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Eric Bruening: Interning at Lahinch

Signature Par 4 - the 13th

Posted in The golf course 09 July 2015 · 1,120 views

While Lahinch's signature par 3 and par 5 are givens, the best par 4 is up for debate, with many worthy holes. Out of personal taste, I believe the 13th ought to have the honor.


The 13th plays 270 yards from the member tees, and is the embodiment of a perfect risk/reward short par 4. The options off the tee are endless, with careful consideration a requirement.


The view from the tee. Largely blind, the player must trust his caddy or his own research on the best option for the hole.


Many players can reach it with a driver, but a slightly errant tee shot can result in a 5 or more very easily. At the same time, the fairway is wide and receptive, although blind, and leaves no more than a 100 yard approach shot after a mid to long iron.


From 100 yards out on the right side of the fairway, with the green visible on the right. A large flat area is on the left, which is an ideal setup for the short second shot.


The danger on this hole comes in the form of two large, intimidating bunkers on the left, which collect any ball rolling off the left side of the green. The other threat is a large grassy hollow to the right, running the effective length of the hole. The hollow will grab a pushed 4 iron or driver just the same.


A view from 130 yards out, just short of the hollow to the right.


The grassy hollow to the right of the 13th. The picture does not do the angle and depth of this justice. The grass is wispy and balls are fairly easy to find, usually to the dismay of the golfer.


The two collection bunkers along the left side of the green. Any ball that just reaches over the left side of the green will find itself in one of these, resulting in a challenging bunker shot.


A 3-tiered green quickly reminds a golfer that the challenge of the hole is not isolated to the tee shot. Playing the hole safe with an iron, but following it up with an poor wedge can easily result in a 5 or more, just the same as a wild driver. It is demanding from start to finish, and a sigh of relief is common after retrieving one's ball from the cup.


I have a fascination with the short par 4, and the 13th at Lahinch is a prime example. It challenges the modern golfer without the addition of yards. Golf equipment technology is neutralized, and the burden is put back on the golfer's shoulders to meet the challenge. 

The bunker issue...

Posted in Maintenance 08 July 2015 · 1,285 views

As with any golf club, the geographical location of the course and the natural environment that comes along with it present unique challenges. Some of these issues cannot be overcome in one big effort then put aside, but are recurring and must be tended to on a consistent basis. One of these issues at Lahinch lies in the bunkers.


The bunkers at Lahinch are subject to constant wind, usually coming off the Atlantic. After an extended time of no precipitation (resulting in dry sand) and steady wind, many bunkers accumulate sand deposits on one side, or have their lips blown clean, exposing the underlying soil. Sand may also accumulate above the bunker, resulting in an undesired and unnatural bump that must be taken care of.


The greenside bunker on the 12th illustrates sand accumulation through wind. The sand has built up on the left side of this image, making a soft, poorly angled surface, while the right side is exposed.


A good bunker has a large, flat base with sides steep enough for a ball to always roll to the base. While the individual bunker dictates the steepness and base size, these two conditions must be met. Depending on the state of the bunker, additional sand may need to be added or existing sand redistributed. 


While it is logical to think that bunkers along the water are most often the issue, that is not necessarily the case. Bunkers along the water get their fair share of damage, but the rolling dune landscape at Lahinch channels wind into certain areas where the wind swirls around. Bunkers in these areas need the most attention.


As with life, one must take the bad with good, and a few extra hours a week reshaping bunkers is a small price to pay for the ideal location that Lahinch Golf Club calls home.


The first step in reshaping bunkers. By removing sand from the pile and returning it to the bare side, you can restore the bunker to its intended form. 
After reconfiguring sand, tamping in the sides and maintaining a mostly flat base with a slight incline towards the playing surface, the bunker has been successfully reshaped.
A different angle reveals the desired steepness of the bunker side, to assure no ball will stop in an unplayable position.

Sand accumulation on top of bunker lips creates an unclear edge and unnatural look. The problem is quickly remedied with a stiff bristled brush.

Lahinch Signature Par 3: The Dell

Posted in The golf course 06 July 2015 · 1,644 views

The 5th hole at Lahinch is perhaps the most well known and talked about holes on the course (and in Ireland), rivaled only by the Par 5 4th Klondyke. The hole measures 154 yards from the tips, with member tees measuring at 145 and women's at 118. The hole plays longer however, as one needs to take enough club to carry the front hill guarding the green.


The Dell also plays into the prevailing wind, which can be an advantage as the ball will have a more vertical flight path coming down, minimizing the chance that you'll witness the dreaded sight of seeing your ball land on top of the 30 foot hill.


