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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Paul
This is a golfer’s paradise. From the complimentary leather bag of golfing goodies on arrival, to the moment you step out of the 19th, this golf course exudes class. If the standard of the greens left a little to be desired in November, the course’s design and flow more than made up for it. If one could play only one approach again, it would be the 9-iron into 11. As the ball rises against the Atlantic and plops onto the dancefloor, there are very few better feelings in life, let alone golf. From hole 7 until a pint of Guinness, I don’t think there is a better stretch of golf holes in the British Isles, with perhaps the slight exception of Lahinch which is 40 miles away and has 18 breathtakers. This area of the world is golfing mecca and no where more poignantly does Ballybunion represent what it means to play 18 holes of golf with mates next to the sea. Truly wonderful experience. Would love to go back and not hit it in the graveyard next time!
November 07, 2006
8 / 10
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tdunne
Frankly, some of these posts are outrageous. Ballybunion Old is one of the truly great courses of the world.One common criticism is that the course gets off to a poor start. Let's take a quick look:#1: Once you're off the tee it's a fairly average opener, but how many first holes have you staring at a graveyard full of Celtic crosses while a gallery of golfers from around the world mill around the clubhouse, waiting for you to pull the trigger? It's a fun first shot of the day.#2: An ordinary tee shot, but a significantly uphill approach to a green perched in the dunes. Not exactly easy stuff, nor something you see every day. #3: A long, tough downhill par-3. The tee is exposed to the wind and you have OB long of the green. The hole faces inland and isn't especially scenic, but it's not bad at all.#4 and #5: Two back-to-back par-5s occupying some of the flattest ground on the course. I can understand why some would knock these two, although both have plenty going on in the way of bunkering and subtle fairway contours. It's the interior of the property, no getting around that, but there are entire links in the UK 100 that occupy land this flat. So lighten up!#6: This is a GREAT hole! So what if you're looking at a caravan/trailer park from the tee? You have loads of options off the tee to try to hit this fairway on the diagonal--OB long makes the floggers think twice. And did some of you critics bother to LOOK at the green complex here? You had better be dead-F'in-right with your short iron or you'll have an up-and-down try worthy of Pinehurst #2 on either side of this green. At #7 the Old course reaches the coastline and from this point on I really don't see how its greatness can be questioned. I'll leave it to others to rave about the soul-stirring back nine--I simply wanted to express a dissenting view about the opening. Nick Faldo once said about Merion that the middle third of the course always drove him crazy because while the holes seemed easy (compared to the finish) he could never score on them. A great golf course routing, like a great novel, builds tension before releasing it, and the openers at Ballybunion do a great job of this, with plenty of fun and challenge along the way. Are there better 6-hole opening stretches out there? Of course! But Ballybunion's early holes are by no means poor.
August 14, 2006
10 / 10
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Sam Hendrix
I simply loved this course. Sure, there are a couple of weak holes, but the great holes, and strong finish, more than offset those. Standing on the seventh tee and looking at over 800 yards of fairway for the 7th and 11th holes with the Irish sea below you and to the right is one of the most memorable sights in my golf memory bank. We liked the course so much we cancelled another top Irish course to play it again the next day. (I will deduct points now that I have heard they have erected a statue of Clinton there, but surely someone will chop that down soon!)
May 11, 2006
8 / 10
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beau kazzi

Ballybunion has THE BEST BACK 9 of any course. Never will you play a stretch of such exhilarating holes as 15, 16 and 17...other than holes 10, 11, 12 and the awfully underrated sweet par 5 thirteenth hole.But because the word on the street is that "the course doesn't really begin until the sixth hole or so, I personally can NOT put it as high as many people do. You see...I like to play 18 holes and when I judge this place on all 18 holes, those first few certainly bring the overall rating down.

