Ballyliffin is Ireland’s most northerly golf club, located off Tullagh Point on the Atlantic edge of the Inishowen Peninsula. It’s difficult to pin a date on the earliest origins of the game of golf at Ballyliffin, but it is clear that the Ballyliffin Golf Club was founded in 1947. The Glashedy links is, however, much, much younger.
In Pat Ruddy’s book Ballyliffin: Golf’s Great Twin Miracles , the author writes about how the Glashedy came to be built: “In 1992, Ballyliffin came back into my life with a telephone call from the club asking whether I would be interested in looking at their links with a view to improving the bunkering and perhaps suggest some other possible improvements.
My late pal and partner Tom Cradock and I would visit them within a few weeks. When we got to Ballyliffin and I saw that the club had almost 400 acres of beautiful dunesland it was my turn to swoon. What a great place. What a great opportunity to build another great golf links. But we had to move fast because of upcoming restrictive planning laws.
‘Forget about bunkering the links you have,’ I urged, ‘let’s build a world beating second links. We can get back to bunkering your existing links later.’ Timing is everything in this life. I had just opened my own links at The European Club at Brittas Bay and I had learned a great deal in the process and not just about growing grass on sand.
I had learned how to qualify for a government grant. I knew that environmental labels were being placed on linksland and that the planning laws were about to be changed and make the creation of new golf links almost impossible. The Ballyliffin men listened as I told them to get to Dublin and see how, at that very moment, red lines were being drawn around their land by conservationists.
They got active politically. They got the best consultancy advice. They formed a company. They went at it and got a grant of £315,000 which was a huge sum of money at that time and it was a massive boost to a club which had never gained any type of grant previously! Now the game was on. Nothing could stop the inevitable now.”
Work started in spring 1993, and after significant earth-moving, the Glashedy links (pronounced Glasheedy) – named after the Glashedy Rock, Ballyliffin’s equivalent of Turnberry’s Ailsa Craig – opened for play in the summer of 1995, to much acclaim.
Pat Ruddy returned over two winters in 2012-13 to oversee the revetting of all the bunkers on the Glashedy. This work was done in-house, led by head greenkeeper Andy Robertson, who joined the club from Sunningdale in 1998.
Ballyliffin is often described as “the Ballybunion of the North” or “the Dornoch of Ireland” and the reason is simple; all the aforementioned are set amidst towering natural sand dunes. This youngster is no exception, except that the Glashedy links has been flattened out, ensuring that the fairways are relatively even and capable of hosting a championship... there's a parallel here to the fairways of Royal Birkdale.
The Glashedy routing is intertwined with the Old course, the holes weaving their way through the wild dunes. It’s a supremely challenging golf course which stretches out more than 7,200 yards, with nine brutal par fours in excess of 400 yards. You really do need to be on top of your game to play to handicap. The huge greens, with some frightening undulations, are well protected by bunkers; three putting can be alarmingly frequent.
The Glashedy links is certainly good enough and long enough to hold important championships and already it has hosted the North West of Ireland Open. It would be fascinating on a windy day to watch the very best professionals stretched to their absolute limit on this wild and challenging links course. Surely the Glashedy links must be a contender for a future Irish Open Championship.
Pat Ruddy provided the following update at the start of 2017: "Upgrade work has been carried out on the Glashedy course, where a bid to host the Irish Open is in the offing. New additions include championship tees (adding 40 yards and slightly angled lines) on the 2nd and 9th holes and new fairway bunkers on the left of the 1st and 3rd."
On the final Sunday of the 2017 Irish Open at Portstewart Golf Club it was announced that Ballyliffin's Glashedy course would stage the 2018 Irish Open, which Scotland's Russell Knox won after beating New Zealand's Ryan Fox in a play-off.
The terrain for golf at Ballyliffin – located at the remote tip of the Inishowen Peninsula where mountains, dunes and sea merge together – is the stuff of dreams. Expansive linksland stretches for an eternity on what is a lunar landscape ideal for exceptional golf.
