Ballybunion (Old Course)
Designers: Lionel Hewson, Tom Simson
In an era which pre-dated golf course architecture as a profession, the hiring of a designer was a far less glamorous proposition than it is today. Those clubs that could afford his fee of “£1 a day plus expenses” hired Old Tom Morris to come and stake out their tees and greens, but many simply tapped whoever was deemed the most qualified in the local area. When the Ballybunion Golf Club was reestablished in 1906, having disbanded ten years prior due to financial difficulty, that honor fell to local golf writer, Lionel Hewson.
By the 1930’s, Hewson’s original 9-hole course had been extended to a full 18 holes, and a now financially stable Ballybunion decided it was time to have a proper architect take a look at their links. The eccentric Tom Simpson arrived and made an extensive list of suggested alterations, the vast majority of which were minor aesthetic changes. Aside from a handful of new green sites, Simpson’s plan left the links mostly as he found it. A true testament to the keen eye of Captain Lionel Hewson, and the remarkable piece of property that the course occupied.
For the golfer fresh off the plane, Ballybunion makes for an interesting welcome to golf in Ireland. The sight of out of bounds on the opening tee shot is all the more unnerving thanks to the graveyard found on the other side. This is followed by a string of holes that parallel the town’s caravan park, which probably isn’t what comes to mind when one thinks of seaside golf. When we arrive to the coastal bluffs on the tricky little 6th hole, however, we’re properly introduced to links golf on the Emerald Isle.
Although many links go dull and forgettable on their journeys inland, at Ballybunion we find some of its strongest holes. The 8th and 9th are fine examples, so too is the par-5 13th and the birdie opportunity it presents those avoiding Kitty’s River. Of course, it’s the seaside holes that imprint most on our memory, and the assortment found at Ballybunion is the very definition of world-class.
Instead of appearing all at once, our trips to the water’s edge come intermittently from the 6th green onward. First at the 7th, where we find two greens possibly in play from a fairway that straddles the clifftops. The next thrill comes at the 11th, an all-world par-4 whose second shot rivals the 8th at Pebble Beach for the absolute best in golf. The 15th and 17th holes serve up two more encounters with the beach, before we turn home to cap our day at Ballybunion.
And what a glorious day it is on this links crafted by both the hands of Providence and a relative unknown architect. It’s the words of one of its greatest champions, however, that best captures Ballybunion.
“After playing Ballybunion for the first time, one would think the game of golf originated there. It is a course on which many architects should live and play before they build golf courses.” ~Tom Watson
Ballybunion (Cashen Course)
Designers: Robert Trent Jones
There was a time when we described this course as “an utter abomination that bloody well should be destroyed! Fairways end without notice; holes cross one another with more frequency than a Maypole dance. On the whole, however, I would rather visit my dentist than spend time on these links.”
We are delighted to report that this description is no longer remotely valid. The course has been restored to its former luster with the replacement of three holes that were destroyed by the sea. In fact, we find it to be one of the finest “second” courses in the Great Britain & Ireland. Consider playing it before or after your Old Course round.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
Your guide to the greatest golf holidays in Ireland