Ballybunion (Old), Ireland
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Ballybunion Golf Club
Sandhill Road
County Kerry
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 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 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."

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.

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Average Reviewers Score:      
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Always in Irelands Top five list and very pleasant to play. Exceptionally well designed, it starts you off gently while you warm up to the challenge ahead which increases in difficulty as you progress through the course to a great finishing stretch. The scenery will charm you from holes seven onwards where the design blends in beautifully with the landscape. The back nine is tight and ‘Ballybunion rules’ should apply if your ball goes badly astray- which means no searching for lost balls- reload, move on, enjoy the journey. Great variety of shots to play to the par 3’s on the course of which there are five set in breathtaking sand dunes.
31 December 2015 See other reviews from this reviewer
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Ballybunion is the go to course in all of Ireland. It has been a while since I played here. It won’t be a while till I get back. The thing that awestruck me numerous times was the severe difficulty of the shot before me. I must of arrived with my A game previously. Several times I was of the mind frame that I can’t “gettharfromhar” and it was less than 100 yards. The severe wind from the start was a tad unnerving. 30 mph left to right off 1 with the cemetery looming right. They have made some nice changes to the playing ground. They are replacing all 18 greens for the first time in 50 years. Special views and vistas. Dramatic playing holes. Great condition. Holes 4/5/6 are weak but the rest is grand. It’s Ballybunion and it is only getting better…Getthar…Ha
09 October 2015 See other reviews from this reviewer
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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 See other reviews from this reviewer
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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 Ranking & Rating section details our 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 See other reviews from this reviewer
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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 See other reviews from this reviewer
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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 See other reviews from this reviewer
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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 See other reviews from this reviewer
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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 See other reviews from this reviewer
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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 See other reviews from this reviewer
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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 See other reviews from this reviewer
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