Ballybunion Golf Club
If sheer pleasure is the yardstick, then Ballybunion's Old Course gets my vote as the No. 1 in the world." So said Peter Dobereiner, the famous English golf writer.
Although, it did not happen internationally until the late 1960s, there were hints. Notably in 1936 when the English architect, Tom Simpson, was hired to prepare the course for the Irish Amateur Close Championship one year later. The eccentric, Simpson always arrived for work accompanied by his glamorous wife, Molly Gourlay, in a chauffer-driven, silver Rolls Royce wielding a riding crop and dressed in a flowing cloak and beret.
The Simpsons picnicked on the course from the contents of a giant Fortnum & Mason's wicker basket while the white-gloved, chauffeur polished the Rolls. By any standards, it was such unconventional behavior accompanied by a haughty personality that it militated against Simpson being regarded as a hero of classical golf architecture alongside Harry S. Colt and Dr. Alister Mackenzie.
Nevertheless, Simpson's legacy is formidable and none more so than at Ballybunion Golf Club which he declared had, "terrain that surpasses any course we know for beauty, not excepting Pine Valley." Simpson made minimal changes; confining his input to what he called "finishing touches.' Perhaps, his greatest 'gift' to posterity was realising that the links, like The Old Course at St. Andrew's, did not require 'much correction' and that nature herself could not be surpassed.
That's the essence of Ballybunion. It is elemental, natural golf amid dunes beside the ocean where all of the battles are God-made challenges with nature.
In 1969, Pat Ward-Thomas visited and wrote: "Ballybunion possesses excitement and challenge that can have few peers in all the world of seaside golf." Herbert Warren-Wind writing in the New Yorker magazine in 1971 said: "I found Ballybunion to be nothing less than the finest seaside links I have ever seen."
By the mid-1970s, there was a growing trickle of well-read, international visitors that overnight turned into a flood in 1982 when Tom Watson made his famous off the cuff eulogy after accepting the Claret Jug at Royal Troon: "Nobody can call himself a golfer until he has played at Ballybunion; you would think the game originated there!"
Ever since, the North Kerry links has been one of the most lucrative and recognizable brands in world golf. Knowledgeable golfers realize that if they haven't played golf at Ballybunion their golfing education is gravely incomplete. (Editorial kindly contributed by Ivan Morris)
Ballybunion’s Old Course ranks tops for many an American pilgrim, including a few of the 160 or so guys who took part in the second annual Great Irish Links Challenge. Several of them did their best to shrug off the effects of a late night pub crawl in Doonbeg Village the night before, make the bus for the 90-minute ride from Doonbeg (including a 20-minute ride on the Shannon Ferry) and make their tee times. Had they blown it off and slept in, they would never have forgiven themselves. It’s that special.
Founded in 1893, a year after Lahinch, Ballybunion also sits astride heaving, marram-clad dunes that separate town from Atlantic. It’s a longer dune complex — long enough, in fact, to house a second course, the Cashen, to the south (Lahinch’s Castle Course, in contrast, sits on flat terrain across the road from its big brother).
The Old originally started with what is now the sixth hole, a flat dogleg left that finishes on the course’s northwest corner, next to the beach. But the five holes that now precede it, while avoiding the heart of the dunes, are full of lovely quirks.
No. 1 After the relative ease of the “new” opener (which plays next to a graveyard), No. 2 is one of the toughest par 4s on the planet, especially if there’s a north wind — the green sits in a saddle a good 50 feet above the heart of the fairway. It’s a full 3-wood to get home into the wind for most mortals, in essence making it a par 5 — a bold beginning to a round that, in the end, has almost perfect design and dramatic rhythm. No. 4 asks for a tee shot across the third green to a fairway pocked with an ellipses-point trio of bunkers. No. 5, a reachable par 5 in a normal southwest breeze, is Ball bunion’s road hole.
Then, after a stop at the snack hut that stands on the site of the original clubhouse, comes the transitional sixth and, starting with 7, the Old’s wily heart. Nine is a bunkerless beauty with another strongly elevated green; 12 is as stout a par 3 as there exists in Ireland, uphill to blind green.
