European Golf Vacations

Ballybunion Golf Course Review


<center>Lower prices at top venues such as Ballybunion, above, are making Ireland golf vacation packages extremely attractive. </center>” width=”300″ height=”190″ /><p class=Lower prices at top venues such as Ballybunion, above, are making Ireland golf vacation packages extremely attractive.

Today, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re going to dive into our pot of gold once again and share more insight into the places to visit while on Ireland golf vacations.  This time we discuss a stop that should clearly be on your bucket list – the Ballybunion Golf Course.

Note, there are actually two golf courses at Ballybunion – the Old Course and the Cashen Course.

The Ballybunion Golf Course (old) measures 6,600 yards from the back tees, 6,209 from the whites, and 5,300 from the forward markers.

Standing on the elevated 1st tee, we are struck by the formidable nature of the landscape, the colossal 70-foot-high grass-covered sandhills that, instead of consistently paralleling the shoreline, often run at right angles to it. The result is a variety of dogleg holes carved through the sharply contoured land as well as straightaway holes where sandhills right and left patrol access to the greens in sentinel style. Though bunkering is light (only 63 sandpits), the round cannot be other than adventurous.

There is an ominous quality to the opening shot. A graveyard on the right, with its assortment of Celtic crosses, awaits the feeble slice. This 392-yarder plays slightly downhill, and the green is open across the front. Though not a great hole, it is an ideal starter, while we are getting our sea legs under us.

The 2nd is a great hole, the first of 10 such! Measuring 445 yards and playing at least 490, this par four begins with a blind drive into a hummocky landing area bracketed by sand. Then comes one of the most heroic shots on the links—up, up, up through a gap in the dunes to a shelf green silhouetted against the sky, pot bunkers right and left. Anything less than a perfect strike fails. The green slopes wickedly down from back to front, and the ball that comes up just short will often retreat 40 yards down the hill. This dramatically climbing shot to the green points up something else Watson said about the course: “I love its vertical dimension, which creates a variety of shots second to none.”

Describing all of the other genuinely great holes would require far more space. What is astonishing is that the back nine has seven of them. No sooner do you complete what you are certain must be one of the finest holes on the planet, such as the glorious and unique 453-yard 11th (skirting the cliff’s edge 60 feet above the beach, the fairway descending in three separate steps, the green all but sealed off by a pair of fronting sandhills), than you are confronted by the arresting—and intimidating—12th, 192 yards across broken and hostile terrain to a plateau green perched high above.

The round concludes with a pair of splendid 380-yarders: the 17th, boldly downhill and doglegging sharply left around a majestic dune to the one green that sits squarely beside the beach, and the boldly uphill 18th, traversing a broad sahara on the second shot to gain a long, narrow green in the shadow of the clubhouse.

This is mighty and thrilling stuff, pulse quickening, the pressure on the swing intense. Ranked 16th in GOLF Magazine‘s recent listing of the world’s top 100 courses and 9th in GOLF WORLD‘s (U.K. publication) top 100 in the British Isles, Ballybunion may well possess more great holes than any other eighteen in the Irish landmass. It is unsurpassed for pure golfing pleasure, a remarkable balance of honest challenge, naturalness, aesthetic beauty, variety, originality, and sheer exhilaration.

Also at Ballybunion Golf Club you will find the Cashen Course, named after the river on its southern border, opened in 1984. Robert Trent Jones laid it out, and it is the only links course among his more than 400 designs worldwide. Disdained by many when it was unveiled—satanically contoured greens, fairways too constricted by the encroaching sandhills, ups and downs that were unwalkable and unplayable—the course has been somewhat tamed over the years. But it is still a tiger.

Against a par of 72, it measures just 6,306 yards from the tips, 5,031 yards from the forward markers. Clearly, muscle is not called for. Essential are canny judgment (steep elevation changes make selecting the correct club a frustrating exercise for most visitors) and precision (shots even a hair off line are often severely punished in the tangled marram grass that mantle the dunes). Deep hollows lurk at every turn. And in a wind of 20 or 25 miles per hour, which is common here, our swing can be in tatters before we’ve even reached the 6th hole.