It's green is wide but shallow and angled about 30 degrees off center from the tee box. It also has a subtle two-tier like contour, with the high side being on the left. There is an additional 30 foot dune on the back of the green that the locals commonly use as a backboard.


The Dell green from the 6th tee. The view is from the left of the hole, with the tee shot coming in over the hill on the right.


The blind nature of the hole requires a large white stone be placed on top of the hill to mark the days pin placement, as the width of the green allows for many pin placements on different lines.


View from the top of a smaller hill to the right of the hole. The right side, where the pin is in this picture, is deeper and more receptive than the far side, as balls come in over the hill to the left of the photo.


Old Tom Morris laid out this hole in the late 1890's, and it has remained untouched through Dr. MacKenzie's re-design in the 1920's and Martin Hawtree's restoration in the late 1990's.


It is a truly unique hole that cannot be replicated and gives Lahinch Golf Club a touch of character. It stands unapologetically in a current world where no architect would dare design a similar hole for fear of cries of unfairness.


The saying rings true... 'Only in Ireland.'


A glance from short right of the green, displaying the sharp angles the hills have around the green. The steep hill at right in this photo is the hill that is used as a backstop by locals.


The confusing image that greets players on the 5th tee. There are stories of golfers who elected not to take caddies, and ended up playing to the 9th green, which lies on the dunes above and to the right of the 5th green.


Irish accommodation and hospitality...

Posted in Random Good Stuff 03 July 2015 · 2,304 views

Accommodation in Lahinch is hard to come by in the summer, as the town comes to life from June to August when the weather heats up to a sizzling 70 degrees F. Native Irishmen and tourists swarm the beach and pubs for a summer getaway.


This quickly became an issue for me, as finding a room or apartment to rent was proving difficult. The club put me up in the Sancta Maria Hotel, just a city block away from the course. This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me.


The Sancta Maria Hotel


The Sancta Maria is run by the McIlnery family, who are some of the nicest people I've ever come across. They go above and beyond to look after me, but it seems to be business as usual from their perspective. It feels more like staying with extended family than at a hotel. 


Breakfast is normally served from 8:30 to 10 every morning, but the McIlnerys set out breakfast and a few sandwiches for lunch for me every morning, as work starts at 6:30 am. I feel like I'm back in grade school with my mother looking after me, and it's lovely.


My breakfast for the weekdays, with sandwiches made for lunch.


On any day off I am able to catch breakfast at the regular time. A full Irish breakfast is not to be taken lightly, as it includes orange juice, bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, tea and brown bread that is not of this world. I don't know if the McIlnerys have a special recipe or the brown bread is like this all over Ireland, but it is unreal.


The "Full Irish" breakfast... not to be taken lightly!


In addition, I am asked almost daily if everything is suitable and am reminded to ask if I need anything at all. The hospitality shown to is not isolated to just where I sleep. The same sentiment has been expressed by everyone, from the maintenance crew to club management and everywhere in between.


Although I am almost immediately asked what part of America I am from after merely exchanging "hellos", I still am treated as one of their own.

The Cliffs of Moher

Posted in Excursions 26 June 2015 · 1,021 views

While golf has brought me to Ireland, I'd be a fool not to explore all of the wonders this country has to offer. After a bit of research before my trip, I was under the impression the Cliffs of Moher were a can't miss sight. They also happened to be just seven miles away from Lahinch. With no car at my disposal and no knowledge of public transportation routes, I decided to make the trek on foot and make use of my Saturday off.


This shows the width of the roads as soon as you get off the main routes.


I realized quickly that the roads in Ireland are a far cry from what I was used to back home. Shoulders are a rare occurrence on less heavily trafficked roads, and sidewalks are even less common. The casual stroll I had been planning quickly turned into what felt like a life or death journey. The guys on the crew had a laugh at my expense when I asked them how people could drive, let alone walk, on such narrow and winding roads. 


Another thing that jumped out to me were the stone walls lining each road and dividing every agricultural field. They were all hand laid with flat stones stacked on top of each other. The time and effort put into these walls was astounding, and they were literally everywhere! The character and history these walls represent is magical. It is something you will not see in the states, as most everything is done with efficiency at the forefront, especially things seen to be as trivial as 'fences.'


Stone wall in a rural area along private land.

The walls along the main roads are maintained well and even rebuilt if need be.


The product of my excursion was well worth the time and effort, as The Cliffs are one the most visually stunning natural formations in all the world. The Cliffs reach to an approximate height of 700 feet above the Atlantic, which is comparable to the height of the Eiffel Tower. 