Then comes the best six-hole finish in golf in my experience, and that includes Pebble Beach, anything at Bandon or on either the U.S. Open or Open Championship circuit — two par 5s bookending back-to-back par 3s (14 and 15) and two finishing par 4s, all routed atop and through the kind of mountainous dunes that inhabit our dreams.
But it’s real. Ballybunion’s otherworldly brilliance is right there in front of us and, like all great courses, should be required playing. That the two-story clubhouse is a de facto museum of Irish golf history, and probably the best-conditioned layout in Ireland, just jack up the magic even more.
Here’s an idea: Sign up for next year’s Links Challenge, May 6-9. Go for that birdie at 11, and a handful of others. Soak it in along with nearly a couple hundred other players, and get Lahinch and Doonbeg — plus four nights of unmitigated fun, great food, a slew of new Irish friends and, yeah, all that Guinness — in the bargain.
Aug. 24, 2011 By David Brice, Golf International, Inc.
David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips. You will find him HERE
In a land where the Royal and Ancient game is the sport of the people, the Emerald Isle boasts an imposing array of well over 400 golf courses to accommodate its population of barely 6 million, making it one of the world's most golfer friendly countries. The quality of Irish golf is as good as any on the planet and better than most and there isn't a golf club in the country that doesn't have a large welcome mat at the front door for all visitors. Ireland's famous hospitality will never be warmer or more heart-felt than at her golf clubs and courses - reason enough why Ireland belongs at the very top of every golfers list of places that must be visited.
If within the island of Ireland, one place was to be nominated as the capital of Irish golf, there would be a number of towns and cities well qualified for consideration. Dublin, surrounded by over 30 golf clubs would certainly be on the list, as would Belfast, the central point from which to discover any and all of Northern Ireland's 80 plus, golfing treasures. But perhaps the most qualified of all would be Killarney in County Kerry, Ireland's most westerly point.
Killarney is the major golf hub of the Southwest, centrally located and within striking distance of practically every top ranked course in a region rich in trophy courses -- Ballybunion, Waterville, Tralee and Killarney's own three championship layouts among them. But it's not only celebrity courses that surround this bustling market town. Dingle, Dooks, Skellig Bay, Ring of Kerry, Kenmare and Beaufort are quality layouts all and still only the beginning of the list of County Kerry's golfing wealth. Big names or unknowns, they all provide the very special golf experience, only Ireland can offer.
It's not only golfers who have a love affair with Killarney - so does every other visitor. This effervescent small town is filled with an unbelievable collection of restaurants and pubs, together with a wide selection of accommodation choices ranging from delightful Bed & Breakfasts, to the most elegant 4 and 5 star hotels. Killarney has excellent shopping and more points of local and historic interest than most will have time to discover. Importantly, Killarney also makes an excellent base for exploring the beauty and history of County Kerry, arguably the most fascinating and dramatically handsome corner of the entire country. Excellent as the golf is, time must be taken to discover the wonders that exist beyond the golf courses.
Before journeying further afield, get to know the charming town of Killarney and there's no more fun way to do it than by jaunting car, a horse and carriage, driven by a wise-cracking jarvey, whose family has probably been in the business for generations. With your personal chauffeur guide, you'll immediately get a feeling of how logically the town is laid out, how compact it is and gain an appreciation for Killarney's historic and architectural appeal.
Killarney House, the oldest building in town, dates back to 1740; there are many fine, 19th century buildings such as Deenagh Lodge, the courthouse and railway station, St. Mary's Cathedral, The Old Monastery, the Franciscan Friary and so much more. Killarney is a town with an historic background, the envy of other, much larger towns.
Venture even a short distance beyond the town limits and be prepared for even more delightful surprises - the incredible beauty, rich history, myths, legends and the fascinating culture and traditions of this very special region can only amaze. It won't take long before you discover why this area has garnered global fame for its stunning landscapes and unspoiled, God-given beauty. Much of the very best of the picture-postcard scenery is to be found around the Lakes of Killarney, sitting on the town's doorstep in Killarney National Park.
