Ballybunion Golf Club (Old) - Top 100 Golf Courses of Britain & Ireland
 
Ballybunion (Old), Ireland
 
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Ballybunion Golf Club
Sandhill Road
Ballybunion
County Kerry
Ireland
ArchitectJo McKenna, Lionel Hewson, Tom Simpson & Molly Gourlay
Head Professional/Director of GolfBrian O'Callaghan
Telephone+353 (0) 68 27146
Location2 miles S of Ballybunion
Websites Golf Club Website
VisitorsContact in advance - not at weekends
Club Secretary/ ManagerVari McGreevy

Visit Golfbreaks.com for a golf holiday at Ballybunion (Old)

 

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 taking more “mulligans” than you can shake a golf club at!

 

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."

 
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Average Reviewers Score:     
Why is Ballybunion (Old) rated so highly on your list when courses lower down the rankings have achieved better reviewer scores ? I was hoping that the rankings would be authentic without editorial input or bias which is certainly in evidence in other lists. Whilst holes 8 onwards at Ballybunion are other worldly, logic would suggest that a course cannot be considered top 10 material when over a third of its holes are ordinary. Just because Tom Watson loves it .....!
28 July 2014 Respond to above review

Response:
Keith Baxter28 July 2014
Here at Top 100, there is a difference between ratings and rankings. However, we have in the past published a Britain & Ireland Top 100 ranking list based on reviewers’ ratings (golf balls) and the last time we did this was in 2009 – see Your Britain & Ireland Top 100. We may perform a re-run at some future point. The About Us section details our process... scroll down to the section headed "Our Ranking Process". 
A selective course in a good shape, but to much traffic, no chance to get a hole on the putting green. Is an absolutely tourist course and the value for money is average.
03 June 2014 Respond to above review
Played Ballybunion Old this week. First six holes disappointing, being close to road, caravan park and a house, which came into play. Thereafter, one good quality hole after another, with 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 all excellent. Club house and staff tremendous. Tip for other players is to get out first thing. We tee'd off at 7am and had an easy round in 3 and a half hours. Successive groups of 4 balls arrived by the bus load, taking 6 hours and more to get round. The design of the course means that in the early stages, players tee off over the greens they have just finished, and tempers became frayed. Don't stay in the village hotels, very poor. Overall I think the course should be rated very good rather than excellent. Although rated in top 20 in the world, I believe Muirfield, Dornoch, Turnberry Royal Birkdale and Portmarnock to be better all round experiences.
27 June 2013 Respond to above review
6 handicap golfer - played in April 2013. have to agree with many of the commentators in that there are too many ordinary holes (compared to other similar courses in Ireland to have top spot). Liked the nuances of the 1st but the course did not get going until the 7th. Boy did it get going though. Absolutely loved the remainder of the golf course. The staff were a treat and very welcoming. I played Cashen in the afternoon and as a 36, it takes some beating. There is an aura about the place which makes it special and absolutely a must play destination (which you all know already)
26 June 2013 Respond to above review
We played BB in 2010 on a sun splashed day. It was my favorite course on the whole island. The first five holes are good, and I thought number 2 was a cracker. The routing is genius, bringing the golfer to the sea three separate times. The club itself is very welcoming. It was an especially enjoyable experience. The only downside is the price, but hey, it is what it is. I hope to return some day.
10 March 2013 Respond to above review
In light of the top-notch rankings of this course, we were somewhat disappointed. Clearly this course has a number of great holes, particularly on the Back 9. However, in my view not a 6 ball course for the following reasons: First 6 holes visually not great as they run alongside the street with a caravan park, overall atmosphere not very friendly, club house feels too big and out of sync with the course, driving range mats look like they are 20 years old,... The course itself is clearly close to a 6 ball but our overall experience was not that great, don't think we will go back. We clearly preferred Tralee and Lahinch.
01 June 2012 Respond to above review
Played the Old course last week. My opinion - there are some lovely views but the course is not special. The back 9 is better than the front 9. I much prefer Waterville, Old Head, Doonbeg and Ballyliffin (both courses). Too much time is spent looking for balls because you can't see the landing areas. No one calls any groups through so a round takes 5+ hours. I fully undesrtand why everyone wants to play it, but that's twice for me now and I doubt I'll be back.
28 May 2012 Respond to above review

