The Old course at Ballybunion is a tough act to follow and when new land was purchased in 1971, Robert Trent Jones had his work cut out to create a complementary second course. He was clearly thrilled to have been asked to fashion the new layout and he said: “When I first saw the piece of land chosen for the new course of Ballybunion, I was thrilled beyond words. I said that it was the finest piece of links land that I had ever seen, and perhaps the finest piece of links land in the world. With the ocean on one side and the river on the other, its tumbling, undulating, free-flowing rhythm of line is beauty beyond description.”
In the early 1980s, Ballybunion’s new course, the Cashen, was ready for play and ever since, American visitors have besieged the place. The Cashen is set amongst even taller, more alarming, sand dunes than the Old course and its feel is slightly harder, despite being over 300 yards shorter in length, possibly because the fairways are tighter. It is a cliché to say that the course looks natural and plays as though it has been laid out for a hundred years rather than a couple of decades, but it is a tribute to Trent Jones; he resisted the temptation to do anything other than going with the flow of the land and using its natural form to full potential. The result is a solid golf course despite a lack of the ground option and the greens being rather too small.
Ballybunion is an unforgettable experience, with two thoroughly bewitching courses. Everyone comes here to play the Old course, which is understandable, but don't dismiss the Cashen. It is an interesting second course and despite dividing opinion it's certainly not dull.
If you want to really know the standing of the Cashen Course as seen by the management of Ballybunion just check out the greens fees during high seasons for both courses. The Cashen is nearly 70% lower than the Old Course. That's a dramatic discount and the reason is a simple one -- the new course on the block has more holes than what sunk the Titanic.
I have played the course twice during my visits to the facility and frankly the course could have been something really special but for one glaring mistake. The club hired the wrong person to design it. Robert Trent Jones, Sr., created his fair share of top courses but his thinking of what links golf should be is completely misguided here.
The Cashen is blessed with some of the finest sand dunes one can find and it should have behooved Jones to accentuate a playability aspect that's sadly missing. One has to wonder his thought process when you encounter varying wind velocities that necessitates the inclusion of a ground game option. Point-to-point golf is certainly doable - but only for the most skilled of players.
Although the course is not long yardage wise it requires a steady and unrelenting diet of target golf to the max degree. The fairways are choked to such a degree that anyone hitting driver had best be in the league with such stalwarts as Fred Funk and the late Calvin Peete.
When I think of the Cashen Course I think of a direct connection to Old Head -- a truly missed opportunity there as well but at least at that layout there are a few holes of serious stature.
For anyone to see the Cashen as being in the same league with the Old Course is beyond boggling -- it speaks of complete ignorance on the nature of what authentic links golf is about. For the Cashen to be rated among Ireland's top ten courses is beyond head scratching
The best thing that could happen is for another architect to be brought in and start anew. Land of this nature should not be wasted with such a mediocre outcome.
M. James Ward
I don't know why we persist in playing this thing. Target golf and links golf don't go together, and if there was any doubt just venture onto the back 9 of the Cashen course, where green sites were chosen with seemingly no regard for how to get the golfer to them.
They might look cool in the photos, but hitting a bunch of hybrids and irons off the tee to one target area isn't a lot of fun. And that really is what's on tap. Far too many shots are predetermined by the terrain/holes.
The replay round is cheap, but we should do what the members do, which is just play the front 9 or loop it twice. While still inflicted with RTJ's ideas, the terrain is less drastic and the holes less silly because of it.
As you can tell from this review, my sentiment towards this course is a bogey, but I will concede some may find something enjoyable in playing it and at least for the traveling golfer, playing it once is worth it. So on that basis and on the quality of a few of the par 3s, I can give it a Par rating.
The Cashen course is always going to struggle in comparison to the Old Course at Ballybunion. I understand that a number of changes have been made since it first opened to make it more playable, but at the end of the day what you have here is genuine big dunes links terrain, but unfortunately greens that don't make sense. The greens are often small with extremely penal areas around them, often with no approach possibility than the aerial route. On a windy day like I played it (and I presume the wind blows here on a regular basis) it was extremely difficult for a high teens handicapper to hold any greens as you are forced to play target golf. I feel if this course had been designed by someone more in tune with links golf / weather conditions the results could have been better.
regardless, it was still a lot of fun to play this course, and I usually embrace a bit of quirk over 'fairness' but still seems a bit of an opportunity lost.
Would i go back - yes. If I had 3 rounds here, id play 2x old and 1x cashen.
The most spectacular dunes at Ballybunion aren't on the Old course, but on a site next to it, so it is no wonder that the club decided to build another course there. It is not your grandfather's relief course, though. The Cashen in many ways turned out to be even harder than the Old, mostly due to the severe terrain and the target golf requirements on firm and fast soil. Robert Trent Jones is a legendary parkland architect and so his take on links golf was bound to be controversial. Click the link to read more… Ireland – any decent golf on the West Coast?
One of my playing partners (a teaching golf professional) described the Cashen course design as “RTJ on drugs” but I’ll try to be a little more circumspect with my comments, despite the fact that it has also been described as “the ‘Apolcalypse Now’ of links golf – controversial, occasionally self-indulgent, excessive, surreal and contrived.
After a very promising start at the opening four holes, the short par four 5th brought the first raised eyebrows of the round with its pulpit green (thirty two yards wide and 8 yards deep) perched on the side of an enormous dune.
I’ve just double checked the photos I took at the time to confirm that it wasn’t ME on drugs playing to such a shallow, oddly-positioned target -- and then I discover later that this is a modified green, repositioned from the original that was sited higher up!
I’m afraid our three ball lost a good deal of interest in completing the round (though we did) long before reaching the 18th as the severe elevation changes, long walks from green to the next tee and the peculiar routing took their toll.
There ARE some wonderful holes but there is no balance or flow to the round, just 18 individual holes, somehow strung together. Mr Jones was 74 when he laid out the Cashen and it’s not hard to see why he was never a designer of links courses -- despite the wonderful landscape he had to work with here.
I understand Martin Hawtree might rework the Cashen course -- not before time, some might say -- as the site really deserves to be held in as high esteem as the Old course beside it.