Old Course, Ballybunion - Par 71 - 6,598 Yards
The Old Couse at Ballybunion deserves its reputation as one of the finest golf courses in the world. Since Herbert Warren Wind wrote in the early 1970's that it was among the ten best courses in the world, visitors have flocked to Ballybunion.
Among them was Tom Watson who added fuel to the fire by suggesting that the Old Course is "a true test of golf" (from Mr Watson's introduction to the Old Course).
Approach play is critical at Ballybunion, the greens are generally small with little room for error on either side. The wind, as on all links courses, is always a factor.
The second, seventh and eighth are the ourstanding holes on the outward nine. The second is a classic par-4 that requires a precise tee-shot to the mouth of a funnel of dunes. The approach to an elevated green is a challenge and the green itself is treacherous - it is quite easy to putt back off the green and down the slope to the middle of the fairway.
The 7th is a gorgeous par-4, played from the very edge of the ocean to a green nestled between the towering dunes. From here is the challenge at Ballybunion. The following 8th is a testing little par-3, requiring just a short-iron but requiring a very accurate shot as the green falls off in all directions and getting up and down is a rarity.
The homeward nine on the Old Course are simply spectacular. The 11th is possibly the most famous and rated by Tom Watson as one of the toughest holes in the world. The 12th is possibly tougher for the amateur, a long par-3 to an elevated green across an entire expanse of wild duneland.
The par-5 16th possibly typifies Ballybunion, it is intimidating with a tee-shot played to a dog-leg. The temptation to take an agressive line often does not pay dividends and the more consevative line, while difficult to understand from the tee, does not make the hole impossibly long. The 2nd shot must be played uphill through a funnel of dunes leaving a short pitch to one of the larger greens on the course.
The 18th hole is one of the most discussed holes after a round on the Old Course. The approach is again uphill to another dune well protected by sand dunes and almost blind from the fairway. Avoid the bunker in the middle-left of the fairway at all costs, although this side of the fairway is the most direct line (and gives the best view) there is usually little option but to chip out and struggle for a bogey. A par on this hole is a noteworthy achievement!
Cashen Course, Ballybunion - Par 72 - 6,194 Yards
The newer Cashen Course was designed by Robert Trent Jones and opened for play in the early 1980's. On the same strecth of links land as the Old Course, the Cashen Course is a roller-coaster ride through towering dunes stretched between the Cashen River and the ocean.
As a golf course it is probably more spectacular than the Old Course, probably a tougher test of golf that the Old Course and that's the rub. The only answer to which course is "better" is to play both and decide for yourself. Some will relish the challenge, others will say it's unfair! Nobody can be right, nobody can be wrong.
The caddies at Ballybunion always rate the Old Course higher when speaking to visitors, but this is because the Cashen Course is a tough walk! The elevation changes are severe lending to the spectacularness of the golf course and enhancing the thrill of the round.
The first and second play away from the clubhouse towards the River Cashen. The approach to the 1st is the first climb, an elevated green that falls away from the front and left. The 2nd tee is elvated and the green is surrounded by dunes. A beautiful tee-shot that is the first "bump" on this golfing ride.
The course then tumbles and flows through the dunes with a succession of terrific golf holes. The 8th and 9th holes, both par-5s in the same direction towards the clubhouse, have the feeling of freefalling down a mountain whacking a golf ball as you go!
The second nine play more through the dunes and there are several awe-inspring holes. The par-5 fifteenth vies with the 13th on the Glashedy course at Ballyliffin as our best par-5 in Ireland. The tee-shot is blind, played towards the mass of dunes in the distance. Once you reach the landing area the scene is just awesome. The green perched away in the distance, nestled in the dunes. Immediately before you is a steep plunge to a valley that contains the intervening terrain in the form of a cascading series of large humps and hollows. The hole just smacks of temptation to take it all on and try and find the green - a very risky strategy!
Both courses at Ballybunion deserve to be high on the list of the worlds great courses. Play them both and let us know what you think!
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