Where Watson, Seve & Nicklaus tried, take the challenge of a golfing lifetime

Having played Ballybunion for the first time a somewhat star struck Tom Watson later wrote: “Nobody can call himself a golfer until he has played at Ballybunion; a man would think that the game of golf originated there.” Watson became the first in a long line of major winners and pro-golfers to take up one of  the game’s most challenging courses – that is Ballybunion’s Old Course.

“A true test of golf,” Watson called it, a testimonial shared among the good and great of golf. And this list is long as it is luminous: Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Sergio Garcia, the late Payne Stewart, Mark O’Meara, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Andrew Magee among many others. All these have favoured this north Kerry course as the ultimate preparation for the British Open at St Andrews – indeed maybe a tougher test than the Scottish links.

When asked what made Ballybunion so special Ballesteros simply said, “a piece of art, a unique stretch of land. It made me feel the same way as when I first saw St. Andrews. The magic is the same.” The famous course architect Tom Simpson said of the course: “terrain that surpasses any course we know for beauty, not excepting Pine Valley.” The course does possess such rugged and wild looks, yes, but it is a most testing beauty.

Typical of the Old Course are the towering sand dunes, the deep valleys, the need for pinpoint precision perched atop a cliff edge, its menacing contours, those blind drives for a green – somewhere out there, the whole wild package, and we haven’t even mentioned the elements yet. Get ready to be tested.

Though the Old Course is a hard act to follow, the second course at Ballybunion Golf Club – the Cashen Course – makes for one very entertaining sideshow if you will. A very demanding course in its own right, for a start its dunes are higher than those found in the Old Course, it also takes in some fairways that veer away out of sight. A high degree of precision is demanded throughout. All in all a challenge not to be taken lightly.

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