Ballybunion (Old) - Kerry - Ireland

Ballybunion Golf Club,
Sandhill Road,
Ballybunion,
County Kerry,
Ireland


  • +353 (0) 68 27146

  • John Eggleston

  • Jo McKenna, Lionel Hewson, Tom Simpson, Molly Gourlay

  • Brian O'Callaghan

The town of Ballybunion was named after the Bunion family, who owned the local 15th century castle. For many people, the name conjures up a vivid image of a wild links golf course on the edge of the Atlantic with fairways set amongst the gigantic duneland. Herbert Warren Wind, the distinguished American golf author, described Ballybunion as “nothing less than the finest seaside course I have ever seen”.

As you drive from the historic town of Ballybunion, along the winding road to the golf club, your eyes feast upon the most spectacular links land imaginable. It will come as no surprise that this course, located on Sandhill Road, has the largest, most formidable sand dunes in Ireland.

Originally founded in 1893 as a 12-hole course, the 1897 Irish Golfer’s Guide names the designer as Jo McKenna. Ballybunion Golf Club struggled financially at this time and then folded in 1898. The course was re-established in 1906 as a 9-holer, designed by the prominent Irish golf journalist Lionel Hewson; the Old course was extended to 18-holes in 1926. The Old Ballybunion course remained relatively anonymous until it hosted the Irish Championship in 1937; prior to the tournament, Tom Simpson and Molly Gourlay were called in to make suitable alterations to the layout. Little has changed since.

Ballybunion is a thrilling challenge, a supreme test of golf. If you are a very good golfer and there’s a gentle breeze blowing, you might score well. If there’s an onshore gale blowing, you are best to forget scoring well and simply try to enjoy this exhilarating golf course. Bill Clinton played here in 1998, apparently making full use of his "mulligan" allocation.

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.

Tom Watson fell in love with Ballybunion and he goes out of his way to extol the course’s virtues. After several visits, Watson agreed to write an article for the course guide/planner. He writes: "After playing Ballybunion for the first time, a man would think that the game of golf originated here. There is a wild look to the place, the long grass covering the dunes that pitch and roll throughout the course making it very intimidating... in short, it is a course on which many golf architects should live and play before they build golf courses. I consider it a true test of golf."

Writing in Tom Doak's Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture, the author commented as follows: "Most courses have too many fairway bunkers. Crystal Downs and Ballybunion are proof that if the land is really good, and the rough between the holes is playable but extracts some sort of tax on the second shot, you hardly need bunkers, aside from the visual interest."

At the end of 2015, Ballybunion 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.

The work was carried out by Atlantic Golf Construction, supervised by architect Graeme Webster, and completed within the very short time frame of a couple of months. The club could have spent years overseeding to hopefully achieve similar results but its bold approach to convert in one fell swoop is one it should be given great credit for.

A Robert Trent Jones-designed 18-hole layout, named the Cashen course, opened at Ballybunion Golf Club in the 1980s.

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Reviews for Ballybunion (Old)

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Description: As you drive from the historic town of Ballybunion, along the winding road to the golf club, your eyes feast upon the most spectacular links land imaginable. Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Reviews: 69
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Brent Carlson
BBunion is the most fun I have ever had playing golf. This is links golf at its finest. Yes it is expensive but the whole experience is worth it. Holes 1-5 are good as well, they are just not on the ocean. But starting with number 6 hold on, this is as good as it gets. The turf is the best links turf I have played upon, very spring. Overall 6 *.
June 27, 2010
10 / 10
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Jeff Kimbro
Played Ballybunion Old 2 years ago with a group of 8 from the Myrtle Beach area. Out of 7 consecutive days of golf, they day we played Ballybunion, we encounted a monsoon with 40 MPH winds and rain coming down sideways. Despite not being able to write down scores, the course was superb. Standing on the 1st tee with the cemetary on the right was something undescribable. It was a very fair test of golf, but with the rough wet and gnarly, you had to be in the fairway in order to hit approaches into greens. #18 was one of the most difficult driving holes (played from the back tees) and very intimidating. Service in the clubhouse was excellent and enjoyed drinking a Guiness watching other soaking wet people coming in with a huge smile on their faces.
January 23, 2010
10 / 10
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Jakemister

Sorry but I was extremely disappointed - perhaps it was all th hype I had read. Played the course in Sept 2009 in very calm conditions and that may be the reason. In those conditions the course was relatively benign. If you reduce the fairway width on any course to 12 yards and allow the rough to grow totally wild it would be tough. Ballybunion is difficult for those reasons not because the holes are anything special. Ignore the ocean view and you have a very ordinary course. I agree with others that the clubhouse leaves a lot to be desired and the attitude of the clubhouse staff was less than cordial. At $300 for the round a great disappointment.

