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  • Neil White


It is revered all over the world, so am I allowed to say that Ballybunion didn’t meet the hype or our very eager anticipation?

Let me explain – while, there are undoubtedly some world-class holes on the course, its opening six are frankly rather bland.

Secondly, it took a dismal five and a half hours to complete. We were held up for virtually every shot so had no hope of building any momentum. At one stage, a six-hour round was on the cards.

Indeed, the opening two hours were such a turgid slog that our enthusiasm was drained by the time we reached the 7th and the beginning of the holes for which Ballybunion has become famed.

Its popularity now attracts busloads of Americans and has pushed up the price to eye-watering levels. Our quartet agreed it was well short of value for money.

It was such a shame because expectations were so high after our breakfast in the clubhouse which has dramatic views back down the 17th and over the sea.

A friendly welcome at the pro shop was followed by an easygoing session on the well-appointed driving range and all seemed well when our tee shots on the first hole comfortably missed the famous graveyard to our right.

Things started to go awry as we waited for what seemed an eternity to play the second, a long par-four with a slither of an approach between two dunes.

Nobody had told us that the thin stretch of about 60 yards between two grassy mounds was under repair and drop zones were horribly carved up.

Thus, we had no reward for our blind shots which had found the middle of the cordoned area.

Let’s be honest, the criss-crossing of the opening stretch is damned dangerous.

We were putting out on second when a ball flew across us from the fourth. The tee shot from the latter goes straight over the third’s green and then upwards past the second’s.

The placement of a halfway hut after just five holes only added to the hold-up.

A caddie told us he would report the delays to his boss but there was no noticeable change until the fag-end of the round.

This was a great pity because there are some classic holes at Ballybunion, beginning with the 7th, a par-four on the side of the cliff edge.

I had been playing pretty well until that point and had launched a tee-shot into safe territory.

However, greed got the better of me and my three-wood approach slid slightly offline and over the cliff.

This was the beginning of Ballybunion showing its teeth and presumably the point at which its great ambassador Tom Watson became beguiled.

The 8th is a short par-three where Ballybunion’s fiendish run-offs begin to make scoring very difficult.

My approach wasn’t the best but I thought it might have grabbed the green. Instead, my ball had slithered off the right and after I failed to reach the top of the brow with my second and it dropped back to me feet.

The antidote to such woes would usually be to hit the ball harder but the truth is supreme judgment (ie better than mine) is required to stop the it anywhere near the flag.

The 10th is an intoxicating par-four and is the start of one of the most intense nine holes in golf.

It bends to the left with a target directly in front of the Atlantic. We were lucky that the conditions were so calm but even then, the approach is tricky to judge. After a decent tee shot, I slid mine slightly through the green.

Thanks to our long waits, we witnessed others do the same and find themselves even further awry.

Much has already been written about the 11th which runs alongside the sea and is one of the toughest par-fours I have encountered so far. Goodness knows what it must be like when the wind is blowing fiercely.

I was chuffed with a tee shot which found the middle of the fairway but was tempted to try to reach a green which is partially hidden by grassy dunes on either side.

Inevitably, my pulled approach found the left hand-side and I was forced to ascent the mound before flicking on to the putting surface at my second attempt (the rough can be either fluffy or deadly at Ballybunion).

The 12th is known as Citadel and is an incredibly difficult par-three, straight uphill with bunkers and hill to the left and a deep grassed chasm to the left.

We had a bet on which of the four of us would land nearest the pin and none hit anywhere near the putting surface,

Kitty’s River, hole 13 has to be one of the toughest stroke index-18 holes in golf.

Sure, it isn’t overly long but the tee shot has to be mighty accurate to avoid big problems on either side of the fairway and then strategy is required to avoid the brook which traverses the fairway.

Black Rocks is a killer par-three, 200 yards towards the sea with a hidden bunker on the left which I hadn’t spotted to my cost.

“Did you look at your course guide?” asked my compadre. I had no excuses – after all, we had plenty of time.

The 16th, 17th and 18th are outstanding golf holes.

The dogleg 16th catches out anyone who tries to cut too much off the corner (me) and then stretches down between mounds on either side.

I was thrilled to find the centre of the fairway on the 17th which turns dramatically to the left along the coast after an elevated tee. There was still a heck of a lot to do thereafter with dunes, sand and run-offs lurking and I nearly paid for going for glory rather than course managing.

My moment of glory came on the 18th which goes up towards the clubhouse before turning to the left to a two-tier green. A four earned me a share of the day’s spoils.

What a shame, therefore, that we all felt beaten – not by Ballybunion’s holes but by the length of time it had taken to play them.

Before the game, we told a club official that we had been at Lahinch two days previously and he promised Ballybunion would be ‘different gravy’.

Unfortunately, its spice failed to have the edge because of those early disappointments and the long delays.

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