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The Cashen Course at Ballybunion Golf Club in Co. Kerry, Ireland: A worthy, mischievous little sister

Kiel ChristiansonBy Kiel Christianson,
Senior Writer
Cashen Course at Ballybunion Golf Club - 16th
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The Cashen Course at Ballybunion Golf Club was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and opened for play in 1981. (Courtesy photo)

COUNTY KERRY, Ireland -- How do you follow one of the most celebrated seaside links courses in the world? If you're Ballybunion Golf Club and you're looking to build a second course to take some of the playing pressure off of your 1893-vintage classic Old Course, you acquire a stunningly beautiful, outrageously undulating tract of land and you bring in the most influential golf course architect of the mid-20th Century.

The Cashen Course at Ballybunion Golf Club was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and opened for play in 1981.

Head Professional Brian O'Callghan describes its character as, "completely different to the Old Course. It's much more undulating terrain."

Yet even with dramatic topography and an unassailable pedigree, the Cashen Course remains as a worthy, if vexing, little sister to the storied Old Course.

"We're planning some changes," O'Callaghan said. "Some holes we're happy with, and others we're not happy with."

O'Callaghan wouldn't elaborate on which holes would go under the knife but chances are any visitor here will be able to think of a few he or she would like to see altered to make more playable.

How the Cashen Course at Ballybunion plays

If nothing else, Robert Trent Jones, Sr.'s addition to Ballybunion is consistent with it's big sister: The Cashen Course also contains numerous blind shots, pinpoint landing areas and well guarded greens. In fact, one could make the case that caddies are needed more here than on the Old Course, at least forecaddies who can keep an eye on your ball as it whistles out of sight over yet another dune.

The helipad next to the first tee, though sort of cool, is a bit distracting if some rich so-and-so happens to be landing as you are trying to tee off. And the 6,306-yard, par-72 course (6,026 from the whites) really doesn't kick into full gear until the 350-yard fourth.

This stunning par 4, which looks longer than it is, offers a panoramic view of the estuary on the left, the ocean on the right and sandhills and the rest of the course everywhere else. The elevated tees and wide fairway make you wish you were John Daly, and they break your heart when you screw up your tee shot.

Jones succeeded in creating a collection of extremely unique holes, especially the nine from the fourth through the 15th. And like the Old Course, experience and local knowledge would aid the average golfer immensely. First timers will be frustrated, however. Consider the following examples:

• The 303-yard, par-4 fifth is a goofy little hole that forces a mid- to long-iron off the tee - or does it? Aggressive, long hitters can get it tantalizingly close to the steeply elevated green and chip on, which may be a better strategy for everyone, as the putting surface is wide, almost ridiculously shallow and guarded in back by a fescue-covered hill and bunkers and in front by a steep ledge, making an approach with anything more than a wedge very difficult.

• The 605-yard eighth presents an awkward drive with a fairway wood over a white stone. Even then, the well struck tee ball will run 100-plus yards down a toboggan-hill fairway. From 200 yards out, the green still looks like it's par-5 distance away.

• The 478-yard ninth runs severely downhill and is reachable in two to even your mediocre golf writer with no more than a big driver and a pitching wedge. The real difficulty here is the brutal three-tiered green. (Note: There is nothing more frustrating than a four-putt bogey!)

• The 487-yard 15th is perhaps the best par 5 on the course, out of a collection of memorable 5-pars. Here golfers are presented with another blind tee shot to a fairway that runs at break-neck speed downhill and then majestically back up to a large, undulating green. This hole epitomizes one of the truly vexing aspects of Jones's design: You can hit a 320-yard drive here in the fairway and still not have a view of the green.

• The 15th is like an amusement park ride: Either you love it and you want to get right back on again as soon as you're done, or you get off and feel sick to your stomach, swearing you'll never do that again.

Ballybunion Golf Club's Cashen Course: The verdict

The Cashen Course at Ballybunion is built on what Jones called "the finest piece of links-land that I have ever seen, and perhaps the finest piece of links-land in the world." This is a mammoth overstatement, but nevertheless, the course offers all of the elements of fine links golf: soaring dunes, inspiring vistas, lucky and unlucky bounces and rolls, plus a true test of every aspect of one's game.

This said, the Cashen Course presents first-timers with numerous blind shots and some very narrow fairways. Certain landing areas are so narrow as to feel unfair, at least until after a few rounds and you know which club to pull where.

This is one of those courses that golfers will either love or hate. Take, as an example, the 324-yard 10th, which Jones - in his typical gushing style - called, "an outrageously beautiful stretch of God-given terrain." Your foursome, like mine, might be divided, however, on the hole's appeal.

Some might find the short tee shot through a narrow corridor of dunes clumsy, the near-blind approach to the humped green unpalatable and the parade of bathers going to and from the beach and appearing utterly surprised by the presence of golfers about to hit balls their direction quaint. Some might just find all of these things (along with the theft of bottles of water and golf gloves from bags near the first tee and said bather-parade) irritating.

Either way, the mischievous Cashen Course is a worthy little sister to the Old Course at Ballybunion.

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Cashen Course at Ballybunion Golf Club

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • my name

    sc1995 wrote on: Jan 5, 2009

    my last name is cashen. what was the course named after. was it one of my relitives.


      • RE: my name

        John wrote on: Nov 12, 2010

        the nearby river...