There is magic about the place. You get that impression straight away when you stand on the first tee. You’re greeted by a pretty intimidating opening shot, especially for someone new to the course- a large sand hill to your left and a graveyard to your right. Yes, a graveyard. To add to that, the wind normally pushes the ball right into it, but you can’t retrieve your ball, it literally is dead inside there! The bunkers are reachable, so aim for them and let it drift a little right, giving you a better angle for the green. Short is safe, as two pot bunkers are located either side, with rough long. After that, you’re faced with the number one index hole on the course. So you don’t really get an easy intro. A long Par 4, the tee sets you off between two tricky bunkers that kill any chance of a par on this hole. The fairway rises after these, but also narrows in to a mere five paces wide, with two large mountains of rough either side, allowing no good stances or lies. Even if you hit the fairway, there is a wall of green that proceeds the real short grass, which makes yardage so important, especially if there is a front pin. Two deep pot bunkers either side certainly don’t help matters.
Even a bogey here really is not a bad score most days, so you take what you get and move on. The third is a long Par three from up high that gives a wonderful panorama of the course, The payoff is that the players are more susceptible to the wind, whatever direction it hails from. This can range from a seven iron to a driver, but the most important factor to know is be short and right. A big green with a grassy ridge in front and bunkers on the side further shield it Tiger was long and left and he wound up on the road, out of bounds, but Payne Stewart was far more accurate, recording his last hole in one here. One of the unique features of the Old Course is the ability of playing over a green that you just played. This occurs on the fourth, a decent length Par five that follows the road into town. Bunkers on either side of a decently sized fairway appear within range; whilst the ridged rough on either side can make errant drives blind. You pass one of two houses that appear on the same side of the road, and it’s safe to say that it’s the envy of those that pass it. It can be a reachable green, with room in front to allow for a short pitch up but beware two bunkers greenside that may leave you stranded. Back to back Fives and you essentially tee off over the green again.
This is a much more straightforward hole, again reachable on most days. You tee off from the site of a former Marconi Wireless station that provided Transatlantic communication, and a training ground for Irish Olympians Bob Tisdall and Dr. Pat O’ Callahan, who went on to win gold in the 1928 Olympics. But back to the golf...It’s pretty wide open. Though the courses borderline runs along the right side, there is a lot of leeway off the short stuff. Bunkers line the side of the start of the fairway, and most times the line is a fairway bunker bang in the middle.
There is a blind bunker directly behind it but doesn’t usually affect players. A rise then fall in the fairway allows a good run down towards the green. It boasts a large area to utilize, but short puts you in bunkers at the side and long long is tough rough, which is a sure fire way to ruin a good score. After this hole, eat the phenomenal on-course food and take a deep breath, because the course kicks into overdrive... Nick Faldo describes the sixth as one of his favourite Par Fours in golf. High praise indeed.
The tee offers a view of the Shannon estuary. Short on paper, it normally plays much longer thanks to westerly winds straight in off the ocean. It doglegs out left towards the ocean, into one of the hardest greens you can experience. The nuance of great links design is on display here, as no bunker is needed, just a few minor ridges. This year, the ditch with heavy rough to the right of the fairway has been removed and opened up, while the rough at the back left of the green has gone. Now if you’re long and left, you’re well hydrated. Seven offers a stunning view along the beach that stretches the length of both courses. A long par four in the wind, it is deceptively more open than it appears. It’s one of the wider fairways on the course and has light rough bordering it.
No doubt you will hear one of the caddies tell you have all of Ireland to your left! The rough seas of the North Atlantic undercut the original green, and the green that followed had the ability to give one nightmares, due to its extreme undulations. Now though, there is a fine sized landing area that gives the player ample opportunity.