The north end of the Cliffs. The 'castle' off in the distance is a 3-story lookout tower, for height comparison.


The south end of The Cliffs.

History of Lahinch Golf Club

Posted in History 26 June 2015 · 1,335 views

Lahinch Golf Club is a facility steeped in tradition and is associated with some of the most well-known names in all of golf. It was founded in 1892 by two high ranking members of nearby Limerick Golf Club. Their original layout was then re-designed by the highly revered Old Tom Morris of St. Andrews in 1894. The par 3 5th hole (which will be highlighted later) serves as a make-shift time machine and takes the modern golfer back to the origins of golf, as the hole remains the same as it did in Old Tom's original layout. 


Painting of the legendary Old Tom Morris playing one of Lahinch's seaside holes.


Fast forward to 1927 and another name synonymous with world class golf course architecture leaves his mark on Lahinch; Alister MacKenzie. For those unfamiliar, Dr. MacKenzie is widely regarded as one of the finest architects in golfs history. His work includes Augusta National, Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne, to name a few. 


A photo that hangs in the clubhouse of the world renowned architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie.


Dr. MacKenzie believed the best golf courses were not made, but discovered. He saw nature as the best designer of golf courses. He put these ideals to work to leave his mark on the Old Course at Lahinch. He wove holes in and out of sand dunes and created greens with subtle movements to seamlessly blend in with the surrounding landscape.


Looking back over the back 9 from the 9th green, the setting sun highlights the rolling dunes that Old Tom and Dr. MacKenzie had at their disposal.


Looking from 16 tee down 13 fairway that shows how the architects were able to place a golf course onto the land, rather than engineer the land into a golf course.


In 1999 the club employed Martin Hawtree to bring back to life the brilliance of Dr. MacKenzie and Old Tom, as a series of alterations in the 1930's had less than ideal outcomes. Mr. Hawtree then set out on a 5 year plan to restore the course to a level that would make Dr. MacKenzie proud. By all measures the work was a success, and Lahinch Golf Club returned to it's rightful place as a Top 50 golf course in the world.  



Typical Nebraska kid... and a first airplane flight

Posted in Random Good Stuff 24 June 2015 · 27,344 views

Hello all! My name is Eric Bruening and I have been asked by the good people here at TurfNet to write a blog on my summer internship at Lahinch Golf Club in Lahinch, Ireland. First, I'd like to start with a brief introduction of myself and what brought me to Lahinch.


I am originally from Norfolk, NE, a town of 25,000 in northeast Nebraska. I am a senior Turfgrass Management student at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. I come from a family of golfers as my father was a superintendent at El Dorado Hills in Norfolk for 25 years. In addition, both my older brothers played collegiate golf (one at UNL and one at Nebraska - Wesleyan) after successful high school careers that included Nebraska State Championships. Unfortunately I wasn't able to follow in their footsteps, and I'm still trying to shake the label of 'black sheep' in the family. No family summary is complete without mentioning my mother, who learned to love golf by spending her vacation time driving me and my brothers to tournaments around the region.


I come from a family of golfers as my father was a superintendent at El Dorado Hills in Norfolk for 25 years...


For the summer of 2014 I was fortunate enough to do my summer internship at Sand Hills Golf Club in Mullen, NE, which served as my introduction to world class golf course management. Anyone familiar with the club knows that Kyle Hegland and his assistant Jared Kalina keep the course at an elite level throughout the playing season. I gained a wealth of invaluable knowledge from these two, and they have really increased my desire to become a super myself.


After mentioning to Kyle that I had an interest in going overseas for the summer of 2015, he put me into contact with one of his acquaintances, Brian McDonagh, the superintendent at Lahinch. After being offered a position for the summer from Brian, the work was just beginning. This is where Mike O'Keeffe from Ohio St. University came to my rescue. Mr. O'Keeffe helped me with all the logistics of getting to Ireland, from obtaining a work visa to what I should expect when I arrive. This was a tall task as, fitting the 'typical Nebraska kid' stereotype, I had never been on an airplane before this trip.


Road signs are in English and traditional Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge).


Sorry for the lengthy intro, but I feel very lucky to be where I am today and wanted to acknowledge those who have helped me along the way. In the following weeks I will showcase the best that Ireland has to offer, from goats to golf and cliffs to culture. 


Main Street, Lahinch.


If at any time you have any questions or would like additional information feel free to email me at ericjbruening@gmail.com.


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