The American golfer steered his powerful motorcar into the parking lot at Ballybunion, one of Ireland’s most formidable courses. He was fully determined to play a better round than the last time he was there. As he extricated his bag from the trunk, he noticed his caddie from his previous visit approaching. Greeting the caddie enthusiastically, he asked: “Do you remember me?” “Oh, yes sir, of course I do, has your game improved?”
On another, even less auspicious occasion a debate arose in the clubhouse between two visitors from the Carolinas. “Killarney is a much tougher course than Ballybunion!” Declared one of these ‘experts’ to the other. “At Killarney, I struggled to shoot 145 and here I was ‘comfortable’ shooting 132.” Go figure!
Playing a 400-yards plus par-4 into the teeth of an Atlantic gale at Ballybunion can be a challenge. A low-handicap, visitor struck his ‘Sunday Best’ drive and followed it with a ‘career’ fairway metal but still came up 50-yards short of the green. “This hole is unfair in these conditions,” he groused. “There’s no way to get on in two.” With the wisdom gleaned from many such moments, the caddie shrugged and said; “This is a par-4 and you have only played two shots.”
It was a 5-hour round that featured numerous searches for ‘lost balls,’ repeated delays to take photographs of the surrounding scenery not to mention the delays caused by taking in excess of 100-blows to complete the course. At the end of it all, the golfer turned to his caddie and asked: “what do I owe you?” To which the quick as a flash reply was: “An apology.”
Hubert Green won the Irish Open at Portmarnock in 1977. When he returned home with the trophy, one of his buddies asked him how would he compare American courses to those in Ireland? The simple answer: “I don’t!”
Earlier this year, the local membership at Ballybunion voted overwhelmingly to lift and re-lay all 18-greens on the Old Course next winter. The process of ‘dolling up’ the links is well advanced and the objective is to uplift the overall appearance by defining margins and increasing the proliferation of native, fescue grasses so necessary to maintain traditional links characteristics. The shot values and the way the links ‘plays’ won’t change. The course may look harder because the playing corridors may look narrower. In fact, they remain exactly the same.