Ballybunion Old Course

Ballybunion Golf History

Ballybunion was first formed in 1893 and the course had 12 holes designed by James McKenna. Unfortunately, the club was not financially sound and lapsed in 1898.

The present club was founded in 1906 by Colonel Bartholomew, an ex-Indian Army Officer who had retired to live in the area; Mr B.J. Johnstone of the Bank of Ireland; Patrick McCarthy, Honorary Secretary of the original Club; and John Macauley of Listowel.

They engaged Captain Lionel Hewson to lay out a new nine holes. The course became more popular and in 1927 was extended to 18 holes. In 1932 the club was recognised nationally when it was chosen to host the Irish Ladies Championship.

In preparing for hosting its first Irish Men’s Close Championship in 1937 Tom Simpson, a leading golf architect was engaged to recommend any improvements.

He only suggested three changes. They were altering the sites of the 7th and 13th holes and minor changes including a mid-fairway bunker that is now on the 1st hole. The club staged professional championships in the fifties and sixties.

In 1971 land was purchased for the Cashen course to be built. The golf writer Herbert Warren wrote an article placing  Ballybunion in the World’s Top Ten Courses.

 This appeared to trigger a flood of well-known golf professionals including Tom Watson and other visiting golfers to the club.

Robert Trent Jones was commissioned to design the Cashen course in the 1980s and the centenary was celebrated in 1993.


Ballybunion Old Course

(6802 yards, Par 72)

Ballybunion benefits by starting with a piece of the most spectacular links land imaginable. This is in common with other exceptional links such as Royal County Down and some others. Golf architects then usually recognise that nature has done a very large proportion of their work.

The first design when the club was reformed was 9 holes by was by Captain Lionel Hewson and it was extended to 18 holes in 1926 by Fred Smith a golf architect from Surrey in England.

As recorded in the history above in 1937 Tom Simpson a leading Golf Architect found little improvement was needed, Simpson said Ballybunion Old was “terrain that surpasses any course we know for beauty, not excepting Pine Valley”.

He recognised that Ballybunion was a natural golf links course amongst dunes and beside the ocean, where all of the are challenges are with nature. Little has changed on the course in recent years. The greens have been re-laid and paths and other playing surfaces have been improved.

Tom Watson is a big fan of the course and in 1982 when accepting the Claret Jug after winning The Open at Royal Troon he said:

"Nobody can call himself a golfer until he has played at Ballybunion; you would think the game originated there!”

This remark by the winner of five Open Championships undoubtedly led to more golfers visiting this traditional but wild and exciting links.

Located in County Kerry on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, the opening holes ease you into the round. However, from the seventh onwards the challenge is severe.

For the rest of the round, you enjoy a thrilling rollercoaster ride through the dunes. Some holes cling to the cliff-tops, others work their way through the mighty sand dunes. Sometimes it is both.


Ballybunion Old Course Highlights

Hole 1: Kennells

A 445-yard par four named Kennells. You need a straight drive to a narrow gap between towering dunes.

With a long second shot you could need an extra club allowing for a steep rise to the raised plateau green.

Hole 7: Castle Green

The seventh named Castle Green is perched on a cliff edge overlooking the seashore, a tough par four of 432 yards that runs along the seafront.

There is out of bounds all along the right from tee to green.

The best view of the green for a second shot is from the right-hand side of the fairway.

Hole 8: Lartigue

The eighth is a short par three of 224 yards, in a pretty setting and known as Lartigue.

The prevailing wind often suggests a shorter tee shot here. Aim for the right half of the green to avoid the pot bunkers.

Be careful not to be too far right as the ground slopes sharply from the green on that side.

Hole 9: Sailor's Grave

The ninth is Sailors Grave, a long par four at 462 yards that doglegs right with high dunes down the right. 

You need a good drive straight down the middle of the rippling fairway with humps and mounds larger as you near the green.

You need enough club to get over the slope on the front of the green for your second shot.

Hole 11: Watson's

The eleventh is a great par four of 473 yards named Watson’s, it is Index two and could be the signature hole.

The prevailing wind is likely to be blowing from the sea so aim down the boundary line with your tee shot. You need to fly your second all the way with enough club to get up.

Hole 12: Citadel

The twelfth is a 214-yard par three known as Citadel. Study the wind before club selection as the tee is exposed. The green is elevated and missing it can lead to a very difficult second shot.

Hole 15: Black Rocks

The fifteenth hole is a beautiful par three of 216 yards with a full view from the tee. Note the strength of wind coming from the sea before club selection. Also as it is a two-tier green the pin position needs to be considered.

Hole 17: Devil's Elbow

The seventeenth has a great view from the tee. It is a 398-yard par four called Devil’s Elbow. 

