Located on the picturesque South West coast of Ireland, Ballybunion Golf Club is arguably the finest golf club in Ireland. With two beautifully maintained links golf courses on site, visiting golfers find it hard to compare the Ballybunion experience to any other.
The Old Course has been described as “nothing less than the finest seaside links ever seen”. With frequent visitors from the US, the guest book boasts some of the games most prominent golfers and the occasional US president, as in 1998 when Bill Clinton stepped up to the first tee. The Old Course has played host to Murphy’s Irish Open and also the Palmer Cup more recently in 2004.
The Old Course, consistently ranked as one of the world’s top ten golf courses, features a graveyard by the first tee, which some say is a warning to golfers who breeze through the first five holes only to come face to face with the ever challenging 6th.
There are so many excellent holes on the Old course at Ballybunion that it is fickle to single out one, so we’ll select three. The 2nd (“Kennells”) is a long 445-yard par four, the line for the tee shot a narrow gap between two towering sand dunes. A strong accurate drive will leave a long approach shot to a raised plateau green. The 7th (“Castle Green”) is another tough par four measuring 432 yards with its tee perched on the cliff-edge overlooking the seashore. It’s an absolute cracker. If there is such a thing as a signature hole on the Old course at Ballybunion then it would have to be the 11th, called “Watsons”, yet another supremely challenging par four of 472 yards.
At the end of 2015, Ballybunion Golf Club embarked on an intensive upgrade project which involved the replacement of all eighteen of its soft poa annua greens with fine fescue putting surfaces, the addition of revetted faces to around forty bunkers and the implementation of key design changes to several of the holes.
At the 7th, the green was shifted closer to the sea and dunes installed behind the new putting surface to mask the tees on the next hole whilst shaping was carried out on the right side of the green at the 8th, allowing the hole to blend into the dunes more elegantly. Stone paving on the back-to-back par threes at the holes 14 and 15 was also replaced with stylish grass paths.
Signature Hole: 11th Hole – 473 Yard Par 4 – The signature hole of Ballybunion and conceivably the signature hole of the entire Emerald Isle. The demanding 11th hole, famously known as Tom Watson’s favorite and now named after him, features one of the most thrilling settings and terrain for a golf hole you’ll ever come across. The hole tumbles down ten feet from tee to green as it hugs the dune edges overlooking the rocky coastal waters 25 feet below. From the back tee players are afforded 300 yards of length to play to before the fairway goes through a roller coaster-like terrain climbing up and down through the surrounding dunes. The approach shot plays through a bottleneck opening to a green fronted by a valley and surrounded by dunescape. Since this hole plays directly south down the coastline, the prevailing wind will be in your face and slightly from the right which makes reaching this green in regulation a feat few players will accomplish. When all is said and done, the 11th at Ballybunion Golf Club stands as one of the finest golf holes in the world and the all time favorite for many of Ballybunion’s visitors.
The second course in Ballybunion Golf club is the Cashen course, designed by Robert Trent Jones in the 80’s. It’s going to be hard for any course to measure up to its older sister, but the Cashen course does a fine job of just that. The Cashen course is slightly more exposed to the elements and can be quite unforgiving if you find yourself lured in by its flirtatious design.