The very name Ballybunion Golf Club is synonymous with the game of golf. Located on the southwest coast of Ireland, one could perhaps be forgiven for wondering where this legendary golf course is found, such is the lunar landscape of this part of the country. This is rural Ireland, and its rugged beauty is encapsulated on the drive to the fabulous links golf courses at Ballybunion. This is more a right of passage than just a ‘must-play’ on a golf trip to Ireland.
Tucked away 50miles west of Limerick on the rugged Atlantic coastline, nature has played the most significant part in the physical development of Ballybunion Golf Club as it has done with many other Irish links golf courses down the years. The course is named after the ‘Bunion family,’ proprietors of the local castle back in the 15th Century. The club was founded in 1893 but got off to a less than auspicious start having been denounced by The Irish Times as “a rabbit warren below the village, where a golfer requires limitless patience and an inexhaustible supply of golf balls.” Partly due to the negative press and also beset by significant financial problems, the course was forced to close shortly after it opened, only to be relaunched in 1906, but as a nine-hole course. It wasn’t until almost the 1930’s that Ballybunion Golf Club was extended to eighteen holes. Fast-forward to 1982 and the layout and physical order of the holes were changed, coinciding with the opening of a new clubhouse and, ambitiously, a new course, The Cashen Course, that was designed by the renowned golf architect Robert Trent Jones. In 2017, the Old Course got yet another facelift, this time orchestrated by the club, that involved a redesign of the 18th and improvements to the pathway leading from the seventeenth. Partly necessary for the demands of the modern game, arguably required irrespective, the work has certainly improved Ballybunion in our opinion.
Ballybunion Golf Course has admirers all over the world, and the most famous of these is probably Tom Watson who visited numerous times in the 70s and 80s en route to many a British Open. In Watson’s opinion, no golf course designer should ever turn a sod until they have studied and dissected the contours and layout of Ballybunion, and very few would argue the point. From the opening tee shot, Ballybunion challenges all of your golfing senses. The graveyard to the right of the 1st hole is almost as famous as the course itself and has been the final resting place of many a new golf ball. The quality of Ballybunion is such that it is difficult to pick out a favorite hole; there are so many. As in all cases, when discussing golf courses or holes specifically, you can only give a personal opinion and so let me give you mine. I have three favorites, in particular, so for what it is worth, here you go.
The 8th hole is a stunning par three that will challenge any golfer. Played from an elevated tee box to a postage stamp green surrounded by pot bunkers, if the prevailing breeze is blowing and the hole is playing downwind, you’ll need every piece of skill you have to hold the target, and a par is a great score to head to the next. The par five 16th is a further stern test. A well-struck drive leaves the golfer with two straightforward choices, sensibly lay-up or try to hit one out of your socks through a narrow channel of dunes to find the putting surface, though, at 509 yards, it will require two well-struck shots. A considerable risk and reward hole where, again, the strength and direction of the wind plays a substantial part still in the decision-making process. The last of my choices is just that, hole eighteen. The redesign, as mentioned earlier, has, in my opinion, significantly improved what was hitherto fore a mediocre finishing hole. The entire 382yards is laid out in front of you, framed beautifully by imposing dunes left and right and the clubhouse at the top of the hill, though the bunker on the left side always catches your eye. The drive plays down into a valley and needs to be accurately placed to open up the second, an uphill mid to low iron into what seems like a bottle top target; a fabulous finishing hole to round off what will be one of the most memorable rounds of your life. Put simply, Ballybunion is part of the fabric of golf history and is simply a bucket-list course for any golf vacation to Ireland. We at the Consummate Pro look forward to bringing you there. Why not take a look at our sample South West Ireland Swing Tour for an idea of what is possible.