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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Marty Brown
Played towards the end of May, a little too commercial for me. First few holes leave you wondering what all the fuss is all about, obviously improves later. Might be one of those courses you have to keep visiting before you fall in love with it.
July 26, 2008
6 / 10
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Drew Adamson
I played Ballybunion a few years ago when my handicap was around 15, and boy, did I struggle. But what a test. Every hit had to be good or a lost ball ensued, the wind was howling, and that was in July!!. The most memorable point of the round was coming up the 18th to be greeted by a huge crowd hanging from the balconies of The Starship Ballybunion Clubhouse (surely they could have built something more in keeping with the course??) and surrounding the green. Unfortunately they weren't there to see us, but it was the week before The Open and a certain Mr Watson was out for a practice round. Still, a man can dream.
July 03, 2008
8 / 10
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Jim McCann

I was totally unaware of the divided opinions on the Old course until I read the reviews on this page before composing my own. If some people think this course does not live up to the hype they have a big shock coming when they play one or two others in the area, Ballybunion (Old) - Photo by Jim McCannstarting with RTJ’s Cashen next door!

And another thing; if the Ballybunion golf club committee had the good sense to decline the offer of the Presidential statue that now sits outside the police station in town then I’ll raise a pint of Guinness to that decison as there are enough larger than life golfing statues sitting outside clubhouses in this part of the world!

Having spent a very comfortable evening across the road at the up-market, and very reasonable, B&B that Tom Watson uses when playing here (The 19th Lodge), I was all set for a “double dunt” on the Old and the Cashen at Ballybunion.

While the latter disappointed, the former certainly delivered. Yes, the opening half dozen holes do not have the best of backdrops, but they are, individually, very good holes (especially the par four 2nd, played uphill into the dunes) to set you on your way into the real action.

The sequence from the 7th to the 18th are just sublime, using dune land that modern day links designers can only dream about. The only weak hole I felt was the 14th (played, admittedly, from a side tee below the regular tee up to the plateau green) but maybe I was unlucky to tackle that one on a day when the usual teeing area was off.

I was almost blown off my feet, quite literally, standing on both the 16th and 17th tees as the wind freshened off the Atlantic but what an exhilarating climax those closing holes are (despite the blind approach at the last) to any round of golf – fantastic fun.

In keeping with many courses in the extreme west of Ireland, the club are fighting a fierce battle against nature to preserve – note, conservationists, preserve, not destroy – the coastline and I saw a huge mechanical digger on the beach piling rocks up against the dunes to help reduce the erosion of the wind and the waves.

Maybe you'd better play the Old course sooner ratther than later before it all disappears in the next big storm.

Jim McCann

May 08, 2008
9 / 10
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Cédric
A lot has been said already about Ballybunion Old, so not much to add really… I’ll just pick up a few points: the first 6 holes are not the greatest on the course but are not poor at all. 1st is a great hole to get you away from the club house. 2nd is great. The weakest would be the 5th in my opinion. Small note about the par 3 14th: when we played they had set the back tees on a very forward position which doesn’t do the hole justice at all, great hole from the real back tees! 18th green position is a little quirky…But that’s only if one wants to be picky! This is really a big big place, no question about it! Someone was writing he wasn’t sure which of the Old or the Cashen he prefers?? There is not even a possible comparison!! The Old is some classes over…I still think Lahinch is a funnier course to play but in fairness, this one is an all around better course. Cedric
May 03, 2008
10 / 10
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Emil Weber
I can't understand this low rating, this course deserves to be N°1 on the british isles
February 23, 2008
10 / 10
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gearoid Linnane
Played the Old Course in July and was an unforgettable experience, can't understand some of the poor reviews - The first 5 holes may not be on the cliff edge but are serious golf holes in their own right - Compared to some of the famed courses in scotland this is right up there and certainly derserves its place as one of the best in the world.
October 30, 2007
10 / 10
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John Usborne
It is a very good course but I cannot accept it as the 26th best in the world. The first five holes are not memorable but, the trailor park on the right is. From the 6th on it is a thing of beauty until the 18th. I do not like nor understand Mr. Watson's design of that green. I would play Ballybunion again in a heartbeat but it does not deserve the 26th spot.
August 28, 2007
8 / 10
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Nial
December 22, 2009
Clearly this review is from a sincere American who knows very little about golf architecture. It’s nice to see that his comments were ignored as Ballybunion has now gone up to 10th in the world. No doubt this guy is a member of some exclusive Nicklaus, RTJ or Fazio course… but what is he going on about re Tom Watson’s design of the 18th green? Unless this leprechaun is mistaken, I think Watson simply oversaw, through Bob Gibbons, some tee and bunker renovation and did nothing whatsoever to Ballybunion’s greens. Am I wrong?
DT
Loved it. Yes, the opening holes could be more spectacular, but they cannot be described as bland by any stretch of the imagination. Once you hit the cliff-top at the 7th tee, though, the course really takes off. High dunes and winds off the sea make for a classic links experience. I also played the Cashen, which is harder, and cannot honestly say which I preferred. Play both if you can.
August 09, 2007
10 / 10
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Chris
I have played Ballybunion twice, and it certainly lived up to its billing. While much is often made of the somewhat understated start to the course, the first few holes are far from weak, and give one an opportunity to begin to find your game before you are thrust into the teeth of the course. The second in particular is a great hole in the early going. Obviously the course really starts going around the 6th, and never really looks back. I personally think the par 3 8th is as good of a hole as you will find anywhere, and the 7th, 11th, 16th, and 17th are also personal favorites. While it is pricy for sure, there is a specical feeling that you have while playing ballybunion that in and of itself makes it worthwhile. It is also a fair course, and if the wind is not blowing it is certainly possible to play to your handicap. My most recent visit was marked by the fact that Tom Watson, the man generally given credit for putting Ballybunion on the map, was playing a few groups behind me. Watching him play up the 18th (a hole he helped redesign) was a truly special experience. I will add that the Cashen course, while more penal and extreme in nature than the Old Course, is also a truly great course that would be a destination course if it were anywhere else but in the shadow of its older sibling. Just don't try to tee of from the tips if you have a handicap over 5, the starter kicked me and my 7 handicap off the back tees quicker than you can say "Slainte".
August 08, 2007
10 / 10
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Blaithin
It is wonderful course and my grandad lives right outside the 9th hole on Sandhill road. It is the best course i have ever played on.
November 23, 2006
10 / 10
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