The ultimate golf course?
Me, Phil Boyd and Alan Chlopas have splashed out on a day ticket - and at 8:00am we head out onto the links where we are joined by Michael from Athens Georgia - a very good 8 handicap golfer who had caddied around Augusta as a youngster.
The course has a great feel to it, with the Mountains of Mourne towering in the background. It is a par 71 / 6675 yards off the yellows but very fast running when you have the wind with you. When playing into the wind it is a different story though - some of the par 4s are unreachable except for seriously long hitters. Carries off the tee are not too severe but you need at least a fairly good strike or it is goodbye ball.
Every hole is different and looks great, on perfect links terrain, with the conditioning you'd expect, since this is rated the world number 1 links course. If you can stay out of trouble, as I did on the front 9, it is fair and scoreable.
However, the punishment is severe when you find trouble, as I did on the back 9 - rough is penal and bunkers are deadly - if you go in either it is very tough to make up the hole's long distance, then get to the green and score anything.
Bunkers are beautiful, very deep and ringed with purple heather. When you find one, either off the tee or around the green, you need a very lofted shot to get out - you won't be advancing the ball more than 10 or 20 yards!
The setup coming into greens is by far the best I've ever played. Pretty much all bunkers are short left and right, to punish weak and offline shots. Straight low running links golf shots are rewarded - though you may still have to bump an 8 or 9 iron up to a dome shaped green. Putting surfaces roll very true - just don't putt off them down a big slope - like we did once or twice!
We grab a nice lunch in the very cosy clubhouse - as with all the great Irish courses we've played, the atmosphere is very down to earth and welcoming to visiting golfers. At 2:00pm we head out for the second round and are joined by Wade from Texas - a rich guy in his 60s. Phil asks him if he's a 'Trump Man' and it turns out that he knows the Bush family - a different social level to our usual golf partners (no offence guys!).
In the second round I am hitting a mix of good strikes and ragged pulls left, so I blob a lot of holes and score a poor 17 points - but my playing partners are not doing much better! Still, I have a smile on my face - it has been a great day and the weather gods have been kind, with none of the rain predicted.
We sit in the clubhouse with a Guinness afterwards. We watch a Japanese group with a bunch of caddies play the 18th. We find it highly amusing when one player chips back and forward across the green 3 times, then underhits 2 putts up a big slope, with the ball returning to his feet - at least there are some players worse than us!
Ballybunion is the most atmospheric course we've played, and other courses have better sea views (Ardglass up the road is also wonderful), but in terms of pure golf this is the best and hardest course we've played - we shall return and gain revenge - 40 points next time!