Great Expectations – Ballybunion at its scintillating best

Kevin Markham

Ballybunion - 15th green to tee

Ballybunion. It’s a word that conjures up all that is spectacular and exhilarating about links golf in Ireland. I played it last week and it remains at the pinnacle of golfing experiences on this island.

Strange things happen though and there are three things that bemused me.

The first is the oft-heard comment that the opening holes are not that exciting, that you have to get to the 6th before the course takes off. Baloney.


The 1st is a deliciously inviting start and there are plenty of stories of nervous golfers hitting their opening tee shot into the graveyard alongside. The 2nd is one of the best and toughest holes in the course, with that big rise up the dune to reach the green. The par-3 3rd is downhill and extremely tough, yet people say it’s not pretty because of the caravan park beyond… a complaint I suspect that comes from making a right balls of the hole.

The back to back par-5s on the 4th and 5th may not have the seaside ‘wow’ factor and lack the scale of dunes found elsewhere, but the 4th is an excellent birdie opportunity (there aren’t many here) and the longer 5th gives you another shot at birdie, too. I won’t deny that they lack the drama of elsewhere, but take your birdies/pars and walk away happy. There are no easy holes after this.

The second comment is far more recent. I posted photos of the course on Twitter and someone replied saying they had played the course in the past two weeks and the greens were in terrible shape. The greens were perfect – more than perfect – when I played it and no greens anywhere can go from terrible to perfect in a fortnight.

I had played Adare the day before and the greens there were also perfect, but utterly different to Ballybunion’s. Perhaps it depends on the type of greens you play on week-in, week-out… not to mention their speeds. Take a look at the photo and tell me those greens look anything but sublime.

The final thing that surprised me – no, annoyed me – was an article in the Irish Times on Saturday, discussing Ballybunion and its status as a tourist hotspot. The big hotel in the town, with 98 rooms, has been closed for half a decade but further down the article a comment is made that the town possesses no destination restaurant to bring people from the surrounding areas. I beg to differ.

Teach de Broc is a small, family-run boutique guesthouse located at the gates of Ballybunion Golf Club, and I had one of the best dinners I’ve eaten in a long time. I guess by being a part of the hotel the restaurant (named Strollers) may not be regarded as a ‘destination restaurant’ but I would happily travel to eat there and, given its location, golfers must love it.

Ballybunion remains a dream golf destination. The levels of love and devotion that go into the maintenance and conditioning of the course are phenomenal, and they are well summed up by what I saw as I walked off the 16th green: there were six lads on the 1st fairway repairing divots… and another six down by the green. That’s 12 in all making sure that golfers playing the following day would enjoy the best surfaces possible… assuming they didn’t finish in the graveyard.

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4 responses to “Great Expectations – Ballybunion at its scintillating best”

  1. Dan Doc avatar

    As an overseas member of Ballybunion who has played all the great courses in the South West part of the country, it is amazing to me how people complain about the course considering how much play it historically gets. The greens crew does an amazing job of keeping the course in shape and what better links course with 36 holes has better scenery in Ireland?? Easy answer, none. There are plenty of good resturants in town, including Teach de Broc. I find the biggest complaints come from those who gotten eaten up alive by the course because of how tough it is.

    If you want an easy course to play with perfect american course style conditions and accomediations, go play Hogs Head. (If you can get on)

    Great Article!

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