When Tom Watson came to Ballybunion on a regular basis in 1980s and 1990s, he always lodged in the Marine Links Hotel downtown where the bar is named the “Hook and Socket.” Tom, and all golfers know what a hook is but what might be the meaning of the word socket? “In Ireland,” Tom was told in a hushed tone, “it is considered impolite to utter the word: shank!” Armed with this information it’s not known if Watson henceforth sought a different location for his nightcap.
The severity of the rough at Ballybunion in days of yore can be illustrated by a story concerning a Limerick lawyer named Tommy O’Donnell, who later on in life became the President of the Golfing Union of Ireland. O’Donnell was a competitor in the 1958 Irish Close Championship. At the tenth hole, as we know it today, his opponent “let one go on the wind” and after a long time looking for the ball in vain, gave up, conceded the hole, and began a sad trudge to the next tee. Upon arriving there he noticed Tommy was still searching. He called and waved but the search went on. It only then emerged that Tommy’s caddie had put his golf bag down in the high grass and couldn’t find it!
The Ballybunion links has changed dramatically since those days. There are two courses now and a palatial clubhouse featuring fine dining. The course looks quite different too and can no longer be disparagingly described as a ‘rough and ready, rabbit warren.’
The shot values and the way the links ‘plays’ haven’t change one iota. The course may look harder because the playing corridors look narrower but, in fact, they remain exactly the same.