Golf's Greatest Blockbuster

Words by: Alex Ames

The man in the proshop smiles at me, gives me a warm Irish welcome, and points down. Hundreds of Titleist golf balls fill the glass desk beneath him.

“6 please.” I ask, optimistically.

He winces and waits.

“Ok, 12”. I say.

He squints his eyes again and cocks his head.


I get the nod of approval and pull out my wallet, expecting to add £60 to my £350 green fee. But it seems they’ve used some of my credit to subsidise the golf balls. £1 Titleist’s. Classy touch. He leaves me with a piece of advice.

“Today is not about how you play. Just enjoy yourself out there.”

I leave the shop, golf balls spilling between my arms, trying to figure out if I’ve just been told I’m shit in Irish.

Old Head of Kinsale is an absurdly ambitious geological masterpiece only possible because of millions of years of erosion. Waves and weather have chiselled away Ireland's superfluous rock to leave the golfers of Old Head standing atop a 100 metre high platform with a 360 degree panorama of The Atlantic.

Ron Kirby, Eddie Hacket, Joe Carr, Paddy Merrigan, Liam Higgins and Haulie O’Shea must be the most blessed assembly of golf course designers ever to approach a project. Working with castles, caves, cliffs, contours, the lighthouse and limitless ocean, this unconventional blend of merry men carved out a 7,200 yard par 72 golf course on just 2 miles of land. Lots of cooks, no broth spoiled.

The first is a modest opening hole. A wide fairway that I duly hit. How do you like that Mr Golf Ball salesman?

But as you walk east towards the second tee the Hans Zimmer score builds in the background. You know that signature hole you played that one time that you never stop thinking about? Well, that’s holes 2 to 18 at Old Head.

For a fader (slicer) of the ball, like I am. The 2nd hole demands a brave line over the cliff top with nothing but the Atlantic below. Of course, I hit it dead straight over the cliff and the next thing I know I’m hovering over my ball on a 45 degree slope trying to wedge it back to safety. A fall backwards will have me swimming with the fishes so my partner spots me from behind. Welcome to Old Head.

At the fifth you pass through a narrow hole in a 3rd century castle wall built by the Irish Chiefton Cearmna. Judging by the position of his house Cearmna was a tough old bastard with little time for golf. More important things to worry about, I suppose.

A special mention must go to hole 12, the signature of signature holes. With no fairway in sight we drove our balls over a ridge to a cliff 50 yards above the one we were on. From there we played back down to the green placed perilously at the end of a narrowing fairway. God be with those that go for it in two.

The Par 3’s, often a refuge on struggling rounds, provide no such respite here. Exposed to Irish coastal wind, we were forced to choose between skirting the edge of the cliff face to our left or hanging them over the ocean to the right.

By hole 16 you’re like an exhausted toddler at the end of a birthday party. Exhausted but wired from the chocolate and coca cola coursing through your veins, they decide to bring out the fucking birthday cake.

On 17 and 18 awe strikes again as the lighthouse guides you home over, yes you guessed it, more spectacular cliffs. The 17th is a par 5 that draws you down the hill into the guts of Old Head before spitting you onto the 18th tee. From here, a final drive brings you back up to enjoy the magnificent views of the headland one final time.

Old Head of Kinsale is the blockbuster of all blockbusters. Not a cheap Marvel thrill ride or some pretentious Oscar nominee. This is The Matrix, The Dark Night, The Lord of The Rings Trilogy. Its a golf course that has everything: ingenious course layout, raw exposure to the elements, immaculate playing conditions, and surely one of the most dramatic settings in world golf.