For the energetic, there are hiking trails that have no equal in all of Europe. If you prefer, rent a bicycle or join a group on horseback (no great equestrian skills required) or go back to the relaxing pleasures of sitting in a horse drawn jaunting car. There are boating excursion on the lakes and regularly scheduled excursions by motor coach, or make it a combination of any of the above. Killarney knows how to take care of visitors and whatever your pleasure, chances are it can be easily arranged either before you leave home, or through one of the many local sightseeing operators based in town.
If sightseeing time is limited, at least take in the main highlights on a half day motor coach tour, including a visit to Aghadoe, with spectacular views across the Lake District, explore the ruins of 11th century Aghadoe Church and Round Tower, and the 13th century, Norman Castle of Parkavonear. The tour also includes Muckross House, a magnificent Victorian Mansion with stunning gardens, 15th century Ross Castle and Torc Waterfalls. It's only a sampler, but at least it provides a taste of all the area has to offer.
For a very special and thoroughly memorable experience, a full day excursion around the Ring of Kerry, one of the worlds, most inspiring drives, shouldn't be missed. The Ring starts and ends in Killarney, running for 110 miles around the entire peninsula visiting delightful small fishing villages and thriving market towns. You'll see breath-taking seascapes, magnificent mountains and picturesque valleys that all combine to make Killarney one of the world's best loved, scenic wonders. You can either drive yourself, or for a more relaxing experience, take one of the local motor coach tours and savour every minute of this never-ending feast for the eyes.
Venture even a little further from Killarney and within a 50 mile radius, more totally unique sightseeing experiences will only tempt. The Dingle Peninsula has its own appeal - a countryside dotted with ancient historic sites and early Christian dwellings, such as 9th century, Gallarus Oratory. Off-shore, the Blaskett Islands where Gaelic speaking locals lived a traditional, centuries old life-style, until moving to the mainland in 1953. It was here on the Dingle Peninsula where the epic movie, "Ryan's Daughter" was filmed, bringing instant fame to its uniquely haunting beauty. The Beara Peninsula to the south of Killarney is just as close, with its own brand of isolated, stark good-looks.
Killarney and the surrounding area is quite literally filled with some of the most amazing sightseeing opportunities and even the most ardent sightseer will be hard-pressed to include all that should be seen. Golfers will have no simpler a task in trying to decide which of the surrounding courses they are prepared to sacrifice, because there are only 24 hours in each day.
For any who may have thought a vacation haven did not exist where golfers and non-golfers alike could enjoy one of the most enjoyable holiday escapes ever, Killarney proves to be that elusive place.
To learn how to experience the best golf and sightseeing of Killarney and County Kerry, contact the Ireland experts at Golf International by calling toll-free, 1 (800) 833-1389.
Irish golf: In a galaxy far, far away Tim Wellock http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/author/profile/2057.Tim_Wellock/
CEANN Sibeal might sound like a galaxy far, far away, but there is something surreal, even controversial, about its use as a setting for Star Wars. Otherwise known as Dingle Links, the westernmost golf course in Europe sits on the wild, unspoilt tip of the peninsula where more appropriate movies like Ryan's Daughter were filmed. For lovers of remote golfing outposts the trek is hugely rewarding. It is not a links shaped by high dunes such as those at Ballybunion and Waterville, but the humps and hollows are superbly complemented by the burn which comes into play on 14 holes. Surrounded by untamed, natural beauty, we were perplexed on our visit by the strange track disappearing into the low cloud on the hill to the north. No wonder it looked incongruous as it turned out to be part of the Star Wars set. People running local businesses have welcomed the intrusion, expecting a boom in tourism. Environmentalists and wildlife lovers take a different view. The beloved Emerald Isle is much changed over the last 20 years. This is one of those bits way out west which should be preserved for posterity. The advent of motorways has made the drive down to County Kerry much less arduous, but it's still good to be reminded of the bouncing bog roads en route to Dingle. Rather like St Andrew's, the