Everyone knows the weather in Ireland is unpredictable. There are a few sayings; "there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing." "It's dry between the showers." "If you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes, it will change." When I checked the weather on Wednesday for Saturday, things looked grim. 61 with 80% chance of rain. Which in Ireland, means it WILL rain, it's just a matter of how much and how hard. The good news, was they were only calling for 15mph winds.
Fast forward to Saturday morning. A quick check of the weather from 3 different sources comes up with 63 for the temp, 15 for the winds, and little to no rain forecasted. Good. I'm going to pack my waterproof jacket, just in case, and a windbreaker, and wear the under armour underneath just to keep warm. The ride from Adare to Ballybunion is a little over an hour, and though this time the skies got a little greyer. No biggie. I couldn't really tell about the breeze, but I'm headed to Ballybunion! Going to knock it around no matter. And honestly, after lucking out in Scotland, I figured I would get one REAL round of weather, and assumed Ballybunion would bring its A game to me on Saturday.
I got to the course about 45 minutes before my tee time. Checked in, headed to the range. Snapped a few quick shots, stretched, hit 3 balls, and the bottom dropped out. There were 4 of us huddled under the overhang of the driving range shack on the leeward side. It seemed the wind picked up a bit during this time also, topping 25 in a steady blow.
As I head over to the stater, the wind is blowing directly up #1 from green to tee. Seeing the layout, the first few holes are going to be a treat. The starter is looking for our 3rd player, and second caddie. Turns out that the other guy and I would share a caddie for the round....ok, no biggie. He put my clubs on a trolley and carried the other bag. We head to the fully exposed first tee, after another quick downpour, and get hit full force with the 40mph winds in our face.
I play most of my golf along the Atlantic coast, often within 5 miles of the shore, or even directly along the Chesapeake Bay or a contributing River. I have played in wind. But our wind sometimes buffets and gusts. Irish wind is steady, solid, constant. To Start hitting driver 5 iron on a 380 yard hole, and come up short, well short, 9 iron short, is a bit tough. On #2, I hit driver-3wood 25 yards short of the green. It's 397!
#3 turns back, and hitting 7 iron from 214 gives hope for the rest of the round...until you play 4, 5, & 6. We get towards the green on 6, and we are looking directly out at the North Atlantic. The wall of grey is headed right for us! My caddie looks at me and says "Now would be a good time to put on your waterproofs." I barely get the jacket zipper pulled up before the bottom drops.
The tee box on 7 overlooks the beach 50' below. Right on the edge, and directly down wind, all three of us are relishing the chance to play with the wind at our backs. The wind is steady over 40 at this point, so it's time to tee it high, let it fly, and watch it soar over the cliff on the right onto the beach. Ugh. Opportunity wasted. Another double.........
#8 is a short par 3 that more or less is in a bowl. The wind was blowing straight left to right, but a low ball would be mostly sheltered from it's brutal effects. The pin was directly front and center between two pot bunkers with raised edges. My two playing partners both found the front left one. No way I'm joining that party, so I miss the right on on the right side. The neat thing about this pin location is that is basically is in the middle of a half pipe, so there's a backstop on both sides. I flopped a 60 up on top of the closest bunker, just missed the pin on the way by, rolled up the backstop, turned and came back nearly going in on the way back by the second time. I will take that par as both the other guys failed to get up and down from the green side bunker.
#9 turned back and was playing downwind. Time to let one fly, only a little more controlled this time. Having a 9 in felt like a little victory. With the pin all the way back left, there was green to work with. The caddie must have said it 5 times to me and his over loop "do NOT go long. Long is dead!" Well, I didn't go long, at lest not on my second. Didn't catch my short irons clean all day, and I came up short left. My chip up to the hole scooted on me, never checked up, and rolled off the back, down the hill 15' below the putting surface into a small hole. Great, a simple up and down for par is turning ugly quick. My chip back made it to the top of the hill, leaving a 2 putt from 20' for double. Closed out the front in 50. My worst 9 holes in years and years. But hey, its Ballybunion!!!! And it's raining, again. And still blowing 45-50.
