9 Ballybunion Old
Architect: T Simpson
Stats: 6,350 yds, par 71, SSS 70
Visitor information: Visitors can play Mondays to Saturdays. Visitors play off the tees of the day (white) but with permission can play off blues
2008 Ranking: 6 (Down 3)
Improvements since 2008 Rankings:
Course: New grassed pathways on 3, 10, 11 and 12. Course now measures 6,802 yards from the blues. The 18th tee and the ladies 10th and 11th tees have been levelled and turfed
Clubhouse: New foyer, ladies locker room and both mens and ladies toilet upgrade
Gallery: Ballybunion Old course pictures
Ballybunion Old’s modern-day reputation owes much to the power of the written word. Until the late 1960s this 19th-century links went relatively unnoticed – known locally as a fine test, but still largely anonymous in wider golfing circles. Then in 1971, renowned American writer Herbert Warren Wind extolled the virtues of the course in unashamedly superlative terms. By the time Tom Watson added his voice of approval in 1982, Ballybunion’s stock had risen from good links to one of the very finest, blessed with a Mecca-like attraction for links lovers the world over.
The course may take a little while to hit top gear – or perhaps more accurately, to hit the crashing Atlantic waves – as it skirts the road for the first half-dozen holes. But the 2nd is actually one of the strongest, and indeed hardest, holes on the course, demanding a long uphill approach through a V in the dunes to a steep-fronted green. This used to be the 15th until burgeoning visitor revenue allowed a new clubhouse to be built behind the then 13th green, better placed to service both the Old course and the new Cashen course.
From the precariously perched 7th onwards the course enters classic duneland serving up some stunning oceanside holes the equal of Turnberry’s. The most photographed is the long par-4 11th, whose stepped fairway cascades down towards an elusive green playing hide and seek in the dunes. Shorter but just as hard is the sharp dogleg left 17th. Towering dunes flank the left, but anything too far right risks falling onto the beach below. Dramatic stuff.
Perhaps the most telling statement about Ballybunion comes from Tom Simpson, the man charged with upgrading the Old for the 1937 Irish Amateur Close Championship. Seeing little room for improvement, he merely applied what he termed a few “finishing touches” arguing it was hard to better nature’s or God’s handiwork, depending on your beliefs.
Quality of test and design: From the 6th the course constantly changes direction making it hard to settle into any rhythm on windy days. Clever, raised greens often take the chip-and-run off the table.
Presentation: Although the course gets a lot of play in season, it is invariably in good condition with fast-running greens. The West Irish climate significantly reduces the risk of burnt-up summer fairways.
Visual appeal and enjoyment: Once the links gets into its stride from the 7th there’s no let-up on the visual excitement front pretty much all the way to the punchbowl 18th green.
Ambience: The Irish are renowned for their friendliness and Ballybunion goes out of its way to make visitors feel at ease with a warm and genuine welcome.
Panellists’ comments: “The back nine here has real teeth”; “A true test of golf – you’ll definitely use every club in your bag”; “The course is a delight despite the fierce examination”