It is actually quite surprising, pleasingly so, that we have two different and distinct golf courses routed across what appears to be similar ground. The reason for this is clear; the Glashedy was largely sculpted by machine whilst the hand of man is mostly responsible for the Old. Each layout is structured in two loops of nine, therefore we have four starting points from the plush clubhouse.
Thanks to a lot of earth moving the Glashedy course is able to take a dramatic routing across the dunes and although the fairways are generally levelled they have created a wonderful balance between old school and modern links golf where the plunge, rise and then often fall again.
To say it is a modern championship links course – which it effectively is – is to do it a little bit of a disservice though because the mix is just about perfect and it doesn’t feel this way to the naked eye. The creators have achieved a wonderful coherency between the movement in the land, undulations and dare I say ‘fairness’.
The fairways and just wide enough and the fairway bunkering is spot on to challenge golfers of all abilities and often sucker in the better player.
In terms of quality between the two courses there is not a lot in it. My own preference is for the Glashedy but I could easily be swayed the other way after subsequent visits. The main point to make is that if you go to Ballyliffin, and its spectacular setting, then it is essential that you play both courses.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
The dunes at Ballyliffin are extensive and seemingly perfect for golf. The Glashedy course winds through large dunes, most of which are set back a little from the coast. It is a grand setting for what is essentially a championship golf course – it has the length and mettle to test even the best.
The site is brutally exposed to strong sea breezes, and Ruddy and Craddock have gone to town on the placement of the wonderful revetted pot bunkers which protect the greens, and fairways off the tee.
The routing cleverly exposes the golfer to crosswinds, downwinds and winds against- constantly asking questions on the golfer’s ability to pick the right line and control the flight. I found myself constantly aiming at the pot bunker on one side of the fairway, and allowing for the cross breeze to bring the ball back to middle. The good players would consider playing short or long to miss the fairway bunkering either side, but the hacker is a sucker for punishment!
With strong winds and firm greens it is a challenge to hit and hold greens, and all fall offs lead to trouble!
While the terrain has wonderful wild dunes, the contouring of the fairways is a little subdued – a little like the look and feel of Birkdale or Trump Aberdeen.
The course is known for its strong start – the first three holes are strong longish par 4’s. Strangely the course only has 3 par threes, but they are all impressive.
The Glashedy Links is a true championship course set in a perfect links golf setting. To be sure!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Expectations were high given the upcoming Irish Open and the many positive reviews associated with the golf club. The course starts out with a string of tough par 4s moving away from the clubhouse, but they showcase how penal the course will be. The bunkers (as they should be) are true deep hazards which essentially eliminate making a par if you find one off the tee. The course doesn’t give you many chances to score or make birdies, and in places feels like a slog – especially with how punishing the bunkers are.
The surrounding scenery and coastal beauty is obviously outstanding, but the spirit of the holes themselves didn’t offer up the same charm for me personally.
We played Glashedy yesterday in even stronger winds than the previous day, up to 40 mph. We nipped out early thanks to the friendly staff to take advantage of the lovely sunshine and had a great fun game of golf in very challenging conditions. I very much doubt that human hand will find either of the golf balls that I attempted to drive on the 4th with the wind blowing from the left. A relatively gentle start introduces you to a clearly modern links but with the sense of fun retained. The views are amazing from the upper ground with a great sense of isolation. The par 3's were all downhill leading to some peculiar shot making. Would love to return on a better day, the closing stretch into the teeth was a zig zag grind, bringing to mind PG Wodehouse's description of an Atlantic Convoy avoiding U-Boats. A great place to stay for a couple of days and enjoy 2 very good golf courses which we couldn't split on ranking.
Just back from 36 holes on the Glashedy and Old is there any better setting in golf? absolutely magnificent 2 days of golf mountains, sea, rainbows and of course spectacular golf holes everywhere! The welcome as always was legendary from the young ladies in the Pro Shop to all the staff in the bar and the tremendous and welcoming starter sincere apologies for not remembering his name it must have been the black stuff! I have played golf all over Ireland during the past 25 years and Ballyliffin is without doubt the best 36 holes of golf in Ireland no contest. If you combined the best holes on the Glashedy and Old you would have Ireland's number one golf course. This is a very special place and if you are a links lover this is the ultimate links experience do not miss it. Wishing the club every success with the Irish Open in 2018 a great recognition for the best 36 holes on the planet!
