2013 Golf Getaway in Southwest Ireland

A great long weekend on the auld sod: There are many old golf courses and more than a few great ones in Ireland, but you can count on one hand the number that are both old and great. Southwest Ireland has two of them, not to mention a “new” course that is


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Ballybunion Golf Club’s Old Course

ABallybunion Golf Clubt the top of every golfer’s bucket list is Ballybunion Golf Club’s Old Course, where golf has been played for 120 years. Nearly every great golfer in the game, as well as thousands of devoted duffers from all over the world, have teed up here. The latter group includes former President Bill Clinton, whose enthusiasm for Ballybunion, not to mention his role in settling the religious strife in Ireland, earned him a statue at the main crossroads in town. Caddies still talk about the drive he supposedly sliced into the cemetery bordering the first hole.

Don’t laugh too hard at the man’s errant drive, however, until you’ve successfully hit one to a fairway you can barely see in a 30-mile-per-hour left-to-right crosswind. That’s what you can easily encounter at Ballybunion, where—as on any great links course—the wind shapes your entire round, pushing the ball wherever it wants in the air and frequently even on the ground. The wind can easily blow a standing ball uphill, and caddies develop a particular skill in teeing the ball at a slant to stand up to it.

Wind isn’t the only element that can wreck your score at Ballybunion. Missing the fairway can bring on scorecard disaster, whether it comes about from an unfortunate gust or sheer duffer-ness. Countless pot bunkers await your ball in the most inconvenient places. Even worse is the marram grass, which is like fescue only meaner, since it falls over in the damp air and smothers the unfortunate ProV you just took out of the sleeve.

A local professional, James McKenna, is thought to have first laid out Ballybunion’s Old Course in 1892. It’s been redone, extended, revised, and otherwise tinkered with through the years, with the latest design changes overseen by Tom Watson in 1995. Today it plays par 71 at 6,802 yards.

Ballybunion also boasts a second course, the Cashen Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., which opened in 1984. Depending on your frame of mind, you’ll find the Cashen Course either a tremendous challenge or simply impossible. It features tight blind fairways, forced carries off the tee and to the green (sometimes on the same hole), and approaches with no safety zones for cautious players. The Cashen Course is par 72 and only 6,306 yards, but don’t be fooled into thinking it an easy walk along the seashore.

Greens fee: The Old Course: €180 ($242); the Cashen Course: €65 ($88); both courses: €195 ($263); ballybuniongolfclub.ie

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