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Mention Lahinch and people will smile. The course is Ireland's sentimental favorite. Furthermore, in a land where a good story is truly appreciated, Lahinch is a national treasure.
First of all, there are the Lahinch goats. The current Lahinch goats, a herd of five, are descendants of goats that belonged to Tommy Walsh, a Lahinch caddy. The goats are reputed to be reliable weather forecasters. If a storm is approaching they quit their grazing out on the course and retire to the protection of the clubhouse walls. Years ago, when the clubhouse barometer broke, someone taped a hand-lettered sign to its face that read, and still reads, SEE GOATS.
Not long ago, George Eberl, managing editor of the USGA's Golf Journal, was playing a round at Lahinch on a somewhat dubious-looking day. Keeping an eye on the scattered dark clouds that were blowing in from the west, Eberl had reached the 12th, as far away from the clubhouse as it's possible to be, when he espied the goats, grazing contentedly beside the fairway. Reassured, Eberl played on. At the 15th tee, a gale hit with the force that can make Irish seaside golf a matter of mere survival.
Later, drying out in the clubhouse bar, Eberl groused to the bartender about the unreliable goats who were "lollygagging" on the 12th fairway when they should have been cowering near the clubhouse.
"New goats," said the bartender offhandedly.
Since 1895, Lahinch has been the site of the South of Ireland Amateur, affectionately known as The South. All of the great Irish amateurs have played in The South, including local favorite Mick O'Loughlin, a butcher from the nearby town of Ennistymon who won twice, in 1937 and 1938. O'Loughlin was a burly man with a great jutting jaw who wore an old hat distinctively pulled well down on his big head and baggy tweed plus fours. "Rugged but warmhearted," O'Loughlin was said to be. Once, in the 1938 final, when he was addressing his putt on the 17th, O'Loughlin overheard Austin (Brud) Slattery, who was then a local schoolteacher and who recently retired as club secretary, talking to a friend near the 18th tee. O'Loughlin straightened up and called out, "Will the schoolmaster stop talking?" Later, after O'Loughlin had won the match, Slattery came up to him to apologize for the disturbance. O'Loughlin said," 'Tis all right, but I am so tense at times like that, I can hear the bees farting."
The original Lahinch was laid out in 1893 by Old Tom Morris, but only one of Morris' holes remains: the famous, if quirky, 6th. Known as The Dell, it's a 156-yard par-3 with a completely blind tee shot. The green is in a little valley entirely surrounded by four large sand hills. A rock, painted white, faces the tee from the brow of the sand hill, and indicates the route to the pin. When the pin is moved, so is the rock.
Novelties such as The Dell were all the rage before the turn of the century, but as golf's sophistication grew, they fell from favor. Today, The Dell is an anachronism, but it's one of the reasons golfers return to Lahinch. Besides, not many golf holes make you giggle.