When someone mentions golf in Scotland the first course thought of is the Old Course in St Andrews. But when asked about links golf in Ireland it is the storied Old Course at Ballybunion that is the first destination that springs to mind.
The Ballybunion Golf Club was founded in 1893 after a disastrous start it has become one of the world’s most treasured golf experiences. In fact, The Irish Times in 1897 called the original 9-hole course, “…a rabbit warren below the village where a golfer requires limitless patience and an inexhaustible supply of golf balls.” If the wind is up, you may feel the later to still be true, but today the Old Course at Ballybunion is considered the crown jewel of southwest Ireland golf.
Unfortunately, due to being in the Republic of Ireland the Ballybunion Golf Club is ineligible to host an Open Championship (a course must be in the United Kingdom) it is still the favorite course of many Open champions. None more so than five-time holder of the Claret Jug – Tom Watson.
You can credit Mr. Watson for bringing Ballybunion to the attention of the world after his initial visit in 1981. He spread the good word and proclaimed it not only his favorite course but the best course in the world. In 1995, Mr. Watson achieved a lifetime dream of overseeing design changes to the Old Course, improving its already iconic stature in the world of golf. The current 5th hole, a terrific par 4, is called Watsons in his honor and dedication to the Club.
Today there isn’t a prestigious Top Courses in the World, Ireland or Great Britain and Ireland list where the Old Course doesn’t hold an impressive ranking. Currently it is 18th on Golf Digest’s Best 100 Golf Courses in the World list (2022-23) and 9th also on Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Golf Courses in Great Britain and Ireland (2022) list.
The Old isn’t the only Ballybunion Golf Course that deserves recognition. Robert Trent Jones, Sr. designed a second course, The Cashen, which opened for play in 1984. Considered by many to be more difficult than the Old in challenging conditions, it features even higher dunes, steeper valleys and more undulating greens than its sister course. With many top courses in the Shannon golf region more than an hour apart, it can combine for a wonderful 36-hole day of Ireland links golf.
The distinctive ruined castle logo of the Club is a nod to the Bunion family’s 15th century home and the area’s name origin. Bally in Irish means town – so Ballybunion comes from the town of the Bunion’s.
Ballybunion Golf Club is private, but, in the grand tradition of private clubs in the British Isles, they graciously allow limited visitor play. With not only Tom Watson but other popular professionals, the golf media and friends spreading the good word on the exhilaration of playing one of the world’s top links courses, those limited visitor tee times tend to be booked well in advance. And once they are all reserved the diary is closed to visitors, unlike the Old Course at St Andrews that holds out most times for a daily ballot. If Ballybunion’s Old Course is on your bucket list, it is suggested to plan your visit at least a year or more in advance to not be disappointed.
Play Ballybunion Golf Course as part of a South West Ireland golf tour. Include Tralee, Waterville, Old Head and Lahinch, on a golf package filled with the best coastline golf courses that South West Ireland has to offer.
6 nights accommodation and 5 rounds of golf
Prices starting from $4,100
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