Ballyliffin (Old) - Donegal - Ireland

Ballyliffin Golf Club,
Ballyliffin,
Inishowen,
Co. Donegal,
Ireland


  • +353 (0) 7493 76119

Ballyliffin is Ireland’s most northerly golf club, located off Tullagh Point on the Atlantic edge of the Inishowen Peninsula. The location is divine; the course hugs the shoreline overlooking the golden beach of Pollan Strand and Glashedy Rock (Ballyliffin’s equivalent of Turnberry’s Ailsa Craig).

It’s difficult to pin a date on the earliest origins of the game of golf at Ballyliffin, though it is clear that the Ballyliffin Golf Club was founded in 1947. The Old course originally started out in life as a very ordinary nine-hole course and the club progressed very slowly, often struggling financially. In the late 1960s, Martin Hopkins, a local agricultural advisor, identified a prime stretch of links land nearby, ideal for golf. Eddie Hackett, Charles Lawrie and Frank Pennink were engaged in shaping the new links course and in 1973, the brand new “Old” course opened for play.

The Old is a classic links, with fairways that pitch and roll through wild dunes. This is links golf at its most traditional, where the perfect drive will often find an awkward lie. If you are afflicted with a lack of balance, you will struggle, because you’ll rarely get a flat stance.

For about 20 years, the Old course remained well and truly outside of the limelight. Only those in the know, and Ballyliffin’s lucky members, knew the secret. Then, in June 1993, a helicopter dropped out of the blue sky and landed next to the clubhouse with the world number one on board. After a quick thrash around the Old course, Nick Faldo was spellbound, falling under Ballyliffin’s trance. “One of the most natural courses I have ever played,” he commented. And from that point onwards, Ballyliffin came of age.

In Pat Ruddy’s book Ballyliffin: Golf’s Great Twin Miracles , the author details changes that were made to the Old course when the Glashedy was built: “We did not make any changes to holes 1-6 but we created a new par-3 7th and a new par-4 8th to allow the old par-3 9th, which ran alongside the car park, to be eliminated. On the back-nine we had nothing to do with holes 10-12, 17 and 18. But we made a lot of improvements besides.

We created a glorious entirely new par-4 13th running up a valley that had been an unused flood plain. The old 13th [now the 14th] played from a tee near the now 12th tee on Glashedy links and we realigned the first half of the fairway onto higher ground. We regretted having to eliminate the old par-4 14th… we compensated by creating a smashing new 15th which is a downhill dog-leg right to a really exciting green. Our final input on the Old Links was an even more important one at hole 16 which was a problem hole at the time... the hole now has much more variety and many more playing options”.

Ironically, the renovation work that Pat Ruddy had originally been brought in for (before a decision was made to build a second course) was assigned to the Faldo Design team in 2004, when they added new revetted bunkers and new ‘Faldo’ tees, in addition to enlarging a couple of greens.

There are many memorable holes on the Old course, but the 190-yard par three 5th, called “The Tank”, will stick in the mind for a very long time. It’s an intimidating tee shot to an elevated plateau, almost stage-like green that is surrounded by dunes.

Ballyliffin’s new Glashedy course has recently upstaged the Old, but don’t make a trip to County Donegal without playing it. Both courses contrast and complement each other supremely well. But for the true links purist, the Old course is the one.

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Reviews for Ballyliffin (Old)

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Description: The Old course at Ballyliffin Golf Club is a classic links, with fairways that pitch and roll through wild dunes. This is links golf at its most traditional, where the perfect drive will often find an awkward lie. Rating: 8.1 out of 10 Reviews: 25
TaylorMade
Mark White

Ballyliffin Old has many admirable qualities. It is in excellent condition from the teeing areas to the smooth greens. This includes the very penal bunkers where balls seem to always rest close to a steep face. The course plays firm and fast and makes one consider more carefully bunker placement and approach shots due to substantial additional roll out. The routing has the course often changing directions making wind either a friend and foe instead of on some courses where a high wind day is a consistent menace. The course is well marked with yardage markers. The first cut of rough is usually not overly high and offers a good chance to recover. Due to the wide fairways and large greens, the course is very playable for all ability levels. One can putt from easily 30 yards away on most holes if they choose to do so. The course is very much in front of you with no tricks. The views from the course of the surrounding mountainous terrain and ocean is breathtaking. Finally, this is a very natural course with the fairways laying naturally on the land. This includes the sometimes rumpled and rolling fairways, more often found on the back nine, particularly the sixteenth.

