made his lone birdie in Ireland on this hole.
We are missing a good photograph of the 163 yard par three because my mother was too afraid to come to the tee box because it was so windy and the teeing area was so close to a cliff. The only photo I have is from the green looking back towards the tee.
Sixteenth green looking back towards tee.
The seventeenth is among my favorite holes on the course (taking a backseat only to the twelfth). It is a 575 yard par five with water all along the right and a narrow neck leading up to the green.
Approach to green on seventeen. This is the shot where the hole really starts.
We played the last hole from the tips--a 434 yard par four from that tee. Our caddy wanted us to play from there for two reasons. First, the hole is simply a lot more interesting from there as it requires more of an ocean carry. Second, when Tiger played here, his caddies cautioned him against going to that tee because the winds were so strong they did not want him to take a misstep and then they would be responsible for killing Tiger Woods.
The eighteenth tee is directly below the lighthouse.
The eighteenth fairway is in the right half of this photo.
Eighteenth fairway with clubhouse in background.
On the way out of the course, we took a picture of the gate you have to go through to enter the complex. Pretty neat.
Overall, I loved our time at Old Head and in the Cork region. This has to be one of the most scenic ocean courses in existence. Sure, there are some boring holes, but the beauty often makes up for it. It is rare that there is a boring hole that is not scenic. And, some of the holes are simply great golf holes--with the twelfth, fifteenth, and seventeenth sticking out. Each of those three holes is amazingly stunning, but also solidly strategic. And, as I said, the Cork area is great. Cork is lively, Kinsale is cute, and Blarney castle is nearby (which I thought was going to be a lame tourist trap, but actually tuned out to be a ton of fun). I cannot endorse Old Head enough. Though it likely falls behind Ballybunion, Lahinch, and Portmarnock, coming in fourth among this lineup is nothing to sneeze at. And, our caddy told us that a new course is being built on a nearby peninsula and they will shuttle you there from Old Head via helicopter. Certainly can't wait to return to play Old Head again and try out that new one.