Response:
Ebrahim Vahed28 May 2012
Played the course last week. Our expectations were very high, having read about this course over the last 2 years. In fairness, it is a good links layout, with back 9 better. But I too would prefer Lahinch and Waterville. We were underwhelmed, but will be prepared to go back to try and unravel the mystery and aura that supposedly surrounds this golf course.
It looks like I played at the same time as the reviewer below. I was also very underwhelmed by Ballybunion having travelled a long way to play it. When we booked, we were told the fairways were not in play, but we were not told about the forward tees (in some cases up to 200 yards further forward, plonked in the middle of the rough!) which destroyed the course and turned it into a pitch and putt. There are several teeing areas on each hole so surely they could get round this? Also, we had 3 or 4 temporary greens (again, no notice either when booking or in the clubhouse before). It reduced the 2nd, 4th, 7th & 8th holes to nothing and really soured our experience. That said, and separate to these issues, the course was decent but not great on the front nine. The 2nd hole would be good if we had played it properly, the tee shot on the 7th is also superb, but the rest of the front nine was a bit dull and somehow I expected a bit more. The back nine was as advertised, the 11th is one of the great holes in golf, 13 and 14 were a little bit disappointing but the 15th, 16th and 17th more than made up for this. The tee shots at 15 & 17 are among the most memorable views you can hope to find. In short, avoid during the off-season and I hope you play a more fearsome and enjoyable course than we did. Ed
16 March 2012 Respond to above review
Extremely underwhelmed, I have to say, although I concede that we did not play the course during the high season. We paid a reduced winter rate but at the time of booking were told that although the fairways were out of play (drop to the side) the rest of the course was open. How wrong we were. Tees on the first few holes were temporary and on a couple of occasions (2nd and 4th holes) were some 100-150 yards further up the fairway. The 8th and 18th greens were also out of play. We felt very misled as we certainly would have played somewhere else had we known the course was not as advertised. When we tried to discuss this with the staff afterwards there was little interest and no apology. Poor show, Ballybunion. In difficult economic times it serves you ill to be so disinterested in your paying visitors and their feedback. Other than the disappointment of finding a lot of the course out of play we actually enjoyed the layout and were blessed with perfect golfing conditions - mild with only a breath of wind. The famous holes did live up to expectations (11, 15, 16, 17) and the dramatic elevation changes were fun to negotiate but as a championship layout it just isn't quite as good and as flowing a course as Lahinch (which we played the previous day). One real highlight of our visit, however, was the superb 19th Lodge guesthouse just up the road from the clubhouse in which we stayed the night before. Definitely recommended.
13 March 2012 Respond to above review