On the negative side there is nothing architecturally interesting about the course. Many of the holes blend together, particularly on the front nine. The surfaces of the greens are not often very sloped and are not shaped with little mounds, swales, or plateaus. Only once did a see a defined tier which was at the sixteenth. The green surrounds are more defined by the bunker placement and short grass before taller grass. Many of the greens seem to run level and then towards the back. There is very little contouring just off most of the greens. It feels very much like a resort golf course.

I could not think of a memorable hole that made me go “wow.” Some might call out the uphill par 3 fifth nestled between two dunes and having a sizeable stretched false front. One has to judge the distance correctly and hit a great shot, but the visual left me wanting more. Twelve is a long par 3 placed below the surrounding dunes. The fifteenth is the number one index as a dogleg right due both to its length, flanking bunkers off the tee and a clever bunker front right to a slightly raised green. But again, rhe fifteenth failed to excite me as I stood on the tee despite the challenge I knew it offered. One and ten almost felt like same hole.

Overall the back nine is better than the front nine with the stretch of thirteen to sixteen the highlight of the course.

As we walked up the eighteenth, we saw from the tee off to our right a large, tall exposed dune and a large grass depression aside it which made us wonder why the hole did not try to include it. Instead it sits about 80 yards from the fairway; very much out of play. Several tee boxes were also elevated atop dunes and after the round we wondered why the routing did not incorporate them by putting greens closer to them and moving the location of the tee for the next hole.

None of my criticism should be taken in any way to suggest that one should not seek out this course to play. One of the characteristics I highly value in a golf course is playability and fairness. Ballyliffin scores highly on both of these. Combined with the conditioning of the course, the ease of the walk, and the surrounding beauty, one should enjoy their round on the Old as long as they do not find many of the bunkers.

May 21, 2022
6 / 10
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Neil White

“You must be mad,” exclaimed one of the old gents who had gathered in the lounge at Ballyliffin for a lunchtime tipple.

They had thought we were crazy enough to take on the freezing weather to play the Glashedy links in the morning but were incredulous that we should be going out to play the Old course in the afternoon.

After we supped on our Guinness and downed hearty meals, my pal did stress how comfortable he was on the clubhouse sofa.

But I was having none of it. “It may be winter outside but in my heart it’s spring,” wrote my namesake, Barry White, and I wanted to take on another top 100 venue.

So, we added jumpers and jackets and headed out on a buggy (good luck if you want to walk both courses because there is a heck of a lot of ground to cover).

After three rounds in three days at Portrush, Portstewart and Ballyliffin’s Glashedy and a bit of Irish nectar inside me, I found my very best form, on the Old.

Somehow my low trajectory game worked in the increasing wind and pars flowed.

This is a very different course from the Glashedy. Sure, the views are similar but there are fewer elevated tees and there are many more dramatic undulations on its fairways.

It begins with a tough left-to-right curving par-four and a tee shot in the full glare of the clubhouse.

Fortunately, we steered ours down the centre of the fairway, albeit not very far because the moderate breeze of the morning, had now built into a freezing flurry which was later accompanied by hailstones.

False fronts are a hallmark of the greens at Ballyliffin and this is particularly true of the 4th which should be comfortably reachable in regulation but needs precise club selection to take the wind and slope into consideration.

The fifth is a par-three is uphill all the way. It is tricky enough but my pal mistook the parallel green on the Glashedy for our target and so aimed rather too far right. I could not stifle my laughter as he realised his error.

My favourite holes on the Old course are on the back nine.

I was thrilled with a par three on the 200-yard 12th having found its green with a driver against the prevailing wind which made the long par-four 13th which was barely reachable in three.

For the stunning 14th, air was at our back as we looked out to the gorgeous blue Atlantic. Even on such a crisp day – it was a view to die for.

It inspired my best tee shot of the day, a curling effort resting between bunkers on either side of a fairway with myriad undulations.

