Ballybunion Golf Club in the south west of Ireland was founded in 1893 and for a great many golfers it is one of the most beautiful and idyllic links-style golf courses in the world. It regularly finds itself included in the top fifty courses in the world by most golfing magazines (even as recently as 2005, it made the number 7 slot in Golf Digest).
There are two championship golf courses to experience at Ballybunion Golf Club, both of which are served by a single club house. The first course built was the Old Course in 1893. The second is the Cashen Course which was created in 1984, although its greens and fairways have nestled in admirably over the intervening years so it hardly looks any different from the Old Course.
To clarify one point, it is the Old Course which normally ranks highly and the one to play if you are stuck for time. That said, The Cashen Course can provide an equally challenging and thoroughly enjoyable game of golf especially when the Atlantic breeze is factored into a game.
Both of the courses are traditional links style courses with their own character that follow a winding path alongside the beach. This part of the coastline receives strong ocean winds and extra difficulty is provided in the form of a variety of dunes (some of which provide for enjoyable blind second shots), pristine greens and undulating fairways.
The club features a driving range, a chipping green with bunkers and putting greens to practice on prior to a round of golf. If anything, the club house does prove to be a slight disappointment for some golfers because of its modern styling. This may feel a little out of sync with the long heritage of the course (for some people) but it is a comfortable clubhouse with every amenity to enjoy a great round of golf and perhaps some dinner and a drink afterward.
The Old Course starts with a first hole featuring the strangest of hazards along the right hand side – an old cemetery. The pace of the opening nine is dictated in part by the prevailing wind on the 4th, 5th and 6th holes which all play in the same direction into the wind. This makes almost 1,500 yards into a head-wind that can be a draining start on the opening holes.
That said, the 4th hole is a picture perfect par-5 with a blind second shot over the dunes. For the uninitiated, there are white stones placed on the large mound that rises 25 feet above the fairway that marks the line to take. Similar place markers are located around the course to aid on the several blind shots at Ballybunion Golf Club.
The unique 5th hole (known as the Dell) is a 190 yard par-3 hole with a blind tee shot – a real rarity in on a par-3 even for Ireland. Fortunately though, the hole has a sloping green that channels long shots back to the green surface (so aim to play long rather than short). Just with the fourth hole, the pitching line is indicated from the tee with a large white stone on the obstructing sand dune.
The back 9 at the Old Course has just as many challenging holes to play but most play with the wind on your back so it can prove less daunting. But I won’t spoil the surprise for you in this article by going into exacting detail of some of the challenges on the back nine, as that would only spoil the fun of discovering the course for yourself.
The sister Cashen Course at Ballybunion Golf Club is admittedly not as challenging as the Old Course but is worth the visit as the terrain has been put to equally good use and the fairways and greens are just as consistent as on the Old Course.
With many other great golf clubs in the region, the area has the range of courses to offer a very enjoyable golfing holiday. And while some would consider this region of Ireland to be relatively remote, this only adds to the fun of playing golf in such a picturesque and unspoilt setting.