Response:
John Heseltine13 March 2012
Could I ask what date you played the course, for future reference? I am keen to go next spring.
James14 March 2012
We played on 12th March. It's worth mentioning that our irritation with Ballybunion extended only to what they had advertised to us when we booked and then the lack of interest in our complaint afterwards. The course itself (or the parts we were able to play) is clearly a superb track. I hope you have a better experience.
David Davis16 March 2012
I played Ballybunion at the end of March in 2010. You do have to make sure you ask about the course being fully open (not that you didn't James) just mean for future reference, normally I think they open the tees/fairways at the end of March. Keep in mind the town is all but closed down so the only inconvenience we experienced was that it was impossible to find a place to eat except at horrible little fast food restaurant. The course however was in perfect shape and a real treat. I'd say go back when you can get the full experience. Write a letter to the manager explaining what disappointed you. You might be pleasantly surprised! No promises though.
Gerard17 October 2014
Obviously your judgement of golf course''s especially links golf is extremely poor. You think your judgement over Tom Watson''s is going to be taken seriously
Absolutely amazing. I was very much looking forward to playing links golf in Ireland and I'm so glad we picked this course. It was difficult and I didn't play my 'best' golf but it wasn't really about scoring low just about gettting round. The drive through the town to the course was indeed spectacular and standing on the first tee I felt like I was teeing off in the Open championship. €95 was a bargain!
03 November 2011 Respond to above review
The Old course is simply stunning. I didn't think the first stretch was weak at all, although the par 5's were a little easy in my opinion, maybe because the wind was favourable when I played. From hole 6 to the very end it is an absolutely magnificent course. Especially holes 11, 13,15,16 and 17 in my opinion. I loved the Cashen Course as well. It may not be the fairest course out there, but I had great fun playing it nonetheless and the views are breathtaking. I hope I'll return to this fantastic golfclub.
08 July 2011 Respond to above review
Played the course in fantastic sunny April conditions and what a treat it was. Can't agree with the comments that say the opening 6 holes are weak - they're not in the dunes but they are still beautifully conceived and routed. The rest of the course however is breathtaking stuff - tight fairways, elevation changes and small greens like upturned saucers - very testing but a privilege to play. The clubhouse design isn't the prettiest but somehow 'fits' and the staff were very friendly and accommodating. Wonderful stuff.
01 May 2011 Respond to above review
Played about a month ago just at the end of the season. Both courses were in excellent condition. I last played the Old Course about 20 years ago. It's a wonderful course and I've enjoyed it thoroughly both times. That said I just cannot understand why it is rated as high as it is. There are significant flaws - driving over the 3rd green from the 4th tee and similarly at the 18th over the 17th - and the first 5 holes are weak in comparison to the rest of the course. It does not deserve to be more highly regarded as a course and test of golf than e.g. Royal Portrush. The Cashen was just lots of fun with some of the most demanding holes I've ever played. Definitely worth a visit but don't believe all of the hype.
10 November 2010 Respond to above review

