Former Irish international golfer Noel Fogarty, who once took Jack Nicklaus to extra holes in the British Amateur at Royal St. Georges, insists that an opening hole on a good golf course should say "Come and play me!". On first viewing the amazing vista at Ballyliffin there are 36 holes singing this as a chorus.
Old Course, Ballyliffin - Par 71 - 6,612 Yards
The Old Course at Ballyliffin is a traditional links course where the undulating fairways rise and fall, and the 'luck of the bounce' plays as important a part as well struck golf shots. The first epitomises the Old Course, a dog-leg right where the approach shot will bring Nick Faldo's comment 'Do I bump and run, or just run and bump?' to mind. An early test of your up-and-down skills is most likely. After the equally testing second (422 yards), the par-4 3rd turns into the prevailing westerly wind, and though just 354 yards, it can play very long as a well struck drive is required to carry the crest of the fairway. An idyllic links approach into a green protected on all sides by unforgiving dunes.
Make good use of the chance presented by the par-5 4th before being presented to 'The Tank'. Possibly the most celebrated hole on the Old Course this par-3 5th is 176 yards to a stage-like green set between two sand hills. Those who have played it will realise that the green is generous, but from the tee for the first time it is quite intimidating.
The next eight holes are all classic par-4 links holes except for the 211 yard 7th and the 206 yard 12th. The 12th is a lovely hole, a generous green guarded on the front right by a large sandhill that appears to have a magnetic attraction for tee-shots.
The 14th, 15th and 16th run in the same direction along the ocean perimeter of the course where the name of the game is to keep the ball on the fairway. The 14th is a 535 yard par-5 that requires two well struck shots followed by a precise short iron approach to a green protected by bunkers short and right and a fall-off to the left. The tee-shot on 15 is all-important, requiring accurate judgment of line to carry the right hand rough onto the fairway. At 435 yards this can leave a longish approach to a large green that slopes away to the back. A good drive on the 16th leaves a mid or short iron approach to a green that is sunk below the fairway and protected by grass bunkers and hollows. No bump and run here - just committment to club selection and ball striking.
The par-3 17th rivals the earlier 5th for celebration or notoriety - depending on your score. The tee-shot needs to be carried to the green which is what makes this hole unique. It is large and severly undulating, not too difficult if you are on the correct level. Any ball on a different level (and there are several) to the flag will require top-class putting skills (and lots of luck) to finish close.
A traditional links, but lacking anything in the way of blind shots, The Old Course at Ballyliffin is truly classic links golf at its very best.
The Glashedy Course - 7,226 Yards - Par 72
Many regard the Old Course as 'better' than the newer Glashedy course and this is because, withoubt doubt, Glashedy is a severely punishing golf test that demands you to be on top of your game from start to finish.
It opens with a resounding bang - three mighty par-4s. The first signals that this course requires straighter driving to narrower fairways and that bump and run might not be an option. The elevated green here requires precision of approach or trouble otherwise, especially from the cavernous bunker cut into the hill The 2nd continues in the same vein with out-of-bounds looming on the right and another challenging approach to an even more elevated green. The third continues up the hill to a large sloping green and is one of the most difficult holes on the course.
The par-3 fifth is a gem. Playing downhill to a green that is protected on the right hand side by three wicked looking pot bunkers, club selection is vital. The 7th is also a par-3 and, like the 5th and 17th holes on the old course, the subject of much conversation. The tee is elevated, overlooking most of the Ballyliffin terrain. The drop to the green, nearly 200 yards away with a lake to the right, is some 120ft below and again committment to club selection and ball striking is of paramount importance.
The back nine are equally fine golf holes. The sequence between the 12th and 16th is particulary noteworthy. The first of these is a fiercely doglegging, long par-4 with a green protected by a sandhill on the right and running off to severe trouble on the left. The par five 13th has been hailed as one of the great 3-shotters in Ireland. Long and straight through a natural corridor between sand dunes, two straight shots are required before approaching another elevated green that falls away dramatically to the left. Another wonderful bunker carved into this fall can be a blessing!
Another wonderful downhill par-3 comes at the next before the long and difficult par-4 fifteenth that requires a mighty drive and accurate approach to find the well guarded green. Playing this stroke index 1 as a par-5 is very good strategy for all but the best.
Although you can't see the 18th green from the tee it's just around the corner. Resist the temptation to take any shortcuts over the massive sand dune - and don't expect too much help from your partners should you stray to its top. Most will be beaten up by now - Swedish professional Kalle Brink took 91 here in the third round of the North West of Ireland championship - but like him (he had a very respectable 70 the next day) you will probably relish the chance for revenge. If not, there is always the 'better' Old Course!
Quotes and Comments
ADD A COMMENT | RATE BALLYLIFFIN GOLF COURSE
"The most natural golf links I have ever played"
"A real jewel"
Irish Professional and 1947 British Open champion
"When I first came here and drove up the driveway I said this place looks fantastic. I love links courses and links golf and I am really glad we played on a links course this week. Ballyliffin is right up there with the best of them."
Adam Mednick - European Tour Player and winner of 2002 North West of Ireland Open
I visited Ballyliffin in September of 2000. I had the opportunity to play both courses, The Old Course and Glashedy Links. Both were wonderful links golf courses. The town of Ballyliffin revolves around the golf courses. There are a few nice hotels and guesthouses that cater to golfers. It is a great place for a getaway weekend golf trip because both courses are challenging and in excellent condition. Prior to visiting Ballyliffin I had heard it referred to as 'The Ballybunion of the North'. It fit the bill. The Old Course is rugged with undulating fairways, hidden pot bunkers and some great par 4's. The challenge is a combination of course and conditions as the wind always blows. Glasheedy Links is truly a championship course. It plays to 7300 yards from the tips. From the first hole a demanding dogleg right to a well protected green right through the last, there is not a weak hole in the mix. My favourite hole is the par 3 Eight. A tee shot from an elevated tee some 150 feet above the green to a well-protected green surrounded by a lake and many bunkers, par is a great score. Perhaps the most important part of the Ballyliffin experience is the people. We were very impressed by the people of the town and the members of the courses. We plan on returning very soon.
Dennis Durkin, Philadelphia (from GolfEurope.com)
For a guide to northwest Ireland and its golf courses visit our regional golf pages.
The European Tour visited Ballyliffin (Glashedy) in 2002 for the North West of Ireland Open. Adam Mednick of Sweden, afetr an opening round of 76 played superbly over the next three days (68,69,68) to finish five shots clear of Constantino Rocca and Andrew Coltart. It is testament to the difficulty of the Glashedy course that only 5 players finished the tournament under par.
ADD A NOTE
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** This golf guide is under development and any feedback or comments are appreciated. If you have played golf in Ireland please let us know where and your thoughts on the golf courses you have played.
For further information on the wonderful links courses in County Donegal visit our Golf Course Guide to Ireland.