The Old Head course runs along the clifftops of a peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean.

(This is the fourth in a series of columns from Rick Cleveland’s bucket-list golf tour of Ireland.)

KINSALE, Ireland — If filmmaker George Lucas, of Star Wars fame, designed golf courses, he might have designed Old Head.

Indeed, at times, while playing Old Head, one feels as if he or she is playing golf “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

The scenery here is other-worldly.

The golf course kicked my butt. Seriously, long about the 12th or 13th hole, I wanted to send my clubs back to the clubhouse and just walk around and gape. My golf on this day was surely what Twain had in mind when he called golf “a good walk spoiled.”

A little history: On the 7th day of May in 1915, 11 miles off Old Head, a German U-boat torpedoed the Lusitania, the world’s largest passenger ship at the time. Approximately 100 Americans were among the 1,000 killed, speeding the United States’ entry into World War I.

Rick Cleveland

On the 31st day of May in 2017, I sent my second shot on the par-5 17th hole, splashing into the Atlantic in the general direction of the remains of the Lusitania.

Like the Germans, I made a dreadful mistake. I had 200 yards to the green and should have laid up with a 7- or 8-iron for an easy pitch to the green. Nah, I thought to myself, I’ll probably never play this hole again. I had thoughts of an eagle. I made double bogey.

About that time, one of several, huge jackrabbits we saw crossed my path, glanced my way and surely was thinking, “You fool, you.”

Such is golf. But, my heavens, the landscape: the Atlantic Ocean, the cliffs, the dunes, the fauna, the soaring sea gulls! If you are going to spoil a good walk, there are few better places to spoil it than Old Head, which opened for play just 20 years ago.

The course was designed by a team that included Ron Kirby (who formerly worked with the Jack Nicklaus design team that did Annandale), the late Irish course designer Eddie Hackett and others, including prominent Irish golfers.

This stone marker at Old Head tells of the sinking of the Lusitania, a short distance from the golf course.

For pure golf enjoyment, I would rate it behind the first three courses we played – Tralee, Ballybunion and Waterville, which Hackett designed. For panoramic views, Old Head is second to none.

In all journalistic honesty, my slightly lower rating of Old Head likely probably has something more to do with my golf game than the course itself. I was awful. I finished double bogey, double bogey for 86.

For what it’s worth, Golf Digest rates Waterville, as the fifth best course in Ireland, just ahead of Tralee and Ballybunion and significantly ahead of No. 12 Old Head. (I can’t imagine 11 golf courses, in Ireland or anywhere, better than Old Head.)

The course is laid out on a narrow peninsula jutting two miles out into the Atlantic. It is no place for anyone suffering from vertigo. Step off one of the tees, you could fall hundreds of feet down rocky cliffs and possibly wind up as shark bait. “Danger” signs abound. Several times, I looked off one of the cliffs and saw seagulls flying well below.

It is a sight to behold and a golfing challenge in every sense, particularly for this nine-handicapper. Should you come, bring plenty of golf balls. And proceed with caution – or, hell, just go for it.

There are worse things in life than shooting 86 at Old Head.


Next: Portmarnock

Ballybunion: Where wind blew and ‘B-O-B’ shot 39

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.