Response:
Jim02 December 2010
For some reason it seems fashionable to knock this magnificant course. How somebody who says he/she is a golfer can say the first 5 holes are weak questions their ability. They may not be on the cliff edge but certainly weak is not a word a true golfer would use. Obviously this reviewer has little experience of golf courses over 100 years old when he considers driving over a green is a flaw. These are the intricacies that make a golf course great and truly memorable. Would you regard St Andrews double greens and shared fairways also as flaws?? or even teeing off over the Old Course Hotel....get real!
Anthony04 December 2010
I have not played this course but I find the response to the 10 November review to uncharacteristically aggressive. Is it not acceptable to hold a critical view of the icons of golf? I, for one, welcome the previous reviews candour. It is an opinion that does not accord with most but it adds value by colouring our impressions and raising an interesting point about cross-overs. Does this deserve the put down you have dished out? As for saying "weak" is not a word a true golfer would use; that seems presumptuous. Who is to define true golfers from untrue? I thought the beauty of this game is its capacity to let golfers of all levels make of it what they will and what they wish. I think this is a magnificent website , which I read daily. Please don't spoil it by such responses.
Hugh04 December 2010
I’d like to throw my hat into the ring. I think the original reviewer was very fair and got it about right. Ballybunion Old disappointed me deeply too the first time I played it, probably because my expectations were too high. I enjoyed the course more second time round and acknowledge some of the holes that skirt the coast are pure magic but I think the problem was and still is that there wasn’t quite enough land at the club’s disposal to comfortably route the holes in the first place. Therefore the first few are shoehorned in. This is a common phenomenon that is also prevalent at one of my local clubs, Royal Worlington and Newmarket where nine holes were fitted into to a plot that perhaps could only comfortably fit seven. Ballybunion Old is not what it used to be unfortunately. It has become a moneymaking production line that detracts from the essence of what a great golf club should be all about. It’s a good course for sure but the course falls short of being great IMO and the golf club itself appears to be rather average and focused purely on commercial gain. Long may this website continue to allow people to voice their honest opinions, I think it’s in the interests of green fee paying golfers and also the clubs. I’m not knocking Ballybunion, I’m simply stating that it disappointed me first time round because the course had been bigged up too much by fawning comments from the likes of Tom Watson which the golfing press picked up and continued to trumpet blow. When this happens it will invariably lead to criticism because expectations are initially set unrealistically high.
Memebr08 December 2010
Hi Folks, I am a member of ballyB, i play off single figures, i understand that people are dissapointed that the first five holes dont appear to be that tough but in actual fact they are silently savage. I have been a memeber for 5 years, only in the last year have i learned how to play the first six holes. The second hole is one of the toughest holes you will ever play. I guarntee that about only 5% of peole on this forum have pared this. The downhill par three third another tricky hole. Given the next two par fives appear to be "easy" and striaght forward you need to plot your way around the place. Once you get to hole six the golf gets incredible as the greens are tiny and tricky. Greens on six and seven are very hard to hold and navigate, the 8th hole is a little gem of a par three, i dont even need to get into 9-11, twelve is a brutal par three, and the last 6 holes are great fun that require good golf. I will close on the following note, it might appear to be slightly slow to start the course it is a warm up of what a brut lies ahead, off all these reviews how many of you have played to or better than your handicap? i play the course every weekend and learn more about it everytime, thats what a great course does to you. i have palyed all the best links in ireland and England, and Royal Liverpool was my favourite. Carnoustie i found to be one of the most difficult courses
Jim09 December 2010
Well, I certainly seemed to have touched a nerve with my response to the review. Firstly Anthony I visit golf courses to play golf and to test my abilities against what the golf course has to offer. There are many reviews of Ballybunion which I believe are overly critical as it is truly a magnificent test comparable to anything I have played around the world. For someone to consider driving over a green as a ‘significant flaw’ warranted my response as I believe this is ridiculous and definitely questions what the reviewer is looking for in a golf course or even his knowledge of the history of golf course design. Is the par 3 11th on the Old Course in St. Andrews which crosses the 7th fairway considered a flaw?? Certainly not. As for Hugh’s rant it hardly merits a response! This is certainly a great web site but really some of the responses need to be edited as they border on the ridiculous.
Hugh10 December 2010
Presumably it’s ridiculous to have a different opinion and apparently my rant doesn’t deserve a response? Well that’s fine but I think the beauty of this website is that it allows people to express their opinions and it would be a sad state of affairs if the only comments posted were glowing and obsequious. I for one hope this site is never edited to that degree and no doubt Jim would prefer to see the site edited so that it marries up with his opinion and not anyone else’s perspective. I am happy that you think there are many reviews that are over critical of Ballybunion, but a quick look down the reviews posted on the this website seems to suggest otherwise. I can only see four reviews from around forty posted here that seem to be overly critical. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and who are you to suggest otherwise?
Keith Baxter10 December 2010
Gentlemen thank you for your comments. I’m now drawing a line underneath this debate. It’s inevitable that what one person sees as a weakness, another will see as a strength. If you have played the Old course at Ballybunion and would like to post a course review, then please feel free to do so. Keith Baxter – Editor.
Played the old course along with waterville, lahinch, tralee and doonbeg in october 2009, it was such an unbelievable experience, i went back and played it again. i can't imagine golfing in ireland and not going back to play ballybunion.
29 July 2010 Respond to above review
Played the Old Course June 22 and June 24, 2010. It certainly deserves its #1 ranking. The back nine is truly superb. While the course itself is without peer, the pace of play is unacceptable. It took 5 hours 24 minutes the first day and 5 hours 12 minutes the second day. Mandating play in fourballs is the basic problem. Additionally, no one checked handicaps. I doubt anyone in the group in front of us either day broke 200. Please set a maximun handicap of 18 for men and 22 for women and enforce those limits. The course is much too difficult for anyone with a higher handicap. Furthermore, we never saw a course ranger either day.
29 June 2010 Respond to above review
BBunion is the most fun I have ever had playing golf. This is links golf at its finest. Yes it is expensive but the whole experience is worth it. Holes 1-5 are good as well, they are just not on the ocean. But starting with number 6 hold on, this is as good as it gets. The turf is the best links turf I have played upon, very spring. Overall 6 *.
27 June 2010 Respond to above review
Played Ballybunion Old 2 years ago with a group of 8 from the Myrtle Beach area. Out of 7 consecutive days of golf, they day we played Ballybunion, we encounted a monsoon with 40 MPH winds and rain coming down sideways. Despite not being able to write down scores, the course was superb. Standing on the 1st tee with the cemetary on the right was something undescribable. It was a very fair test of golf, but with the rough wet and gnarly, you had to be in the fairway in order to hit approaches into greens. #18 was one of the most difficult driving holes (played from the back tees) and very intimidating. Service in the clubhouse was excellent and enjoyed drinking a Guiness watching other soaking wet people coming in with a huge smile on their faces.
23 January 2010 Respond to above review
Sorry but I was extremely disappointed - perhaps it was all th hype I had read. Played the course in Sept 2009 in very calm conditions and that may be the reason. In those conditions the course was relatively benign. If you reduce the fairway width on any course to 12 yards and allow the rough to grow totally wild it would be tough. Ballybunion is difficult for those reasons not because the holes are anything special. Ignore the ocean view and you have a very ordinary course. I agree with others that the clubhouse leaves a lot to be desired and the attitude of the clubhouse staff was less than cordial. At $300 for the round a great disappointment.
20 December 2009 Respond to above review

