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Incident at Ballybunion

By September 4, the eve of Clinton's visit, Ballybunion was ready--almost. There were a few wee problems. First of all, the statue of Clinton preparing to tee off had not been finished. The sculptor, a Cork artist named Sean McCarthy, had only managed to make a plaster-of-paris model. Undaunted, Quilter had the artist coat the white plaster model with boot polish, and then Quilter and his crew loaded it into a truck for transport. On a poor road, the truck hit a pothole and a hand broke off. "Whatever you do, put that hand back on, or he can't play golf!" Quilter ordered. Finally, at dusk, the plaster-of-paris statue was mounted, with its hand repaired, on a marble plinth in the center of town, a short putt from the two-story police station. Quilter and his cronies could only pray that it wouldn't rain.

The second unfortunate snafu was that no one had actually told Clinton that the people of Ballybunion were expecting him. Like most American visitors to the area, Clinton had intended simply to play the course and then depart without setting foot in the village.

On the morning of September 5, fully expecting Clinton to pass through town on his way from the airport to the golf course, hundreds of people from Ballybunion and the surrounding countryside lined the streets of the village hoping to catch a glimpse of the president and his motorcade. No dice. When word reached the village that Clinton had somehow bypassed town and was already at the links, there was naturally some consternation. But in general Irish optimism prevailed. Clinton would still be coming to town after the round to unveil the statue--wouldn't he?Hadn't there been reports that the night before, U.S. Secret Service personnel had slipped into town to seal all the manholes against terrorists?A fair number of onlookers retreated to the pubs to wait out the delay, but many others clung stubbornly to their positions in the street so as not to miss a moment of the biggest event in Ballybunion's history.

Meanwhile, the round of golf went off splendidly despite overcast skies. Dozens of spectators watched from Sandhill Road, which borders the course's opening holes, and cheered loudly whenever Clinton swung.

Joined in his five-ball by Christy O'Connor Sr., the veteran of ten Ryder Cups who is known to Irish golf fans simply as "Himself," Clinton shot a steady ninety-five and appeared to enjoy himself immensely--no doubt relieved to be far away from the tireless scrutiny of Kenneth Starr's grand jury. "I was finally able to live out a dream, probably a dream of any golfer, and play at the historic and beautiful Ballybunion Golf Club," Clinton would later write, unrevealingly, in an e-mailed response to questions from T&L Golf.

Mike Scanlon, 55, is the veteran caddie at Ballybunion who carried Clinton's clubs that day. "He's a fine striker of the ball but hasn't really got a short game," the caddie says of the president. Scanlon also claims that there were no presidential mulligans. "He has a reputation for dropping balls, but none of us were going to say anything," says Scanlon.

Behind the scenes, however, things were not nearly so calm. During the round, a member of Clinton's staff was made aware of the waiting throngs in town and broke the news to the president. Ever the politician and no doubt encouraged by the generally fond reception he was getting in Ireland, Clinton changed his schedule. "I truly had no idea until then," the president wrote to T&L Golf of the news, "and decided to visit the village after the game."


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