Posts Tagged ‘ballybunion’
Having had the opportunity to watch the majority of the NBC broadcast over the weekend I was very impressed with the diversity and interest that Riviera seemed to possess in just about each of her holes. I have never had the good fortune to play or visit Riviera Country Club, but the images of the course on television forced me to make a mental note to get there at my first opportunity. And I certainly don’t need Jack or Sly or Arnold to complete my experience – the course itself appears to be more than enough thank you!
Of the holes that caught my eye none was more exciting or interesting than the 315 yard 10th. Designed in 1926 by George Thomas Jr. this could be my new favorite hole in golf. A well thought out hole that rewards just the right amount of bravery one day and just the right amount of caution the next – just be sure to get your days matched up.
Arguably Riviera’s finest hole, the 10th ranks among the world’s great short par fours, its timeless strategic challenge having perplexed golfers for more than eight decades. The key is the putting surface, an angled, extremely narrow target with a dangerous right-to-left slope. Though reachable from the tee, only a perfect drive will hold this green – and a tee ball missed even slightly right will generally result in a bogey, or worse. The smart play is a fairway metal down the left side, but the temptation to go for the green remains eternally tantalizing…
As you study the picture above taken by Geoff Shackelford (who did a fantastic job covering the event in person) on Saturday you’ll notice many of the subtle design features. As Steve Stricker plays this approach into the green (which is the perfect position to play from!) keep in mind that the green slopes quite aggressively from right to left. This means that if you have a go and happen to miss right, you now have a shortish pitch from the rough to an extremely narrow green that runs away from you. No bargain even from close range.
Should you have a go and happen to hit the low, left quacker (we all know it!) then you’re only faced with a 50-60 yard sand shot. No bargain either.
Jack Nicklaus on the 10th at Riviera:
I love option holes and this one has more than any short Par 4 I know.
My question is this: Where have all the golf courses like Riviera and holes like the 10th gone? Can it possibly be that difficult to build a golf course that incorporated a little thought and planning? Golfers are pleading for interest over torture.
Give me a golf course filled with interest and I’ll play it over a long, torturous monster anyday. I’ll start with the 10th at Riviera, then play the 9th at Harbourtown, then the 4th at Spyglass and follow that with the 6th at Ballybunion……
Golf should be fun and Riviera looked exactly that!
It’s not hard to find the best things in life – with a bag of money and a few of the right connections you can have it all.
For me, the joy lies in finding hidden gems; things that are every bit as enjoyable as the best might be, but for one reason or another are not as mainstream or popular as the main attraction. A little secret or discovery that is all your own. These experiences very often are more memorable than experiencing, and paying handsomely for, the finest in life.
Golf in Scotland can be the same way. We all know the Open rota courses of St. Andrews, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Troon and Turnberry; they are like Pebble Beach, Pine Valley and Winged Foot in the US; they are like Ruth’s Chris, Del Frisco’s or Shula’s in steakhouse terms; or in wine terms like Caymus, Silver Oak or Far Niente. You don’t need to be a golf, food or wine geek to know or experience these instituions, just connected or rich, or preferably both. The art is in being able to duplicate or upgrade the experience for way less money and with way more satisfaction.
Should you be fortunate enough to make it to Scotland on a golf trip please play all the rota courses you can, but do not miss out on these (relatively) secret gems that will greatly enhance your take on Scottish links golf:
Machrihanish was established in 1876 and Old Tom Morris and J.H. taylor played a major role in her design. She is said to have the finest opening hole in the world, which requires a fairly mammoth opening blow over a portion of the Atlantic ocean.
The Crail Golfing Society has been playing golf since 1786 with the course being laid out by Old Tom Morris.
“Crail is sublime, strange, wonderful, whimsical and weird — all at the same time. It is also one of the truly great golf experiences to be experienced anywhere.” Robert Thomson’s Going for the Green
Brora is a time capsule that captures the game as it was almost a century ago. It is also the headquarters of the James Braid Golfing Society, and while its President, Peter Thomson, and fellow member Ronan Rafferty annually enthuse that all golfers will derive equal pleasure and satisfaction from Brora’s 6110 yards.
Cruden Bay is a links that defies description, except to say that it comes straight from the imagination when fantasizing about golf in Scotland! The haunting ruins of Slains Castle, hanging on the edge of the sea, provide an ominous backdrop to the golf at Cruden Bay, having inspired Bram Stoker to pen Dracula. Golf here is not scary at all! Cruden Bay is often referred to as the “Ballybunion” of Scotland due to its massive dunes.
If you are ever considering a pilgrimage to play golf in Scotland, by all means play the rota courses, but don’t forget the little guys – they just might be more than anticipated and I guarantee you will not be disappointed!
I believe that the game of golf is too difficult, too expensive and too time consuming. By the time you can earn a living to be able to afford the game, you don’t have the time to play. Not to mention all those years you missed out on learning how to play.