Early in the morning, we teed off on the Glashedy. The opening holes are short-to mid length par 4’s and all great holes. Positioning off the tee is of great importance and the greens are well protected. The second hole is the loveliest of the three. The fourth hole changes the direction heading towards the sea. From the new backtee, the views are breathtaking and the landingarea seems small. For us mere mortals however, this hole is the first birdiechance of the day , as a good drive leaves an approach within shooting range. You will have to clear a large swale in front of the green, or lay up. I found these awkward shots to play very difficult at Ballyliffin. The greens are firm and fast and the contours of the green as well as the wind can have a great deal of influence on the flight and roll on your ball. The fifth is a lovely little false punchbowl par three en the seventh is where it really starts to get serious. Good luck with the club selection!
Having played my fair share of Ruddycourses, I found the Glashedy surprisingly fair and playable. That does not mean it is an easy course, but it is a feature of the truly great linkscourses: Combining spectacular land with characteristics of a mature championshipcourse. Tough to make a par, easy to make bogey. Sandy Hills for example,in my opinion lacked that feeling. (And yes I played really bad ok?)
The Glashedy’s backnine is equally good if not better than the front. 11 is great and 12 is one of the best par 5’s I’ve encountered. It’s not long. I had a 4 iron left but it has to be struck perfectly to have a chance to get to the tabletopgreen, that slopes from back to front. Add a severely right to left sloping fairway that pulls every ball to the deep valley down left of the green, or to the nasty green side bunker just above that. I’m sure a lot of golfers left this hole frustrated, thinking how on earth they could have turned this birdie opportunity in a bogey or even worse. Then look back over the fairway and be overwhelmed with the beauty of the wild Atlantic and mystic Glashedy Rock . Off to the clubhouse for a quick lunch and off we go on the Old Course! MO
Very good golf course. Played the Old in the morning and Glashedy the afternoon. This is a brilliant 36 holes of golf. Considering the courses occupy the same land, they are very different in topography and conditioning, with Glashedy feeling “newer”. I would urge golfers to play both courses at this top resort.
Ballyliffin always offers a warm welcome and has to be one of Ireland's best 36 hole destinations. The Old Links alone makes the pilgrimage north well worth while but the Glashedy is without doubt the star of the show here. The routing is excellent throughout as the fairways flow through a rugged landscape of humps, hollows, valleys and sandhills. My previous visit was just over 10 years ago and since then the bunkers have undergone some serious renovation work, giving much better definition and dramatically improving the layout. Changes have also been made to the 7th, an attractive downhill par-3 which was one of the weaker holes back then. Building some grassy mounds, new bunkers and slightly moving the green to bring the water more into play has created a much better hole. There are only three short holes on the course, the 5th and 14th being the others and both are excellent. The good looking 5th is circled by dunes and bunkers and the 14th plays majestically downhill with a gathering bunker collecting anything landing short. There are numerous great par-4's here but if I had to pick out a couple of favourites holes they would be the 4th and 13th, both beautiful and exhilarating par 5's carved through the dunes. Brian W
It’s been five years since I played the Glashedy. Last time I was here, the club was half way through an ambitious bunker revetting program and, quite frankly, the changes looked a little severe to my eyes. Not to worry now as the sand traps have settled in nicely over time and the course was in absolutely fabulous early season condition today, with greens like large pale green velvet carpets.
I was sorry not to be able to speak to head green keeper Andy Robertson about recent course developments but general manager John Farren put me right on a number of topical club matters, such as the revised par three 7th hole and the ongoing coastal erosion problems that Ballyliffin and a number of Irish clubs are facing.
I also understand the Irish Amateur Championship will be coming here next year. As the GUI don’t award the hosting of such a prestigious competition to any old dog track, it’s a real feather in the club’s golfing cap to have this premier national amateur event played here. Hopefully, it’ll be the springboard to bigger and better things for a golfing outpost that’s certainly due wider recognition for its golfing excellence.
It’s hard also to believe the Glashedy is only twenty years old…