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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Billy
I'm not sure what Tom Watson meant when he said that "it is a course on which many golf architects should live and play before they build golf courses". Perhaps he meant that architects should learn how NOT to design a golf course by playing Ballybunion Old. Six of the first nine holes are frankly average and the close proximity of greens tees and fairways make you feel like you are playing on a cheap and cheerful seaside golf course. Driving over greens and across other fairways is NOT in my mind classical routing. Having said that, the back nine is simply magnificent and it's exactly what I was expecting. Huge dunes, rippled fairways and stunning coastal views. However, there are too many dull holes on the front for this to be one of my classics.
September 19, 2005
6 / 10
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STEPHAN A.
I played here last week, with some rain and wind (about 30-35 knots). I'm a young French player with a 13 handicap and I've played 4 shots over my limit. The approaches to the green and the putting are really tough, but driving is quite easy because the course is very fair. Every good shot will be rewarded, every bad shot will be punished. This course is absolutely the best one I've ever played. The back nine is really perfect to me, every hole looks like a signature hole. The 15-16-17-18 is really the best course finish I've ever seen. Don't miss this course.....
September 03, 2005
10 / 10
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Robert Palmer
Magnificent in a word. It starts slowly and you wonder what all the fuss is about but from the 6th when the course takes you out to the cliff tops it's one great hole after another. It's the best course I have played in 30 years golfing, the last 4 holes staying in the memory.
April 11, 2005
10 / 10
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Brock Lynch
I played 7 rounds in southwest Ireland in August 2004 and I found the Old Course at Ballybunion to be the most interesting, strategic layout of the bunch. The Old has great variety in its layout and I believe you will have great respect for this course once you have played it. Be prepared to be challenged on every approach to greens that are difficult to hit. The Old Course is not to be missed and don't listen to those who detract because the grass is not plush. This is links golf at its best.
August 22, 2004
10 / 10
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Nick Stratford
I'm not sure who votes this course into the top 10, have they actually played other courses in the UK & Ireland? Does condition of the course count for anything in these rankings? For mine any course that has Poa greens should not be considered for the top10, let alone the top50. It has way too much traffic and seems like a trumped up public course. I would play the Cashen before the Old any day.
July 14, 2004
6 / 10
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ed kennelly
Simply magnificent, a course of great variety and challenge and truly memorable scenery, it has to be on everybody's must play list. And don't forget they have a second excellent links on The Cashen Course.
June 15, 2004
10 / 10
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steve stanislowski
This is one place I never tire of playing. It has it all and the finishing four holes must rank amonst the best finishes anywhere. Ok some complain of the opening holes and then you talk about them, 1st hole a nice test for an opening hole, 2nd hole a great par 4 where you have to get your tee shot down the left to get on to the elevated green in two, 3rd hole a par 3 from an eleveated tee usually with a cross wind that is as challanenging a par 3 as any I have played............
June 09, 2004
10 / 10
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John Cornish

Which joker put Ballybunion at number 4? Surely a blinded disciple of Tom Watsons' attempt to be endeared by the local people.I admit there are some fine holes, 2, 11 and 17 spring to mind, but there are too many holes that are best described as 'ordinary' to afford it such a high mark. Those 3 or 4 holes are worthy of the acclaim they receive, but there are too many uninteresting holes that take the overall glow away from Ballybunion. The finishing hole is especially disappointing. Top 100 - certainly, top 50 - maybe, but top 10, you're kidding.

June 07, 2004
6 / 10
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Steve Smith
Sometimes, because of expectation based on wonderful reviews, a film disappoints.This was my feeling about Ballybunion, which I enjoyed, but....My opinion was not coloured by my form on the day which was reasonable, but somehow I expected more.
May 27, 2004
6 / 10
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Mick
January 11, 2011
I cannot put into words what i think of the last persons commenst odviously does not appreciate the game of golf the view before you from the 11th tee is just stunning worth the walkin its self
jack brittan
October 26, 2011
Mick, they're not paying you enough at Ballybunion. If I want to walk the spectacular coastal vistas of Ireland, I am not going to pay nearly $300 to do so, especially when paying that money involves dragging a pull cart or paying for a sulky caddie over unforgiving terrain. I'm paying to play golf and I want a challenge and the view is both incidental and traditional. Ballybunion lacks soul, grabs money, and never gives you a break. I have played Portrush ($3.00 breakfast buttie + coffee), Lahinch (decent people), Old Head (professional), Royal Dublin (thankful), Ballyliffin (salt of the earth, the true Ireland), Pinehurst, Sawgrass, The Belfry, etc, and never felt I was a meal ticket for some one. At Ballybunion alas such is the case.