For years I have envisioned a particular type of golf course that is challenging and still maintains the essence of the game, yet addresses three of golf’s greatest challenges - difficulty, expense and the time it takes to play. Here’s what it would look like:
This golf course will be based on the model of St. Andrews – an open field style course with a limited number of hazards. There will preferably be no water and a limited number of very shallow, firm shell-based traps that encroach on the tee shots. These shallow traps will be in play for multple holes as they straddle the space between prefered avenues of play.
The length will still be there as every golfer loves to swing away at the driver, but there will distance specific tee boxes vs. ego or gender specific options. For example, if you hit an 8 iron 150 yards+ you’ll play the back tees (which would never measure more than 6,500 yards long), if you hit an 8 iron 125-150 then you play the next set up and all the way to somebody who hits an 8 iron less than 75 yards.
There will be no rough on the golf course. Closely mown fairway from wall to wall!
The greens will not have any bunkers or other hazards around them. They will be raised and feauture tightly mown grass swales as their interest feature. This is most important as it is still a challenge to the better player who must make par, yet for the average golfer it is a decidedly easier shot than the one played from a sand bunker. Putt the ball onto the green, two putt and make a net par!
Alister Mackenzie once said that out of all of golf’s hazards, undulation is best. Whether it’s water, sand, rough, or wind I love a golf golf course that utilizes this subtle hazard as its primary defense. The course will feature fairly severe undulation countered with flatter lies in the optimal playing areas. Once again, still challenging for the good player, yet easier than traps or water for the higher handicapper.
As these two photographs from Ballybunion illustrate – there is ample challenge in firm ground and subtle undulation without the need and expense of bunkering. The left picture is the side of the 13th green (thanks Dot!) and the one on the right is the approach to the 17th green.
The golf course must be public with a tangible price break for locals. Anybody and everybody is welcome to play!
There will be no golf carts or cart paths, which not only cost too much, but very often detract from the playability and aesthetics of a golf course.
There will only be two heights to the grass on the course – the greens and everywhere else! This will save greatly on maintenance.
Due to the fact that the limited bunkering will be firm packed crushed shells there will be no need for rakes – another cost saver.
The Time Factor:
The answer here is simple – three options for play with each being six holes!
The tees will be located within easy walking distance of the previous green (just like all great courses!) and if you are choosing just to play a “quick six” you should be able to be done and out of there in an hour!
In summary we have a full length golf course with tees for every level of golfer; the course is enjoyable and a challenge to all; playing fees and maintenance costs are minimal; a family of four can get in and out in under two hours comfortably; and nobody should ever lose a ball! (well, just about!)
Can you imagine what it would be like to play a few holes before or after work each day? Or how about bringing the family out for six holes before dinner? Wouldn’t it be nice to walk the course, carry your bag and shoot an encouraging number? I would love to see it happen. What do you think?
I first played there with my father, some old friends and Mr. Seamus Finnerty, Club Captain and everything you could hope for in a host. What a special experience it was! On a calm day there are no holes that will overpower you, but even a subtle breeze blowing in the right direction will make holes # 2, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15 and 17 become unreachable monsters. Keep in mind that there is no direction the wind can blow that will make all the aforementioned holes play into the wind, as they are all going in different directions.
There is some debate as to who the course design should be credited to; Murphy in 1893; 0r Hewison in 1906? Nobody seems to know! The course has been upgraded by it’s biggest fan, Tom Watson, over the last few years and the changes are subtle and positive. Just as you might expect from Old Tom! Ballybunion was actually the course where Tom Watson learned to love the links game.
The course only plays to 6638 yards from the back tees, but is all the challenge any golfer could hope for. The contours on the fairways and greens are a large part of what make Ballybunion a great golf course. The foward half of the 9th green is entirely a false front! The signature hole is the par four 11th. A longish par four where the tee shot must be soundly struck between dunes and the Atlantic Ocean. The hope is to place your ball on the appropriate tier in the fairway from which to play the thrilling second shot to the green below. I would rate the approach to this green alongside the approach to the 8th at Pebble Beach. It will get your heart racing!
I asked Tom Watson what his favorite hole was and he gave me a sly look and said I would never guess. My reply was, that with that look, it must be the 6th hole. He was amazed that I selected that hole, as the 6th has no dunes, no bunkers and no ocean or graveyard in play. The 6th only has a tee, a fairway and a green, oh yes, and the prevailing wind! Play it a few times and you will understand why we both rate it so highly!
Ballybunion has no weak holes and every hole is a unique and memorable experience. Conditioning is generally quite good for a links course and the caddies can be hit or miss. The Cashen or New course is actually built on a “wilder” (better!) piece of property but Mr. Robert Trent Jones Snr. has done a disservice to all of links golf with his design. I would stay off the Cashen. No matter how good it looks!
Any golfer who loves links golf and plans on making a pilgrimage to Ireland must count Ballybunion Old as the number one course to play! As Tom Watson said,
“I am now of the opinion this is one of the best and most beautiful tests of links anywhere in the world.”