ballybunion golf club - 17 points
For many, Ballybunion is the true spiritual home of golf in Ireland. Certainly for the many thousands of Americans who make the pilgrimage every year this is one of the bucket list courses you can't leave the country without seeing.
It's ranked in the top 30 in the world and without a doubt this is a spectacular golf course. The first 6 holes leave you wondering slightly what all the fuss is about. The 1st borders a cemetery (you get a free drop if you get too close!) and the 2nd gives you a hint of the dunes to come. But the relatively plain 4th, 5th and 6th come in for some criticism and you do get the impression they are holes designed just to get you in position for what's to come. There are challenges here though - the green at the 6th is one of the most precariously placed you will ever see, a knife edge ridge where getting the right angle of approach is vital.
On the 7th tee you start to see what is so special about this place. You play along the water on the right, marked with out of bounds posts and trouble on the left so accuracy is demanded. Get used to it, it's a theme to come!
From here on the course leaves behind the flat and genial personality of those opening holes and you enter one of the most testing links golf courses you will encounter. This is a golf course set among dunes in a way I have never seen elsewhere. You really are searching for a ribbon of fairway between huge dunes covered in punishing rough.
If truth be told, it may have been a little too tricky for us - despite having 3 single figure handicappers in the group. The wind was apparently an unusual one, blowing everything from the land to the sea, which certainly contributed to some of the angst. It was not a day to be too worried about the card in your hand. The rough was simply unplayable in many places - really punishing stuff.
Don't get me wrong, there are some great moments out there. The 11th hole is probably the signature hole. I can't do better than the description in Planet Golf of 'an extraordinary hole that hops along the edge of the cliffs and through deep dunes to a green nestled beyond a shallow sand saddle and set before the crashing seas'.
But, too often for me, good shots went unrewarded and slightly off-line ones ended up wreaking havoc on the scorecard. If I was organising a trip to the area again I'm not sure I'd be rushing to play the course unless I knew it was a benign day. I'm just not good enough to extract as much pleasure from the course as I would be looking for from the 190 Euro green fee!
BOOKING THE COURSE
It appears from the website that play is possible for visitors on weekdays from April to October. The green fee is 100 Euros a person in April and then rises to 190 Euros a pop - you can book easily online. This is a course that gets very busy in the height of summer, so do make sure you plan ahead. Don't bank on a quick round either. The punishing nature of the course means that it will take a while to get around - plan accordingly!
It probably makes sense to spend a night in Ballybunion if you are here on a golf trip as you are a couple of hours from other likely courses on your tour such as Lahinch, Doonbeg or Waterville. It's also a good first or last round if you're coming from abroad as it is just about an hour and a half drive from Shannon airport. We stayed at the Cliff House Hotel which was good value - a nice room for around 70 Euros and very handy for the town centre. We didn't arrive here until late in the evening but the nearby Bunker Bar kept the Guinness flowing well into the early hours.
Ballybunion Golf Club
Tel: +353 68 27146