Beyond the Old: Ballybunion one of Ireland's most complete facilities

By Travel ArticlesNovember 29, 2012, 5:00 am

Attracting more Americans than any other Irish golf club, Ballybunion has mastered the art of making overseas visitors feel welcome and providing them with the first-class facilities they might hope to find. And the club has accomplished this without sacrificing any of the charm, warmth and friendliness that makes golfing in Ireland such a treat.

For example, not many Irish clubs have a reception desk as you enter the clubhouse to greet you and sort everything out. Modern, spacious and comfortable, the locker rooms, which include a steam room, are five-star, as are the bars, lounges and restaurant, which all have large picture windows affording glorious views of the two great courses and the Atlantic beyond.

And if you fancy hitting a few balls before going out, just stroll a couple of hundred yards down the hill, and there's a full-blown range, short-game area and one of three putting greens.

You might even squeeze in a quick lesson with pro Brian O'Callaghan, who offers specialist instruction in the art of playing the pitch-and-run shot, as well as the secret to golfing in the wind.

36 holes of pure, Irish links golf at Ballybunion

But what puts Ballybunion right on the top of most discerning golfer's wish list are the two spectacular courses -- the Old Course and the Cashen Course.

When Tom Watson visited back in 1982, there was only the Old, which he played the week before capturing the fourth of his five Open Championships. Talking to the media after his victory, he lavished so much praise on Ballybunion that it made headlines around the world. The club wasn't slow to exploit this marketing opportunity and golfers, especially Americans, soon followed in Watson's spiked footprints.

Their dollars have helped pay for the upgrade in the facilities and the construction in 1984 of the new Cashen Course. Because the Old Course receives so much attention, it would be an easy mistake to overlook the lovely Cashen. Designed by Trent Jones and named after the adjacent river, the course occupies a truly spectacular peninsular with the mighty Atlantic on one side and the gentle river on the other.

The towering dunes are as big as cathedrals, while the canyons that weave between them provide both the fairways and welcome shelter from the inevitable wind. Although in reality, there is plenty of room, the close proximity of the really thick stuff causes many a grip to tighten and palm to sweat.

Ballybunion Golf Club: The verdict

In truth, the Cashen is more forgiving than it appears with most of the bounces -- especially near the greens -- being more help than hindrance. There aren't, perhaps, enough classic pitch-and-run opportunities as one might hope to find, but the Cashen is definitely top quality and has recently benefited from a few tweaks at the experienced hands of famous English architect Martin Hawtree.

The Old Course, too, has undergone some improving alterations to a couple of tee boxes and a few of the bunkers, but it remains as majestic as ever. Once you've avoided the cemetery at the first and calamity at the tough, uphill second, it's a joyous roller coaster around the dunes punctuated by some breathtaking holes by the sea. Fabulous and quite unforgettable.

After golf in Ballybunion

Opposite the course are several modest hotels and a number of bed and breakfast opportunities. Or just a two-minute taxi ride away is the little town of Ballybunion itself, complete with a statue of President Bill Clinton, who is a regular visitor.

Stay in town at one of several cozy hotels, and you can walk south along the wide, sandy beach beneath the course, enjoy a spectacular cliff-top stroll to the north or, if you're really brave, go swimming or surfing.

There's a beach exclusively for women, another for men and a third reserved for nuns!

Getting There

Ballybunion is on the south-west coast of Ireland, about an hour-and-a-half from Shannon Airport, which serves New York (JFK and Newark), Boston and Toronto. Dublin Airport is about three-and-a-half away takes non-stop flights from New York (JFK and Newark), Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, Toronto, Montreal and more.

Getty Images

Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

Getty Images

One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

Getty Images

DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

Getty Images

Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.