Ballybunion Golf Club

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Since golf is a state of mind over muscle and a great day on the links is exhilarating, it is in my view that memorable fairways tend not to be decorated with artificial lakes that are fun only to ducks and golf ball manufacturers.

Some of the best courses look natural, even though they may have been helped along by a skilful architect such as Colt, Hawtree or Mackenzie. And in the Emerald Isle, it is entirely appropriate that, back in 1906, a certain Mr Murphy built Ballybunion on the South West Coast of Ireland.

Ballybunion Golf Course is located on the north west coast of County Kerry, on a beautiful stretch of sand dunes overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. There you will find two wonderfully challenging and unique links golf courses, the Old Course and the Cashen Course. Believe me, there are few greater adventures waiting to be tackled and not to play on this old course is a crime.

The two courses in Ballybunion are separated only by a 19th hole that has heard all the wondrous stories before, as well as hosting such great names as Tom Watson, five times winner of the Open.

Tom Watson can’t speak highly enough of the place and claims that before anyone builds a golf course, first they should play Ballybunion.

It was love at first sight back in 1981, prompting Watson to reflect that, “after playing Ballybunion for the first time, a man would think that the game of golf originated here”.

Watson’s rave reviews sparked a stream of overseas visitors, strengthening the club’s reputation and paving the way for a new clubhouse and a second magical course – The Cashen – in 1984.

The Old Course exudes a majestic feel that simply cannot be compared to any other course on earth. With beautifully contoured fairways that tumble down through a blanket of grassy dunes, it's no wonder these challenging holes have been consistently rated among the top courses in the world.

The Old Course has mesmerized guests for decades, a tribute to its embodiment of the game's greatest traits. The 402-yard 11th hole is widely heralded as one of the finest par 4s in the world, while the long par-3 No. 15 is both remarkably scenic and treacherous.

You will absolutely love this old course. From the opening tee shot with a graveyard on your right to the final tee with the ocean rolling to your back, the course is a great, and at times quirky, ride from start to finish that you'll want to enjoy over and over again. 

One of the quirks at Ballybunion is that you'll tee off over the previous green you played multiple times during the round, a rare occurrence indeed and one you would never find on a modern course design.

Before arriving I'd heard that Ballybunion started with six forgettable holes and finished with 12 great holes, but such an evaluation doesn't give near enough credit to the first two holes which are a great way to start the round and then the 6th hole that begins the introduction to the ocean.

That being said, the 7th hole truly starts a remarkable stretch of holes that are memorable, challenging, and scenic all rolled up into one.

From the 7th onwards, when you first hit the Atlantic, the links takes you on a mesmerising journey, at times hugging the coast, at others snaking through dunes that are at their tallest on 16 and 17.

The star hole for many is the demanding par-4 11th – Watsons – which plays gently downhill via a series of shelves to a green guarded by such a narrow entrance that there is little choice but to fly the ball all the way, unless your long iron or fairway wood play is supremely precise.

Holes 2, 7, and 11 are some of the best in Ireland if not the world with the 11th being named after Tom Watson due to his deep fondness for it.

The terrain is quite hilly and the course is walking-only so you need to be in fair shape both in body and with your golf swing to take on this challenging track. I've played back to back par threes before, but I don't think I've ever played three par threes in a four holes stretch like Ballybunion offers on holes 12-15 with #15 being an exceptional downhill one-shotter that plays towards the ocean.

Ballybunion is maintained in good shape, but not exceptional due to the high number of round the course hosts throughout the year. It is tough to express just how good Ballybunion is as a links and how unique it is in its routing, but suffice it to say, Ballybunion in an absolute must-play course and any trip to Ireland devoid of it is severely lacking. 

The Trent Jones Cashen Course, located along the sweeping, undisturbed shoreline, offers breath-taking views throughout. There is a wild look to the place. Long grass covers the dunes that pitch and roll throughout the course.

Head Professional Brian O'Callghan describes its character as, "completely different to the Old Course. It's much more undulating terrain."

The Cashen Course at Ballybunion is built on what Jones called "the finest piece of links-land that I have ever seen, and perhaps the finest piece of links-land in the world."  

This is a mammoth overstatement, but nevertheless, the course offers all of the elements of fine links golf: soaring dunes, inspiring vistas, lucky and unlucky bounces and rolls, plus a true test of every aspect of one's game.

This said, the Cashen Course presents first-timers with numerous blind shots and some very narrow fairways. Certain landing areas are so narrow as to feel unfair, at least until after a few rounds and you know which club to pull where.

This is one of those courses that golfers will either love or hate. Take, as an example, the 324-yard 10th, which Jones - in his typical gushing style - called, "an outrageously beautiful stretch of God-given terrain." Your foursome might be divided, however, on the hole's appeal.

Some might find the short tee shot through a narrow corridor of dunes clumsy, the near-blind approach to the humped green unpalatable and the parade of bathers going to and from the beach and appearing utterly surprised by the presence of golfers about to hit balls their direction quaint.  

Some might just find all of these things (along with the theft of bottles of water and golf gloves from bags near the first tee and said bather-parade) irritating.

Either way, the mischievous Cashen Course is a worthy little sister to the old original course.

The par-72, 6,306-yard course is one of the most challenging in Ireland. Bold and flirtatious, it requires acute precision off the tee and into the greens. Wildly undulating with breath-taking views throughout. The Cashen Course is consistently rated among the best modern layouts in Great Britain and Ireland by Golfweek.

Whatever your choice, every hole, every hazard and every shot is defined by nature's infinite presence.

In an American list of the world’s top 100 courses, Ballybunion is there at number “8” and the reason is simple: it probably represents the ultimate links on as wild a stretch as you will find.

The Atlantic waves crash into the shore and no golfer will ever feel closer to nature as he hunts his ball and flights it through crosswinds and breath-taking views.

This course is a star even in a part of Ireland that has wall-to-wall golf courses of the highest calibre. The experience of taking on this classic will be remembered as long as you live. 

Ballybunion Golf Club

Sandhill Road, Ballybunion, Co. Kerry, Ireland.


Ballybunion Golf Club

Ballybunion New +353 (0 68 27146

Ballybunion Old +353 (0)68 27146

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