As we arrived I marveled that a three-hour drive had been reduced to a forty-five-minute flight. Bravo-kilo-tango circled, trying to find the hotel. Waterville House isn't obvious. It perches on the ocean's edge, near a small river, its cream-painted walls and simple Georgian elegance understated. Maybe that's why every year you can find Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara in an elite traveling gang, not exactly hiding, but allowed to be normal here. Pictures inside show these men in jeans and T-shirts, chilling out to Irish informality.
The bird settled for the night, I hiked into Waterville to the Butler Arms Hotel for supper. There, by pre-arrangement, I was joined by my long-time friend, Dot.com Ron, a would-be e-commerce tycoon who'd flown in from Scotland, where he lives.
The weathered face of Noel Cronin, Waterville's secretary and manager, greeted us the next morning and sent Dot.com Ron and me off into the climatological purgatory of the linksland. Rain, driving sleet, fierce winds, bright sunshine, calming heat and rolling stormsnothing could mask the joys of the great course. Unlike me, Dot.com Ron triumphed against the elements, and was rewarded as he came up the eighteenth fairway by the vision of Bravo-kilo-tango appearing out of the clouds through a shaft of sunlight. The hovering metal bird and the sunlight framed Ron as he hit a dreamy seven-iron onto the green. It was spooky, almost as though Jack Mulcahy's ghost had returned to wave him through.
When John the pilot lifted off at Waterville, Dot.com Ron was still beaming. "Shannon, this is Bravo-kilo-tango, heading north from Waterville, destination Lahinch, over." Air-traffic control at Shannon Airport came back through our earphones: "Roger, Bravo-kilo-tango." From near the clubhouse, we flew out and over the ocean. The Waterville layout, cutting through giant sand dunes with the third, fourth, sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth all skirting along the massive sandy beach, looked equally majestic from the air. I recalled the idiot in the clubhouse who'd described the course as "average." You meet such people, those determined not to be impressed: "The Louvre?It's got some nice paintings."
Back inside the bird and "squawking at a thousand feet, over," I looked down and began to search for undiscovered linksland. Surely, amid the acres of towering sand dunes around Dingle Bay, there lurked a hidden masterpiece. We flew east and crossed the estuary at a narrow point, then headed west for Lahinch.
Old Tom Morris created the original layout here, and Charles Gibson and Dr. Alister Mackenzie added to its grandeur. I don't know who designed the clubhouse car park, but that was where we landed, neatly taking up two marked spaces.
Even in rain and wind, Lahinch in West Clare is the most fun I've ever had playing golf. At the 155-yard par-three sixth, the wind was at gale force. A hidden green is tucked away between and at the bottom of two giant dunes. The wind meant taking aim fifty yardshell, maybe seventy yardsto the right. The greenskeeper who'd been shadowing us shouted out, "You've picked a fine day, sir!"
I smiled as my ball soared miles to the right and then came back and back and disappeared, I would discover, into a pot bunker left of the green. After an acrobatic sand iron and a putt, I left with a treasured par.
Lahinch is an unmissable star.