first sight of Ceann Sibeal might not set the pulse racing. But it quickly becomes enchanting. The burn cuts a surprisingly deep gully across the front of the green at the opening par four, but the front nine was relatively benign on our windless visit. Such calm must be rare judging by the general lean of the few surviving trees. The back nine is much tougher, highlighted by the stroke two hole, which turns sharply right at around driving distance. The carry across the corner is very tempting, but is longer than it looks. The lone donkey grazing in the out-of-bounds field looked undisturbed by the two failed attempts which made an ass of me. The clubhouse is in an elevated position, offering glorious views after the uphill shots into the ninth and 18th greens. The views are even better from the upstairs bar, but for the very best of clubhouse vistas you should drop in at one of Kerry's lesser-known courses at Killorglin. The panorama from here is down across the tree-lined fairways to the Bay of Dingle with the Slieve Mish mountains beyond, but having drunk it in it's likely you will be seduced by the prospect of a drink in the clubhouse. There cannot be a warmer welcome anywhere, and to show that the old traditions are alive and well in these parts the kitchen staff even sang us a song before we bade a sad farewell. Co Kerry has long been a golfing paradise, boasting the famously scenic lakeside courses at Killarney as well as some of the world's top links. It seemed a little optimistic to add to an already wide selection 20 years ago, but after initial struggles Beaufort is enjoying well-deserved success. Unless you seek the challenge of playing an Irish Open venue, as a holiday golfer you might prefer this to Killarney's Killeen course. It is not as tough, but the setting is equally beautiful and it's about half the price. The first few holes are nothing special, but the course builds superbly with several greens presenting very attractive targets with the MacGillicuddy Reeks forming a magnificent backdrop. The ruins of a 15th century castle stand beside the 15th green, while the modern, environmentally-friendly clubhouse complements the high feelgood factor which pervades the whole set-up. The course manager, Tim Thompson, hails from Hexham and is a former Tynedale rugby player. He came to work on the Churchtown Estate before it was converted from a dairy farm to a golf course and appears as happy as a pig in the proverbial. He also manages Churchtown House, a six-bedroom mansion which sleeps up to 12 and is available for self-catering holiday groups. Those wishing to have their food cooked for them, and to very highest standard, should consider staying, or dining, at the Killeen House Hotel. This small country house hotel exudes charm and elegance and is only three minutes' drive from the Killarney golf courses. The par-three 18th at Maohony's Point is one of the most photographed holes in golf, but it's the Killeen which became famous as an Irish Open venue. From the first, swinging gently right as it hugs the lake shore, water is never far away as it builds to a terrific climax. The 18th rivals the Belfry's finishing hole, involving a long carry over a reed-filled pond to a green overlooked by the palatial clubhouse. In the days of the Northern Echo / Irish Ferries Matchplay Trophy we twice held the final over the Killeen course in early October. That's the start of the rutting season for the famous red deer of Killarney National Park and backswings could often be interrupted by the roaring of the stags. In summer the roaring is more likely to come on weekend nights in the town itself, which is a lively spot these days. To sample its delights at close hand the Arbutus Hotel provides good old-fashioned comfort and serves a little jug of Bailey's with the porridge. If you prefer peace and solitude the Killeen House Hotel should be ideal. It is very golfer-friendly, with a collection of thousands of logoed golf balls adorning the walls of the bar. Apparently if you supply one it's worth a free pint. Factfile: all telephone numbers begin +353 (0): killarneygolfclub.ie (tel 64 66 31034; dinglelinks.com: tel 66 915 62 55; beaufort-golf-club.com (tel 64 66 44440); killorglingolf.ie (tel 66 976 1979) Green fees: There is nearly always a deal to be had by ringing up, but as a rough guide Ceann Sibeal charges 65 euros, Beaufort 35 and Killorglin 25. Arbutus Hotel: arbutuskillarney.com, tel 64 6631037. Further information: www.ireland.com and www.irishferries.com. Both can put together golf packages and Tourism Ireland are keep to promote www.wildatlanticway.com.
County Kerry`s Great Golf Courses