The brochure for Ballybunion Golf Club has a photo of a beautiful green on the links course, overlooking the beach, with the strapline “For the game of our life.” Ok, I didn’t break 100 shots on either day’s play, but they were still two of the most memorable day’s golf I’ve played. Ballybunion has consistently been ranked in the top 100 courses in the world, due to its stunning links setting among the sand dunes on the wild North Kerry coast.
“No greater authority on links golf than Tom Watson has heaped praise on many courses over the years, but never with the reverence he reserves for the place where he warmed up before each of his 5 Open wins. “Ballybunion is a course on which many golf architects should live and play before they build courses,” says Watson of Tom Simpson’s venerable design. It might have a statue of Bill Clinton, but this awesome links is a true monument of golf”. (Golf World, November 2008)
– Golf World, November, 2008
The Cashen Course is the newer course, opened in 1982 by Robert Trent Jones. We played on Friday afternoon, expecting rain, but being lucky to have grey skies and a fierce south westerly wind blowing. Many of the opening holes faced head first into the wind, so taking driver to reach par-3’s wasn’t out of the question. My golf bag fell over at least 20 times because of the force of the wind. I had stocked up on balls through Jballz, a great website for getting your hands on good quality lake balls (it’s run by a Waterford man, so always good to buy local)
Club selection was tricky, as the wind made it a battle to reach greens in 2 on par 4s. The big lesson I took is that hitting the ball straight is key – if you have any weakness like a slice or a hook, it will be exploited and a drive which would normally go 10 yards left to right will turn viciously in the air, changing direction by over 100 yards and ending up on a treacherous sand dune.
There were some cracking holes – especially the holes that look out over the beach and bay. With some of the drives, you either hit it straight or you hit it straight. There’s no plan B or escape. Luckily, we didn’t hit any ball onto the beach in 2 days!
“In golf there are certain places that send emotional charges through the bodies of avid golfers … St Andrews, Augusta, Winged Foot, Muirfield. Yet even among the select, few courses boast the romance and awesome power of Ballybunion.
Carved out of towering dunes along the Atlantic Ocean by God and the elements, it is considered by many to be the greatest course in the world.”
– “The Road to Ballybunion” by John DeGarmo
The Old Course is over 100 years old and has hosted some great players and celebrities. Lots of the American players have made it a pilgrimage before the British Open. Tom Watson is probably one of the most famous visitors and he described it as one of the best courses he’s ever played. Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara were also regular visitors. But it’s President William Jefferson Clinton who’s made it his own – they even built a statue to him at the entrance to the town!
The first hole is famous, as you drive down the fairway, trying to avoid the graveyard on the right hand side. It’s not your usual obstacle but the Americans must love it, seeing all the Celtic crosses. The first few holes were downwind, so we found them easier as the fairways seemed nice and wide and there wasn’t too much trouble. Still some great holes, including some tricky par 3s.
It’s when we got the back 9 that things really got interesting. The 11th is one of the most famous holes in golf – known as “Watson’s” because of Tom Watson’s love for the hole as golfing perfection (a par 4 which runs alongside the beach, with a straight drive and then a decent 2nd shot into a very tight green with slopes either side). Beginners luck for me as I managed to par it. I missed the birdie putt. I’d 4 birdie chances all day and missed them all (11th, 12th, 15th, 18th).
My favourite holes were the 6th, which ran down towards the bay; the 11th, for its spectacular view and 2nd shot); the 16th, for the big drive and narrow approach; and the 18th, for its difficulty of making birdie – avoid the big fairway bunker, then hit a narrow green and make an uphill putt.
I’d definately recommend it – we were lucky with the weather, which was amazing for April – no rain, plenty of sun and a challenging wind. We also got a great deal – €95 to play both courses. This deal is only valid in April and is a bargain compared with the regular Old Course green fee of €180 in the summer. We’ll definately be signing up for a round next April – and betting €100 I’ll break 100 shots this time!!