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Kinsale and The Old Head Golf Links


Quick Overview

Imagine combining the rugged beauty of the Irish coastline with one of the finest and most spectacular golf courses Mother Nature and bundles of money could create.

Then throw in five-star dining and the ability to arrive by helicopter. Well, you’d be forgiven for thinking it all sounds too good to be true.

Yet this was the vision of Irish brothers John and Patrick O’Connor when they purchased the Old Head promontory in 1989 and spent the next decade creating the incredible Old Head Golf Links.

The fact that these links appear to have been there since time immemorial is testament to the O’Connor’s publicity statement which reads that the course is: “In keeping and in harmony with its surroundings” and simply “helping nature to fulfil its potential”.

It may all sound like Irish blarney, but the reality is, it’s all true.

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I have played golf the world over and on most continents, but there are few places or courses that take my breath away as The Old Head did when I first visited a few years back.

Built on a 220-acre hunk of granite that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, the Old Head course in South West Cork is connected to the mainland by a narrow land bridge.

Archaeologists have found dwellings here dating back to 900bc while the promontory is also home to a lighthouse, built in 1853, and the ruins of its two predecessors dating from 1667 and 1814.

Seven miles to the south of the fishing port of Kinsale, Old Head has been described by Links Magazine as “The most spectacular golf course on earth” while Golf Magazine rated its par 5, 626 yard 17th hole amongst the world’s top 500 best golf holes.

Each of the 18 holes here boasts six teeing areas and from the second hole you begin your personal battle against the elements as you attempt to steer your ball across ravines and along narrow, wind-swept cliff-top fairways.

You’ll breathe a sigh of relief upon reaching all of the 18 pristine greens, but once there you will rarely find a straight putt. Not surprisingly, the owners encourage you to hire one of their 160 registered caddies - it’s a course designed for walking - and the caddy will quickly earn his corn by lifting your spirits with an Irish quip or two and in helping you read the greens. 

The par four fourth, at 430 yards, is one of nine holes here with cliff-top fairways and has been described as ‘The razor’s edge’. Find dry land and mown grass from the 4th tee and Irish eyes will be smiling.

Old Head has eight par fours in total, together with five par fives and five par threes. It measures up at 7,200 yards and is possibly the most testing par 72 you will ever come across. It is not for beginners.

The 17th, overlooked by an iconic striped lighthouse, helps make for a stunning finish, while the 18th hole is the only place on the course where you will see the clubhouse and restaurant which has been sympathetically built into a rocky outcrop and is thereby camouflaged from all other angles.

High winds, rough seas and the Atlantic fret forces the closure of the course during County Cork winters and though this part of Ireland is famed for its raging storms, they were not to blame for the loss of the HMS Lusitania in 1915. The wreck lies on the ocean floor 12 miles west of the course after being hit by German torpedoes. Some 1200 lives were lost.

Off-course delights
Kinsale is a remarkable town. Pretty, bijou, charming even, yet it is also recognised as one of Ireland’s top culinary centres.

To work up an appetite you can charter sailing boats from the one of Kinsale’s three marinas or even try your hand at deep sea fishing Irish style – but be warned, it’s a touch rougher, colder and windier than Florida Keys!

Once you’re ready to eat the Fishy Fishy Cafe in the heart of the town is always busy, or take a taxi to the other side of the harbour to the waterfront and incredibly photogenic Bulman Bar at Summercove. These are just two recommendations, I could make dozens.

As for a base for your stay, then I will only make one, look no further than the Ballinacurra House, a pristine private house and estate owned by Des & Lisa McGahan.

With beautifully tendered grounds, individually themed rooms, sumptuous dining room and a cosy bar where the Irish ‘craic’ runs as freely as the single malt, Ballinacurra House has no equal in County Cork. You can even charter your helicopter here for the five-minute flight for golf at The Old Head.

Little wonder Michael Jackson and his entire entourage booked the entire Ballinacurra estate on their visits here. See http://www.ballinacurra.com for more details.

Three nights at Ballinacurra House, two rounds at The Old Head Golf links and the best sea food you can buy; life doesn’t get much better than that!


July 4, 2023


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