The rough that I saw on the front was some of the thickest stuck I have ever seen. I was 2 yards off the fairway on 4 and moved the ball 3 feet with an 8 iron. On 2, I was left side short of the green in the rough and had to walk through a blackberry bush to get to my ball. A ball in the rough meant a swing and a prayer just to move it forward. The fact that we had 3 showers before we finished 6 meant the foot deep rough was extra sticky, and even less likely to allow you to have your ball back. A true penalty, and lesson in humility.
The caddie throw 3 wood in my hand on the 10th tee. I hit it up the right side, and I hear "great ball" from both caddies with us. Ok, it's a start. Time for a new nine, and to get something done. I get to the ball and it's in an old divot. I managed to chunk-run it up to the front, but walk away with bogey. Just can't get a break or put a good swing on the ball.
#11 could be reachable, but we played it as a two-shotter. Then you turn up the hill to play #12. Listed at 183, it was dead into the teeth. By this point, it's about 2:30 and the wind is easily creeping toward the temp, which is high 50's. The caddies look at all three of us and say hit the big dog. Really?! "Aye, hit it, solid. Don't back off of it!" I pushed it, which just got eaten up by the wind, ending up 60 yards right. Not often I play a 183 yard par 3 with driver-full wedge! Lipped out the par putt unfortunately. That would have been a good story.
#13 gives a breather. 476 yard par 5, downhill. I managed to get through it without a skull, bad contact, chunk, thick rough and card a par. #14 plays back into the teeth. 5 iron from 150, front edge.
#15 is the last par 3, and third in 4 holes. 206. Caddies never hesitate and gives us all driver. I caught one fairly straight and put it on the front corner. Two putts later, I've managed to play all 5 par 3's at Ballybunion in 1 over. If only I could translate that to the remainder....
#16 is a big dogleg par 5. #1 advice from the caddies: "Do NOT take too much off the corner." When you get down there, you see why. Knee deep grass, gnarly and swirled with depressions and dips just looks like a hobbit is getting ready to spring out. Despite being downwind, he points us on a safe line. The third guy and I both hit through the fairway within a few yards of each other. I chunk a 9 iron up on the edge of the hill that bounds back to the fairway. Right in sold wedge range. When it left the club, it felt good, but I couldn't see the bottom of the pin, At the top on the green, I finally see it resting within 2 feet of the pin. Got my birdie at Ballybunion! The hole is tunnel from 225 out to the green, rising from the Ocean between massive dunes. They frame the hole, but intimidate at the same time. I'm content and move on.
The tee shot on #17 heads downhill straight towards the Ocean. With the wind off the right, hitting a big draw aimed down the rough line on the right means a ball that hits and runs like a coursing hare. I ordered one of them and found a fairway...one of the few on the day. I screwed up the remainder of the hole to card a bogey, but the tee shot felt good. Kind of a neat tee shot, where again the caddies said do NOT cut the corner.
#18 heads up and over, past the clubhouse. A slight dogleg left, favoring the center to left reduces the amount of club needed it. 3 wood suffices off the tee, and I find another fairway. This time, it's on the right side, not the best angle, but at least I have a shot. The green is tucked between huge dunes, uphill, and looks to be the size of a kitchen table. To add to the interest, the clubhouse over looks the fairway with a long wall of glass panels to get as many eyeballs on you as possible. I flared a 5 iron to the right, but ended with a decent lie (well, it was in deep rough, so relatively speaking.) The pin was front and center, split between bunkers that are maybe 8 yards apart. My flop lands on the slope, rolls past the hole, hits the backstop and starts to roll back, just like 8. Unfortunately, my par attempt burns the lip, and I settle for a back nine 42. My butt has been properly kicked, I have survived the 4 different rain showers, and even a few sprinkles, the 5 club winds that were exceeding 50-55mph by the time we finished, the blackberry bushes, the foot deep rough, the scraggly lies here and there, and survived - barely - Ballybunion. It is one of the most intersting routings out there. Not often do you hit OVER a green or pin on the very next hole. Or have 50' dunes creating a tunnel, in which you are on top of them on the next hole. The views from the cliff are truly amazing overlooking the beach. And the fact that several people were on the beach that day just proves that Ballybunion is a truly unique place.