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High quality of Ballybunion, Tralee gave reader great golf memories

In 2004, I visited Ireland's southwest region with a friend. First time either of us had visited. We did a self drive tour playing Lahinch, Ballybunion, Tralee, Waterville and Doonbeg. The only course we didn't care for was Doonbeg, it had a number of fabulous holes but it had several real clunkers. Items in the pro shop were ridiculously expensive.

I would rate the courses as follows:
1) Ballybunion Old Course
2) Tralee
3) Lahinch
4) Waterville
5) Ballybunion Cashen Course
6) Doonbeg

Some observations that might provoke others to comment. Ballybunion is an amazing links. Its green complexes are the best I have ever experienced. Many closely mown collection areas where recovery options are multiple but very challenging. Many great golf holes: No. 8 one of the world's great short par 3s. Very tricky shot in a cross wind. No. 11 is one of the best par 4s on the planet with its stair step fairway.

Nos. 15, 16 and 17 are three of the best holes in a row you will find any where. No. 15 is a fabulously picturesque and challenging long par 3. No.16 is an otherworldly par 5 up a high dune corridor with a high strategic value tee shot. No.17 doglegs left down hill to the sea from one of the highest points on the links. Very tough tee shot in a strong wind.

Ballybunion is criticized for its opening six holes, the caravan park on the right side of the course as you head out on the front nine, and its 18th hole. I say hogwash! No. 1 is a fine opener with a disorienting tee shot and excellent green, not to mention the cemetery on your right.

I will agree that Nos. 4 and 5 are somewhat mundane, but they are solid par 5s. No. 4 has the additional virtue of its tee requiring a shot over the third green, an innovative use of limited space that doesn't affect the pace of play at all if groups are sent out at 10-minute intervals. Tom Watson is right that this course teaches one great lessons on golf course architecture. The bunion is a must play, one of the worlds very best.

A few words on Tralee: I could play this one and Ballybunion Old again and again and never tire of either. Tralee has a few boring holes on the front nine but it also has some extraordinary ones too. No. 3, O'Brien's Tower is one of the world's best par 3s, all carry over the sea to a tricky, subtly contoured, green. It is my friend's favorite par 3 on the planet. The eighth hole is a marvelous cape design with water all the way along the left side and a great green complex. And then there's the back nine.

Tralee's back nine is one of the great tests in golf. The 11th is a tremendously challenging uphill par 5, with a severely breaking green. No. 12 is the most scenic and difficult par 4 I've ever played.

Then comes the mighty 16th, Shipwreck as it is known. The tee is perched on a high dune with the green 215 yards distant on a dune shelf. Here is an exceptionally deep grass gorge between you and the green that is very lovely and very disorienting. This is a vertigo-inducing, stupefying golf hole of unique character, certainly one of the greatest par 3s anywhere.

This course will test your nerve and skill even in benign winds. When it blows hard, Tralee will break you and you will love every minute of it. A more scenic course would be hard to conjure up.

I hope this post has provided information on two great Irish links courses. I might write again about the others I have played and my impressions.

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

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