Check for the wind and aim for the right side of the fairway to get a clear sight of the green.

On the left side, a huge dune will block your line of approach. Your shot to the green should avoid the small pot bunker on the left, favour the right side.


Ballybunion Cashen Course

(6306 yards, Par 72)

The Cashen course has always been controversial. It arises from the choice by the Ballybunion Club of golf architect Robert Trent Jones Senior for the design.

They had bought the prime links land adjoining the Old Course, a fantastic area of large dunes some reaching 150 feet high. Trent Jones had designed numerous courses over a long period but had never designed a true links golf course.

He was 74 years old and had an established style. The outcome was a links course with narrow fairways and small greens where often the only feasible approach was a high shot (Target Golf).

Some golfers reviews say it's quirky but fun, there is never a dull moment so get on with it! They suggest that all golfers should play it once as the challenge is so memorable.

Others take a more technical approach and say that with proper links design it had the potential to be the best modern links in the world. They say that ‘Target Golf’ and ‘Links Golf’ do not go together.

The wind and firm ground often make a low shot option essential. An unrelenting diet of ‘Target Golf’ in a stiff wind makes it a most brutal test of golf, unplayable for the average golfer.


Ballybunion Cushen Course Highlights

Hole 13

The course tends to be short so Trent Jones favoured small greens with run-offs to defend the course.

The tee shot is played through a channel of low dunes. There is a danger to the right off the tee, so the middle of the fairway or left of middle is the shot.

However, this par four hole is 401 yards and into a prevailing wind, your second becomes very difficult.

The green perched far below is just 25 yards deep, missing it, particularly on the right will leave you little chance of par.

Hole 15

A beautiful, winding Par five, not long but needs straight hitting to make your score. Avoid going left off the tee where a huge mound will block your second.

Another tiny green awaits you that is elevated and only 16 yards deep. 

However, the main problem is the very narrow fairway for the second shot, which winds its way between the massive dunes on both sides.

You could lay up your second shot and rely on a good pitch.

Hole 5

This short 249-yard par four is controversial. The green is terraced out of the massive dune which the hole heads towards.

It is severely elevated and just 14 yards deep, it is wide but very shallow so your pitching has to be accurate in length.

To go for the green from the tee you have a long carry slightly uphill. Alternatively, a 3 wood or long iron onto the fairway will leave a short iron for your second.

Distance control uphill particularly in a strong wind is required or you could be left with a difficult chip from above or below the green.

Hole 2

This is Index two, a tough 409-yard par four, often playing into the prevailing wind.

The drive is downhill to a generous fairway but the approach is back up the hill to a green guarded by a deep bunker.

It is a two-tier green here so the right yardage to get onto the correct level is essential.

Hole 4

A par four of  356 yards from an elevated tee that offers a splendid view. The fairway is generous but beware of the fairway bunkers.

A drive down the centre gives you a clear view of the green.

The second shot is between dunes and is likely to move right to left on the green, Allow for this with your pitch.

Hole 16

This 149-yard par three is the last of the short holes and probably the most striking as it runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean.

It is not easy as there is trouble on the left and beyond the green so aim for the right side of the green.

It is a birdie opportunity in good weather but in poor weather or a strong wind it can be very tricky.


Nearby Tourist Attractions & Things to Do 

Ballybunion is in the North West part of County Kerry, a large county. Most of the best attractions centre on Killarney and areas to its South and West. Golf tours often use Killarney as a base and make the short journey north to play Ballybunion.


A small vibrant town in County Kerry located on the shores of the Lough Leane.  It is one of the most spectacular and scenic places in Ireland endowed with waterfalls, undulating green hills and silver lakes.

The town and its surroundings form Killarney National Park one of Ireland’s most treasured gems. The park is also famed for its breathtaking scenery and its many bird and fish species. Killarney is also a starting point for touring the ‘Ring of Kerry.

The Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry is a 110-mile circular tourist route. Clockwise from Killarney, it goes to Kenmare, then around the Iveragh Peninsula to Killorglin passing through Sneem, Waterville, Cahersiveen, and Glenbeigh before returning to Killarney. There are many popular places to visit on this tour.

Dingle Peninsula

The peninsula extends 30 miles into the Atlantic Ocean on Ireland’s South West coast. It has a wealth of around 2000 ancient monuments and sites dating back 6000 years.

It is also known for its Gaelic culture and for literature. The coast is a major part of the Wild Atlantic Way. The town of Dingle is Bohemian, artistic and known for its pubs, traditional music, seafood restaurants and Whiskey Distillery.

Gallarus Oratory is a fine example of an Early Christian church, a dry stone building built around 800 A.D. still in perfect condition using techniques developed by Neolithic tomb builders.

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