Very often you will see a venue that claims to be the ‘most this’ or the ‘highest that’. Have a hole that is the ‘longest’ or a bunker that is the ‘deepest!’ These claims to fame are often used to create a selling point around a course that may otherwise struggle to impress. Situated in almost the tip of the Inishowen peninsula, Ballyliffin can justifiably claim to be the most Northerly golf complex in the Republic of Ireland. When compared to the quality of the golf courses here however, this claim pales into insignificance.
My first taste of Ballyliffin was in the 90’s. As a young golfer, I had heard the stories about Nick Faldo arriving in a helicopter and the big plans on the horizon. At that stage, playing on courses such as Ballyliffin had become something I took for granted. Growing up playing golf in Donegal had ensured that playing world class championship courses had become the norm. It was only when I travelled around Europe that I began to appreciate the quality of what I had become accustomed to on my doorstep.
Despite this however, Ballyliffin always had a certain aura. Before the wonderful new clubhouse and Glashedy links were added, a round on the Old course always left you feeling as though you were treading on hallowed turf. Following in the footsteps of Sir Nick certainly played no small part in this mystique.
That aura has continued to grow and today the chance to visit this wonderful complex is always tinged with excitement. The first sighting of Glashedy rock as you leave Ballyliffin village gets the heart rate going that bit faster as you think of the round ahead. Every golfer will know the feeling of approaching a course they love and the sense of wellbeing as you consider what is ahead, ‘I am playing Ballyliffin today, life is good’.
A walk through the doors of the club house gives a sense of the esteem that those who know best hold this place. A stunning image of a younger, less lean Rory McIlroy at the apex of his swing with a moody sky and Glashedy Rock in the background has pride of place. The welcome from manager John Farren or Head Pro Gareth McCauseland will have you in no doubt that you are in the right place.
And then there is the golf. There is not another venue in Ireland that can boast two such high quality courses on one piece of land.
The Old Course has regularly been ranked in the top 15 best courses in Ireland and is certainly one for the traditionalists. With undulating fairways, well placed bunkers and a playable yardage for amateurs, this course is enjoyable for all.
Nick Faldo has had a hand in redeveloping and adding to what was already a stunning links layout. You will not find a flat lie too often and watching a well hit low drive meander through the peaks and troughs in the fairways will keep you entertained. On the front nine, the 179 yard par 3 fifth or ‘the Tank’ is a standout. A mid iron to this elevated green leaves little room for error with tricky dunes left, right and back and anything short leaving a very tricky uphill chip.
The Old Course is a spectacular course and holds a dear place in many of those who have played it for years. But it is the Glashedy Links that will attract the eyes of the world in July 2018.
The Glashedy Links, designed by Pat Ruddy with the help of Tom Craddock and opened in 1996, is a course that stays with you for weeks after you have played. On any given day, depending on the wind strength, it can make or break the average golfer. Fairway bunkers so well placed that you are constantly on guard, greens so true that a well-read putt will do its best to drop for you and views out to Glashedy rock so stunning, that you need to be careful of slow play as you stand gazing out in awe.
On the front 9, Ruddy has carried out improvements in preparation for next years Irish Open with new, championship tees on the 4th and the 9th and new bunkering on the 1st and the 3rd. These improvements are sure to be added to over the next 12 months.
You will encounter 3 mighty Par 4’s to start on the Glashedy links. If these are played into the wind they are sure to ruin some scorecards before you have caught your stride. The Par 3 seventh is a stand out hole with a drop in elevation of a good 50 feet. As you stand on the tee you can see for miles around, and the beautiful Inishowen peninsula feels at your mercy. Trying to choose a club on this little par 3 can be the biggest challenge with anything from a 3 iron to a wedge being called into action, again dependant on the wind conditions.
If you make your way to the 10th tee with a score on the go, you can be assured that the back 9 will keep you on your toes. The three hole stretch from the 13th to the 15th is probably one of the finest stretches of holes in Ireland and Pat Ruddy has aptly named this stretch ‘The Magic Circle.’
The Par 5 13th is a particular stand out. This hole will measure close to 600 yards for the professionals making its way up hill between a natural corridor of dunes to an elevated green. As is so often the case, with a head wind, this hole will be a true three shotter. You then find a dainty little 14th. Again, an elevated tee shot and again a nightmare for club selection. Miss the green at your peril as getting up and down will be a 50% chance at best. You then make your way to the Index 1 Par 4 15th where a sweeping dog leg will leave you with a testing approach to the elevated green. A par at this the longest Par 4 on the course is always a bonus.
For the amateur golfer, a round of 36 points on the Glashedy links will provide a real sense of achievement. Who knows what score we can expect when the worlds best visit in 2018 as nobody could have expected the 23 under total that we saw at Portstewart. Locals will surely be hoping for strong winds and blue skies next year but 4 days of blue skies in Donegal may be a bit much to ask!
Most Irish golfers will agree that it is long overdue that our national open visits this links golf haven of Donegal. Courses such as Rosapenna, Portsalon, Murvagh and Narin and Portnoo have for years complimented Ballyliffin to offer international visiting golfers a golf tour in Donegal that is like no other.
During the press conference to announce the event at Ballyliffin, a journalist questioned whether the Dublin public is being short changed with no Irish Open having been held in the capital for the last number of years. This question really missed the point of what this event will mean. National and international events take place in Dublin on a weekly basis and an event like the Irish Open would barely make a mark on the consciousness of most Dubliners.
For Donegal however, this event could be a game changer. Over the next 12 months golfers and non golfers up and down the county will be on the band wagon. Families will be involved and there will hardly be a small business that will not benefit from this great event. In this isolated county that has suffered so much since the recession, this boost cannot be overestimated.
A drive around Donegal takes in coastal drives, golden sandy beaches, quaint villages with traditional Irish pubs, historic lighthouses, fresh seafood and above all a welcome like no other. Local population centres such as Letterkenny and Derry will provide plenty for visiting golfers to experience post golf.
Donegal is at the start of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way coastline and it won’t be hard to find a local who is happy to advise on how to best spend your time there. Whether you want a day of hiking at Glenveagh National Park, an evening meal in one of the country’s best restaurants the Lemon Tree or a quick round on one of the finest 9 hole courses in Ireland at Cruit, there will be plenty to discover. For those in search of an authentic 19th hole, The Glen Bar, Conways, the Singing Pub and Nancy’s Tavern should all be on the hit list. You could easily add another 20 names to this hit list however so hopefully you have a good capacity for Guinness and the locally brewed craft beer from Kinnegar Brewing.
When over 100 European Tour pros make their way to Ballyliffin next year there is surely only one outcome. As was the case with Portstewart for the 2017 event, the worlds best will be in awe of this spectacular golf venue. The Glashedy Links may well bare its teeth if the wind blows but regardless of the weather, its stunning quality will make the world take note.
And so the countdown begins. Twelve months until the biggest sporting event ever to take place in Donegal and an event that will capture the imagination of every man, woman and child in the North West. We can hardly wait!
***Contact Green Golf Travel to organise your dream golf break in Donegal on email@example.com or +353 74 91 16660***