Ballybunion was originally a 12-hole golf course that was founded was designed by Lionel Hewson, a prominent golf journalist. The Old Course was extended to 18 holes in 1926. As Ballybunion was due to host the 1937 Irish Championship, Tom Simpson and Molly Gourlay were commissioned to make alterations to the course and little has changed since then.
The first three holes on the Old Course at Ballybunion offer a nice experience and there are a lot of excellent holes here. For a true taste of links golf, wait until you arrive on the sea's doorstep at the sixth green. No. 7 plays along the coast and features an alternate green. If playing the devilishly contoured, seaside seventh green, swing away and hope your ball lands in the right spot, because it's mostly blind from the fairway.
The golf course certainly makes the most of its dunes holes, too, especially around the greens. No. 11, for my money, is one of Irish links golf's best, long par fours - right up there with the dramatic ninth at Royal County Down and No. 6 at Lahinch.
Tom Watson, who first played the course in 1981, is quoted as saying “After playing Ballybunion for the first time, a man would think that the game of golf originated here. There is a wild look to the place, the long grass covering the dunes that pitch and roll throughout the course making it very intimidating…in short, it is a course on which many golf architects should live and play before they build golf courses. I consider it a true test of golf.”