The entire eighteen is routed through duneland, gentle sandhills on the first three holes, massive sandhills the rest of the way. The result of all these mini-mountains, with the land continually in motion, is a stunning assortment of roller-coaster holes, of tees on summits and in chutes, of shelf greens and plateau greens and amphitheatre greens, of fairways rising, dipping, and surging along cloistered dune-encased valleys, of every kind of epic shot that golf at the sea can offer.

Among the Cashen’s numerous unforgettable holes are the 378-yard 7th, precipitously uphill on the second shot to a green on the heights sited perilously within three or four paces of a 50-foot vertical drop to the beach; the 210-yard 12th, knob to knob in the very depths of this topsy-turvy linksland; the 13th, 395 yards, the drive along a channel of low dunes out into a generous fairway to disclose an utterly heart-stopping prospect: the green well below, on the far side of a deep swale and on a shelf jutting out of a grand pyramidal dune; and the short par-five 17th, 487 yards, a semi-blind drive followed by a second shot launched down into a scrawny neck of fairway claustrophobically enclosed by lofty sandhills, the pitch shot climbing abruptly to a plateau green. Are there four more holes here this marvelous? At least four.

Admittedly, the Cashen Course takes some getting used to. But whatever its very occasional excesses, it is nonetheless a great and compelling links, a worthy companion to the Old, and one of Ireland’s dozen best courses. To be at Ballybunion and not play it would be regrettable.

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  1. John G.

    March 18, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    While Killarney’s courses are parkland types, the Killeen course is recommended, and the surrounding scenery is picturesque whether you play golf or not. The town of Tralee has some beautiful rose gardens. The golf course was not so easily accessed (in 1997), but worth the effort to locate it. The front nine appears “wide open” and the back nine is very different, winding among the high dunes covered with tall grasses. One of my favorites of the ten courses I’ve played in Ireland. A round at Ballybunion would probably be most difficult to schedule, but I call it a “must” for both design and historical significance. I played Waterville in 1990, when it was still a local club. Located on the Ring of Kerry, the drive is a long one but scenic, so make the drive to see the sights and dodge the tour buses, stay on the peninsula and play the course. It too was one of my favorites. Knightstown was an interesting detour… terminus of the original transatlantic cable. Ireland’s Bed and Breakfast network is outstanding and budget friendly. The people are friendly and the breakfast is good. They make it easy to plan lodging as you go. One Itinerary: Use Shannon Airport, visit Bunratty Castle and Irish Village, maybe north to The Burrens country, Yeates Tower, then south to Lahinch and Cliffs of Mohr, then take the ferry across the Shannon River to Ballybunion to start that part of the trip. Practice driving in the airport lot before venturing into the traffic as you begin to “alter” your driving directional instincts. The more rural roads of Ireland are in your favor. John F Gipson Hoover, AL

  2. Craig B.

    March 19, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Now that’s what I call a comment! Thanks for the additional detail, John.

  3. Kevin Markham

    July 27, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Always great to see any blog promoting Ireland’s golf courses. Since Waterville, Killarney and Tralee/Ballybunion are mentioned, let me add an additional beauty: Dooks GC. It’s about 30 minutes from Killarney and on the northern stretch of the Ring of Kerry. As a links it boasts the most beautiful scenery of any course in Ireland (which is saying something when Waterville and Tralee are mentioned), and it costs 55 euro if you book online ( This is a quality course and one of my favourites. The club’s logo is the natterjack toad.

    I agree with John G about Killarney: the Killeen course is the best of the three by far (and you’ll have deer around you all day). Mahony’s Point is alright, but the Lackabane course is not for tourists (no views).

    I don’t need to make a comment about Ballybunion or Tralee because they’re world-class, although some golfers actually prefer Ballybunion’s Cashen to the Old course.

    One final course to mention: Skellig Bay. Again, it’s a quality course, and just a couple of miles from Waterville. You will never have played anything like it – the course/holes are surrounded by 8000 yards of ancient ‘famine’ walls. (

  4. Kolponer

    December 9, 2015 at 9:10 am

    Go to the driving range a few times boerfe going on the course. Practice putting and chipping on the green as well. Don’t buy expensive balls till you get good. Don’t expect to play good and you won’t get down on your self. Take a buddy and play best ball, that way you will have a better chance to play out of the fairways more often they hitting from the woods. HAVE FUN!

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