Ballybunion Golf Club Old Course Review

This must-play jewel, with echoes along the coast of Pebble Beach, features some of the most dramatic and scenic holes in Ireland

Ballybunion is blessed with some of the finest dunes in Ireland
(Image credit: R&A via Getty Images)

This must-play jewel, with echoes along the coast of Pebble Beach, features some of the most dramatic and scenic holes in Ireland

Ballybunion Golf Club Old Course Review

Top 100 Ranking 2021/22 - 25

Previous Rankings 2019/20 - 22 2017/18 - 15 2015/16 - 16 2013/14 - 13 2011/12 - 09 2009/10 - 06

Summer Green Fees

Round - €250

Visitors: welcome weekdays

Medal Tee: Par 71 - 6,383 Yards

www.ballybuniongolfclub.com (opens in new tab)

Changes since previous ranking

The most significant changes over the period were the treatment of the deep rough and its conversion to a predominantly fescue mix. The recently installed irrigation system has aided a significant improvement in fairway conditioning. The recently converted fescue greens and the surrounds have continued to mature. The fairways are predominantly fescue, and firm and fast conditions are favoured.

Ballybunion Golf Club Old Course Review

Ballybunion Golf Club was founded in 1893 and it has deservedly built a reputation that draws in golfers from all over the world. Way before the more modern delights of Tralee and Doonbeg, it was attracting visitors to its more traditional but wild and exciting links.

It's not just one of the best golf courses in Ireland but one of the best in the entire world.

An aerial view of Ballybunion. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

The course is on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, in County Kerry, and while the opening holes offer a more gentle easing into the round, the fireworks well and truly ignite from the 7th onwards. Almost without a break to the end of the round, you enjoy a thrilling rollercoaster ride through the dunes. While some of the holes cling to the cliff-tops, others nudge and elbow their way down and along through the sandhills. Sometimes it is both.

About five years ago, the club decided to build for the future by replacing all of its greens as well as working on all of the playing surfaces and paths. This investment is bedding in and maturing well, while more recently they have doubled the size of the closing green and enlarged the famous Sahara bunker at the end of its fairway.

Ballybunion Golf Club Old Course Review

Watson's Favourite

Five-time Open champion Tom Watson is a huge fan. He played the course 40 years ago and described it as the best in the world. "After playing Ballybunion for the first time, a man would think that the game of golf originated here.” He would later return to advise on some course changes, and also to serve as the club’s millennium captain.

The closing two holes make for an exciting finish

If you had to choose a standout hole from a course with so many, it would probably be the fabulous par-4 11th. This is appropriately enough named Watsons and it slaloms its way along the shoreline. It is guarded by such a narrow entrance and so many dips and hollows that no bunkering is needed. A par here feels not so much like a birdie as an eagle.

Ballybunion Golf Club Old Course Review

Assessor Feedback

Some of the best oceanside links golf in the world.

GM Verdict

This must-play jewel, with echoes along the coast of Pebble Beach, features some of the most dramatic and scenic holes in Ireland.

Rob Smith
Contributing Editor

Rob Smith has been playing golf for more than 40 years and been a contributing editor for Golf Monthly for over ten years, specialising in course reviews and travel. He has now played more than 1,170 different courses in almost 50 countries. Despite lockdowns and travel restrictions in 2021, he still managed to play 80 different courses during the year, 43 of them for the first time. This included 21 in 13 days on a trip to East Lothian in October. One of Rob's primary roles is helping to prepare the Top 100 and Next 100 Courses of the UK&I, of which he has played all but nine. During the 2021-22 review period, Rob has played 34 of the Golf Monthly Top 200. He is a member of Tandridge Golf Club in Surrey where his handicap hovers around 16. You can contact him at r.smith896@btinternet.com.