Response:
hugh20 December 2009
No way should the Old course at Ballybunion receive a 2-ball (poor) rating. Sure it may be expensive and over hyped but it’s not a poor course, even in the kingdom of the blind.
Ally McIntosh21 December 2009
I find the comment about reducing the fairway widths to 12 yards very strange. One of the many reasons Ballybunion is so great is that it offers so much width in so many places. I really hope this hasn't changed recently. A truly great course.
max22 December 2009
What the reviewer hasn't told us is that he probably went round in 125 and lost 15 balls! Ballybunion is a truly great course....yep its pricey but in this case you get what you pay for. Where does this guy usually play his golf to give Ballybunion a 2 ball rating!!
STEVE VOCE17 December 2010
How childish.From holes 6 to 18 i think its better even than Royal County Down.The land is the best for golf in the world - easily.
It is tough when you are comparing links courses in Ireland as the competition is fierce. With RCD, Lahinch and Waterville as my top 3 (Royal Portrush has yet to be played) - Ballybunion suffers from a rather ordinary (in comparison) front 9 - the back is obviously outstanding - but I don't have the front matching up to the opening 9 at some of the others. Outstanding course overall - tough competition in Ireland. Oh, and Listowell was a great town to stay in while playing.
05 August 2009 Respond to above review
Played the Old course in the morning followd by the Cashen in the afternoon. I doubt there can be many better 36 holes of golf out there. The Old course was superb, the greens excellent and all round condition great, especially considering the rain the course had experienced in the preceeding 3 days. The Cashen gets mixed reviews on this site but we all agreed that although its some way off the Old course its still a great track in its own right... bit OTT in places but a lot of fun. Not a cheap day out but at 180 euros for the day its worth it. Also played Waterville which was very good, but Ballybunion was the one that stood out for all of us. Very good bar food as well. One thing to mention...we had prebooked our green fees for all the courses we played but a lot of golfers we met out there mentioned they had got very good discounts on green fees, so next time we go we'll be shopping round a bit.
27 April 2009 Respond to above review
Played the Old Course on two consecutive days in April 09. I’ll echo Tom Watson and put it with the greatest golf courses in the world. On the first day I played in calm conditions with 3 members who through their stories and gracious gestures enhanced the trip more than I can say. The second day I played by myself in a light rain and 20 MPH winds. There is a lot of hype surrounding the Old Course, and I for one think it is well deserved. The 11th hole is almost mystical.
17 April 2009 Respond to above review
Played this in July sandwiched in between Doonbeg and Lahinch and followed by Tralee and Adare Manor. My son and I were in complete agreement that Ballybunnion was the lesser of the 5 courses. It is a good links but not top-notch. It is expensive and visitors are treated like cattle. We were so slow getting away because of poor weather that we could not get out on the Cashen and mention of a refund was met with a stone-wall no. The clubhouse is a monstrosity on the outside and pretty soulless inside. For peace and tranquility play Doonbeg, for history play Lahinch, for views to rival RCD and a friendly atmosphere play Tralee and for top quality play Adare.
24 February 2009 Respond to above review