February 03, 2006
6 / 10
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Cédric
Played Ballybunion 1 and a half year ago,while my "golfing career" was still pretty new,especially on abroad links courses....Since then I have been thinking a lot about this round and have compared it to other courses I have played elsewhere in Ireland and Scotland.And my conclusion is that while the last 10-12 holes were terrific,the first ones were probably too average for the course to be rated so highly.Maybe I would also need to return and play a new round,now that I am a much better golfer...
December 30, 2005
6 / 10
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Richard Smith
Ballybunion Old is a gem that deserves all of the praise and accolades that it has received. This is a pure test of links golf. Every hole is outstanding and a challenge in its own right. The course starts with a cemetary ominously situated to the right of the first tee. #2 is a magnificent par 4 with a very difficult approach shot. The par fives are all solid, as are the par threes, but par fours like 7, 11, and 16 are among the best links golf holes I have ever played. With a manageable wind a good golfer can negotiate his way around this course. It is emminently fair and enjoyable. I would love to be a member here and play this course as often as I could. Of all the links courses I've played I rank Ballybunion Old, Royal Dornoch, and Muirfield as the top three, with little to choose between these three magnificent tracks. The townspeople are also friendly, althought too proud of their statue of President Clinton for my conservative political views!
November 20, 2005
10 / 10
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Gareth Williams
Most who visit Ballybunion do so with a great deal of expectancy due to it's exhalted status. Driving out of the village towards the golf course only serves to enhance that expectancy as the land is as dramatic as you will find anywhere. Some of therefore disappointed by the opening holes but not me. A gentle first hole is not the greatest hole around but to me a gentle introduction is no bad thing. The challenge of holes 2-6 cannot be underestimated. Usually played in a cross wind you are tested by excellent bunkering, raised greens with run off areas and elevated tees. The disappointment here is the scenery (or lack of) against your expectation beforehand. However, the golfing challenge is huge without question. Put a ring of sand dunes around the 3rd green (instead of the caravan park backdrop) and people would suddenly rave about the hole. From hole 7 onwards the terrain and views are superb and so is the golf. Standing on tees at 11, 15 or 17 is an amazing experience and one not to be missed.Best of all spend the day and take on the even more dramatic Cashen Course too because virtually every hole requires a deep intake of breath as you stand on the tee.Majestic!
November 14, 2005
10 / 10
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David

Many of the comments here are spot on. Ballybunion is a hugely over rated course. I have played many of the Open rota courses and their surrounding qualifiers and I would happily play at any of them ahead of this one. The Cashen; (the new course) is better. How it gots its name as one of the top courses in Britain serves notice that once a reputation is gained its hard to shake off. Not to say that there are not 9 great holes but there are also 9 that are as ordinary as any you will play. Its short too!

November 09, 2005
6 / 10
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Jim
October 30, 2007
Ballybunion is in the Rep. Ireland and not Britain (Did you play a different course?)
Fred Hammer
Perhaps it is the name which gives this course its reputation. From accross the ocean you plan your whole trip around this course, with visions of leprechauns and Old Tara. And while its worth playing with some memorable shots involved, I found it somewhat disappointing. The front includes holes shoehorned together with a graveyard and a trailer park along side. Too many shots involve severe elevation changes, as in a cheaper mountain course. The condition was average and not up to the standards of its better neighbors Lahinch, Tralee and Waterville. I didn't particularly love the new Cashen course either.
October 13, 2005
6 / 10
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Andy Newmarch
Some holes here could easily be described as ‘as good as anywhere’ certainly amongst my favourites were 11th, 15th and 17th. But oh dear …. the early holes are ingrained in your mind in the first hour or so of the round and to be honest are not very good. The first third of the round was such a letdown I thought we were in the wrong place ! The Old course at Ballybunion is known throughout the world but for me I came away very disappointed – I needed to go and play but the extremes between very poor and very good were too wide for me to want to play it again. Can still be described as a must play course (make your own minds up) but as a world famous collection of 18 holes, it is left wanting.
October 10, 2005
6 / 10
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