After a solid 6.5 hours sleep at Teach de Broc we headed for the much anticipated Old Course at Ballybunion – a course 120 years old and firmly planted in the top 20 courses in the world.
After checking in with Maurice the caddie master (to be honest we expected a caddie master called Paddy or Seamus or Dermot) we organised a forecaddie (someone who gives us lines off the tee and reads putts rather than carry our bags).
Tom is the oldest caddy at Ballybunion at over 70 years of age he has an expertise and knowledge about the course second to none. He now “only” carries one bag a round rather than the two he routinely strolled around with up until 2 years ago. His broad Irish accent was hard to understand but added to the charm of playing in the drizzly rain that we were faced with for a number of holes.
Ballybunion opens with an ominous sight. A graveyard sits to the right of the tee waiting for a slicer depositing their first shot of the day. The left to right wind did not help our thought process but thankfully we negotiated the first drive and we were away. The 2nd hole bears the teeth of Ballybunion with a 400 metre par 4 playing uphill through a narrow opening to a green perched on top of the hill. Tough for the number 1 index hole to come so early in the round.
The course really gets going from the 7th and as you finish the front nine you are in anticipation of the back nine that everyone speaks so highly about. The other Tom of Ballybunion – Tom Watson (5 time Open champion) loves Ballybunion and was made an honorary life member a number of years ago.
The back nine is routed through the high sand dunes with ocean views on all holes. The 11th hole is special – a par 4 playing alongside the ocean heading downward to the hole. A series of plateaus form the tiered landing area before an approach through the dunes to a green perfectly positioned alongside the water.
Back to back par 3’s on 14 and 15 require precision shots with different clubs – 8 iron on the 14th and driver on the 15th. The course then heads inland with a wonderful par 5 that is reachable for two with a good drive and hybrid. It again plays through the dunes that Ballybunion is renowned for.
The course was in very good condition with greens being receptive to approach shots. In fact it was the first time we remember repairing pitch marks on the greens.
With the course being absolute ocean front and battered by the Atlantic Ocean (especially in Winter) coastal erosion is a ever present threat. A rock wall which commenced building in 1975 protects the course from falling into the ocean. Tom recounted a story about the old 7th hole where the original green fell into the ocean many years ago.
We were playing 36 holes today (on the Old and Cashen courses) and after our round on the Old met with Vari (the general manager) and had a good chat. She explained the impact the GFC has had on international visitation and we noticed that, although the course was busy, it was not at the heady levels of 2008.
The Cashen course, located alongside the Old, is a Robert Trent-Jones Senior design. It is more visually dramatic than the Old and has some sensational holes (great for a photographer also).
Our second round finished at 7:30pm and after a lovely meal in the clubhouse (beef and guinness stew for David and Atlantic Salmon for Gary) Gary then headed out to take some photos salivating at the picture perfect scene before him.
Shot of the Day
The 17th hole is a sweeping dog leg left par 4. With David struggling off the back of the green for 5 and needing to do something special he produced the shot of the day with a magical chip into the hole for a point.
Overall birdie tally
Gary (2 birdies, cumulative 43)
David (1 birdie, cumulative 15)
A welcome sleep in tomorrow with a late tee time at Tralee, an Arnold Palmer course 40 minutes further south. The finish line is in site and it is all catching up on us – lack of sleep, body soreness, travel, packing/unpacking but we are still loving it. Stay tuned…