Response:
Cedric25 February 2009
Expensive, yes, agreed! Visitors treated like cattle? You must have caught the great staff on a bad day... Missing the Cashen is no big deal really, instead return when it's all done again (big project going on there). Monstruosity is the term I'd rather use for the clubhouse at Doonbeg! Doonbeg a better course that Ballybunion?? No way...
Birdietime11 May 2009
I have played all courses mentioned, and Balybunion old course wins the watch everytime, the staff are very nice i just dont believe these comments!
John O Shea22 December 2009
First of all, Adare Manor shouldn't even be in that list - a pleasant parkland course - not in the same league as the others mentioned. Doonbeg is also universally considered to be at the bottom of the list of 4 links courses you mentioned and there is a reason for that. Ballybunion, Lahinch and Tralee are all fantastic courses but most that know about golf course design would acknowledge that Tralee is a notch below Ballybunion / Lahinch. John O'Shea
Played in Sept. 2008. The oceanside holes are great. The others are fine. Maybe a touch overrated? My group has different opinions, some love it, some merely think it's good but overhyped. Definitely a must-play, though, so you can find out for yourself.
05 December 2008 Respond to above review
Just played both courses in very strong wind! Not too much to add that hasn`t already been said. The opening 6 on the classic Ballybunion don`t have a great backdrop but are still pretty good holes particularly the 2nd.6 to 18 are phenomenal and i loved the way the course changed direction making every shot a challenge.I rate this course second only to RCD but the back 9 on the `Bunion is probably the best 9 holes i`ve ever played. The Cashen is fun but in parts a bit OTT.
13 September 2008 Respond to above review
Played in early August 08. The course starts out bland (#2 however is a nice hole). The course picks up after number 7 and is one of the tops courses I've played. I liked Royal County Down a little bit better than this course. Skip the Cashen course as it is a big waste of real estate. I'm not sure what folks who rate this course low are lookng for. Ballybunion Old is on my top 5 of all time (this includes Pacific Dunes, Whistling Straights, Pebble Beach and Royal County Down).
18 August 2008 Respond to above review
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.
26 July 2008 Respond to above review
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.
03 July 2008 Respond to above review
Wow - 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 delivered – big time! 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. I did find teeing over the 3rd green at the fourth hole a little quirky (but then, the Old course also has back to back par threes later in the round, tut tut). 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 had better play the Old course soon before it all disappears in the next big storm. Jim McCann
08 May 2008 Respond to above review
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
03 May 2008 Respond to above review
I can't understand this low rating, this course deserves to be N°1 on the british isles
23 February 2008 Respond to above review
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.
30 October 2007 Respond to above review
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.
28 August 2007 Respond to above review

Response:
Nial22 December 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?
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.
09 August 2007 Respond to above review
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".
08 August 2007 Respond to above review
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.
23 November 2006 Respond to above review
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!
07 November 2006 Respond to above review
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.
14 August 2006 Respond to above review
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!)
11 May 2006 Respond to above review
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.
03 February 2006 Respond to above review
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...
30 December 2005 Respond to above review
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!
20 November 2005 Respond to above review
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!
14 November 2005 Respond to above review
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!
09 November 2005 Respond to above review

Response:
Jim30 October 2007
Ballybunion is in the Rep. Ireland and not Britain (Did you play a different course?)
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.
13 October 2005 Respond to above review
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.
10 October 2005 Respond to above review
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.
19 September 2005 Respond to above review
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.....
03 September 2005 Respond to above review
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.
11 April 2005 Respond to above review
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.
22 August 2004 Respond to above review
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.
14 July 2004 Respond to above review
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.
15 June 2004 Respond to above review
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............
09 June 2004 Respond to above review
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.
07 June 2004 Respond to above review
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.
27 May 2004 Respond to above review

Response:
Mick11 January 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 brittan26 October 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.



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