December 20, 2009
4 / 10
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hugh
December 20, 2009
No way should the Old course at Ballybunion receive a 2-ball (poor) rating. Sure it may be expensive and over hyped but it’s not a poor course, even in the kingdom of the blind.
Ally McIntosh
December 21, 2009
I find the comment about reducing the fairway widths to 12 yards very strange. One of the many reasons Ballybunion is so great is that it offers so much width in so many places. I really hope this hasn't changed recently. A truly great course.
max
December 22, 2009
What the reviewer hasn't told us is that he probably went round in 125 and lost 15 balls! Ballybunion is a truly great course....yep its pricey but in this case you get what you pay for. Where does this guy usually play his golf to give Ballybunion a 2 ball rating!!
STEVE VOCE
December 17, 2010
How childish.From holes 6 to 18 i think its better even than Royal County Down.The land is the best for golf in the world - easily.
Jeff Brown
It is tough when you are comparing links courses in Ireland as the competition is fierce. With RCD, Lahinch and Waterville as my top 3 (Royal Portrush has yet to be played) - Ballybunion suffers from a rather ordinary (in comparison) front 9 - the back is obviously outstanding - but I don't have the front matching up to the opening 9 at some of the others. Outstanding course overall - tough competition in Ireland. Oh, and Listowell was a great town to stay in while playing.
August 05, 2009
8 / 10
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max king
Played the Old course in the morning followd by the Cashen in the afternoon. I doubt there can be many better 36 holes of golf out there. The Old course was superb, the greens excellent and all round condition great, especially considering the rain the course had experienced in the preceeding 3 days. The Cashen gets mixed reviews on this site but we all agreed that although its some way off the Old course its still a great track in its own right... bit OTT in places but a lot of fun. Not a cheap day out but at 180 euros for the day its worth it. Also played Waterville which was very good, but Ballybunion was the one that stood out for all of us. Very good bar food as well. One thing to mention...we had prebooked our green fees for all the courses we played but a lot of golfers we met out there mentioned they had got very good discounts on green fees, so next time we go we'll be shopping round a bit.
April 27, 2009
10 / 10
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Joebaby
Played the Old Course on two consecutive days in April 09. I’ll echo Tom Watson and put it with the greatest golf courses in the world. On the first day I played in calm conditions with 3 members who through their stories and gracious gestures enhanced the trip more than I can say. The second day I played by myself in a light rain and 20 MPH winds. There is a lot of hype surrounding the Old Course, and I for one think it is well deserved. The 11th hole is almost mystical.
April 17, 2009
10 / 10
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Tim Gorman
Played this in July sandwiched in between Doonbeg and Lahinch and followed by Tralee and Adare Manor. My son and I were in complete agreement that Ballybunnion was the lesser of the 5 courses. It is a good links but not top-notch. It is expensive and visitors are treated like cattle. We were so slow getting away because of poor weather that we could not get out on the Cashen and mention of a refund was met with a stone-wall no. The clubhouse is a monstrosity on the outside and pretty soulless inside. For peace and tranquility play Doonbeg, for history play Lahinch, for views to rival RCD and a friendly atmosphere play Tralee and for top quality play Adare.
February 24, 2009
6 / 10
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Cedric
February 25, 2009
Expensive, yes, agreed! Visitors treated like cattle? You must have caught the great staff on a bad day... Missing the Cashen is no big deal really, instead return when it's all done again (big project going on there). Monstruosity is the term I'd rather use for the clubhouse at Doonbeg! Doonbeg a better course that Ballybunion?? No way...
Birdietime
May 11, 2009
I have played all courses mentioned, and Balybunion old course wins the watch everytime, the staff are very nice i just dont believe these comments!
John O Shea
December 22, 2009
First of all, Adare Manor shouldn't even be in that list - a pleasant parkland course - not in the same league as the others mentioned. Doonbeg is also universally considered to be at the bottom of the list of 4 links courses you mentioned and there is a reason for that. Ballybunion, Lahinch and Tralee are all fantastic courses but most that know about golf course design would acknowledge that Tralee is a notch below Ballybunion / Lahinch. John O'Shea
Alex Westenfield
Played in Sept. 2008. The oceanside holes are great. The others are fine. Maybe a touch overrated? My group has different opinions, some love it, some merely think it's good but overhyped. Definitely a must-play, though, so you can find out for yourself.
December 05, 2008
6 / 10
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stephen voce
Just played both courses in very strong wind! Not too much to add that hasn`t already been said. The opening 6 on the classic Ballybunion don`t have a great backdrop but are still pretty good holes particularly the 2nd.6 to 18 are phenomenal and i loved the way the course changed direction making every shot a challenge.I rate this course second only to RCD but the back 9 on the `Bunion is probably the best 9 holes i`ve ever played. The Cashen is fun but in parts a bit OTT.
September 13, 2008
10 / 10
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Mike
Played in early August 08. The course starts out bland (#2 however is a nice hole). The course picks up after number 7 and is one of the tops courses I've played. I liked Royal County Down a little bit better than this course. Skip the Cashen course as it is a big waste of real estate. I'm not sure what folks who rate this course low are lookng for. Ballybunion Old is on my top 5 of all time (this includes Pacific Dunes, Whistling Straights, Pebble Beach and Royal County Down).
August 18, 2008
10 / 10
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