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.
First off, a couple of words about the location, it's arresting, wild, charming and stunningly beautiful. And the course is not bad either. You can certainly tell that it's a new course, but that really doesn't matter. The holes are laid out intelligently, making good use of the natural lie of the land (although I'm sure the earth moved here). We played on a calm day (two club wind) from the gold markers (6,897 yards) and we found the Glashedy a manageable test...play off the black tees only if you're feeling masochistic! I think there's 17 excellent/good holes here and one (the 7th) which seems out if place. Fantastic clubhouse and a genuine warm Irish welcome. Ballyliffin is not to be missed.
I've played the Glashedy twice in the last twelve months and both times it has been blowing a gale from the Atlantic – next stop N.America! A good number of the holes on the course have been carved into the towering dunes; you play away from the clubhouse into the sand hills (where the view from the 7th tee box is used for that photo used in full page adverts for the Irish Tourist Board extolling you to play golf in Ireland) then return to the clubhouse to play the back nine, which again rise into the dunes before returning a second time to home.
It really is a roller coaster of a links, and long too if played off the black tees measuring 7226 yards. The two par threes at the top of the dunes are wonderfully exhilarating to play and a favourite of mine is the long par 5 13th, uphill all the way to a wickedly contoured green guarded by a bunker that gobbles up imprecise third shots.
The welcome in the clubhouse is exceptional, its very informal and the craic will flow over a pint or two of Guinness.