Five days of glory, starting and finishing in Dublin, Ireland, with five rounds of bliss at some of the best golf courses along the western coast of Ireland. The intinerary included Waterville, Ballybunion, Tralee, Lahinch, and Carne (review coming soon). This posts summarizes the second stop on our list, which was Ballybunion Golf Club, about an hours drive north from our hotel in Killarney. Ballybunion is likely the most famous of all of the courses in Ireland among Americans, and it was easy to see why from the minute the sun came up over this small town.
So much of your Ireland golf experience is dependent on the weather. This island is notorious for its damp climate, and the seaside towns are characterized by their tough Atlantic winds, and storms that chase the sunshine away, then disappear as quickly as they came. You have to prepare yourself mentally for these conditions before you make the trip over, and expect to be hit with some poor weather at some point.
We were prepared with gloves, hats, Under Armour, rain pants, and jackets. And didn’t need any of it. Honestly, part of me never wants to come back to Ireland because there is zero chance I could ever be blessed with this great of weather again, much less in October. It’s impossible to determine just how much impact that had on our experience, and the effect the different conditions we got at the different courses had on our perception of the golf courses. Did I like Ballybunion more because the sun was beating on us? I can’t fully comprehend that, and it doesn’t matter. The morning we had at Ballybunion will go down as one of the all-time experiences I’ve ever had on a golf course, bar none.
We were the first ones off, at sunrise, at one of the greatest golf courses in the world. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as Ballybunion is rated highly on every list that’s ever been assembled, yet at the same time, some golf hipsters seem to put it down because of its popularity. To each their own, and it’s quite possible that you like many other courses in Ireland more than this one. But one thing that I can guarantee is that it is impossible not to love it this golf course.
You can look at pictures on their website, and roll your eyes at the authenticity. How much photoshop went into this? Was this the one day of the year the sun shines in Ireland? Somehow, on this chilly (but heating up) morning, the sites we saw in person were even better than the website. The way the shadows fell from the low sun made it look like a video game, and my dad and I were actually laughing as we walked down the fairway. It was golf nirvana.
The first comparison that came to mind to both my dad and I, was that it reminded us both a lot of Pacific Dunes. The views of the sea are frequent, and the shape of the dunes give the player an ideal image of what a links golf course should look and play like. It was like walking into a postcard and getting to play it, and we had not a soul in front of us, and rather calm winds. I couldn’t stop taking pictures, and I’m not going to apologize for the volume of photos in this post.
We are learning now that this is common for the top links courses out here, but at first we were really impressed by the grass walkways from the tees to the fairways, and in between the holes. The grass was better manicured than a lot of fairways I grew up playing on, and it gives you the sense that no detail was passed over in the design or in the maintenance of this beauty. They even had grass over top the bridges! This may seem rather minor, but when you’re walking 18 to 36 holes a day on tough links tracks, in and over dunes, heather, undulations, etc., it can be very fatiguing on your feet. This was a nice touch.
You’re eased in with a rather short par four, down the hill, but rudely brought back to Earth at the second. The starter told us that a six was a decent score on this par four, and that whatever club you think you should hit to the uphill green, take at least one if not two more. You can’t see the putting surface, and if you miss short, it may roll 60 yards back down the hill. I smashed a 9-iron from 127 up to the top level, then rolled in a birdie. It took a lot for me not to run back to the first tee to tell P.J. about stealing a birdie on the hole he warned us about the most.
After a long, brutal par three 3rd, the 4th and 5th get a bit quirky. You actually tee off on the 4th from directly behind the 3rd green, and the same for the next tee. This was no issue for us, as we had no one that close behind us, but it would be interesting to see how this plays as the day goes on with a full tee sheet. They are both very gettable par fives, and you need to get your birdies in now, because its about to get a lot tougher.
The 6th is a dogleg left that brings you down to your first ocean hole. The par four 7th is truly one of the most epic theaters of a golf hole I’ve ever seen. My first instinct when I laid eyes on it, was that it reminded me of the 4th at Pacific Dunes, another one that has been etched in my memory (I really should do a Bandon post shouldn’t I). The Atlantic Ocean runs the entire length of the hole, and on this day, the breeze was blowing straight out towards it. It felt like I was aimed almost directly inland to keep my ball in the fairway, and I still had to sweat it out.
The 11th hole was equally as fantastic from a visual perspective, although I did not care for the playability of the hole nearly as much (apparently I was so terrified of it that I forgot to take pictures). It’s also framed to the right by the ocean, and plays downhill to a several tiered, narrow fairway, lined with thick heathered dunes all the way to the green. The fairway runs out, so you’re a bit forced to lay back off the tee, and I had to try to go 3-iron/3-iron back into the breeze, hit my approach slightly offline to the right, and never found the ball. Double bogey.
The 14th and 15th are back-to-back par threes (similar to 10 and 11 at Pacific Dunes), with 15 being one of the signature holes (it’s impossible to differentiate the signature hole between 7, 11, 15, and 17…. and someone else that has played it might also name a hole I’m not even thinking of).
The tee shot on 17 is another breathtaker. This time, you’re elevated, and teeing off right towards the ocean, as the hole wraps around to the left along the water. Get your cameras out if you have any battery or memory left, and then let one fly off this platform that points you right at the water.
It’s impossible to pick a favorite hole from these holes that I’ve pictured here, but it really doesn’t matter.
You say goodbye to the ocean, and head up the hill for the tough 18, kicking and screaming that the day is over.
If you can’t tell by now, I was blown away by the Ballybunion experience. The amazing sunshine, especially considering this was played in October, certainly contributed to that. But the views are some of the best I’ve ever seen on a golf course, and the layout was spectacular. A golf trip to western Ireland absolutely needs to include this course, and it is one of the three courses played on this trip that I can’t decide whether or not it was my favorite (Waterville and Lahinch being the other two, but more on this later, and why that doesn’t matter). My dad, a mid-handicapper, convincingly listed it as his.
Cheers to an epic day of golf, that was just about to get better….