The 17th is a short par-three whose only protection appears to be one bunker but this was where it was proven that the wind in our sails would not always be to our benefit.

My compadre his what seemed to be a perfect shot only to be unable to find his ball – presumably, it caught a gust a flew over the back into the tufty rough.

The green on the 17th, in common with many on the old, is long and changes levels. I putted well throughout the afternoon but this one defeated me.

The 18th is a cracking finishing hole although, by this time, we were turning blue and could barely feel our hands.

It’s a 586-yard par-five climaxing with a shot into a bending, layered green, framed by dunes and with the clubhouse looking down.

It marked the final putt on three days of superb golf and a trek that I would heartily recommend.

Indeed, Ballyliffin has two of the best courses that anyone could hope to play in one day. Their condition is superb and the scenery is breathtaking.

April 03, 2022
7 / 10
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T P Dean

There is something about travelling to remote locations across the British Isles to play some of our best links courses that I find exhilarating. Much of the excitement and anticipation is in the journey as you pass through countryside and away from the hustle and bustle of city life. As Ireland’s most northerly club, and within easy reach of Malin Head, Ballyliffin represents the epitome of remote links golf without it being a real chore to travel to, and the Old course delivers exactly the kind of experience you would expect of such a location.

Ballyliffin’s Old course is a lie of the land course, and being the original golf course at Ballyliffin, it’s the more traditional in style of the two layouts. My lasting memory of the Old will be the delightfully crumpled fairways that come pockmarked with impressive lumps and bumps. The walk itself is an easy one also, traversing the lower lying links ground rather than entering into the higher dunes like the Glashedy, but the Old is still plenty testing when the wind is coming hard off the Atlantic.

The first three holes are a charming start and cover the most turbulent land and where those crumpled features are at their most prominent. A raised tee to a par five then follows as the flow of the course threads its way between the dunes rather than being more daring and playing across them. Maybe an opportunity missed here. One hole that bucks this trend is the 5th, the Tank, where a green is nestled, submerged within a hollowed-out dune. It’s one of the more memorable and noteworthy holes due to its diverse and visually interesting appearance, but to my own experience, is a little overly penal when played in a strong cross wind.

Whilst I really enjoyed my round on the Old, I did feel that there was something of a lull towards the middle of the course. The green-sites maybe could have offered more interest and lacked feature as they were largely flat, extensions of the fairways if you will, but without those characteristic lumps.

In general, the Old isn’t the exacting test of ball striking that the Glashedy is, and I found the closing holes to be particularly sporty, 14 being the obvious highlight of the round. This hole borders the beach which surprisingly few of the holes at Ballyliffin otherwise do. A clever centreline bunker interferes with the driving-line whilst the bulk of the interest at this hole comes close to the green. A rough-covered mound just short of the putting surface captures the eye whilst a swale is hidden immediately behind it meaning that the task on this hole is never quite over until the putter is firmly in hand.

The Glashedy might be the jewel in Ballyliffin’s crown, but bypassing the Old would be foolish, particularly if you’ve made the effort to drive to Ireland golf’s most northerly point. As I referenced earlier, Ballyliffin is remote but well worth the journey, and despite its secluded location, there is still some excellent accommodation in the nearby village if one is not in a hurry. It’s also a visit that slots in particularly well with a Northern Ireland tour, being just over an hour from the likes of Portrush and co on the North Antrim coast, so my advice is to make the visit, stay the night, and play all 36. Given that the two courses offer quite different experiences, it would be a shame not to.

January 22, 2022
7 / 10
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Ed Battye

The Old course is more natural than the Glashedy and provides a quieter, more traditional style of links golf over its marvelously rumpled fairways. Awkward lies and stances are assured and unpredictable bounces are the norm on a course where the ground game must also be played if at all possible due to the windy nature of the site.

It is a golf course which builds and builds throughout the round with the back-nine offering some magical golf. Holes 13 through 17 are truly excellent where quality and challenge merge perfectly together.

There are a couple of par-threes that stand out too and are worthy of special mention. The 5th “The Tank” is played to a plateau green wedged between two large dunes whilst the 17th “The Hump” has a bamboozling putting surface due to the… well, er… the hump in the middle of it!

Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.

November 04, 2019
8 / 10
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Peter Wood

Ballyliffin Old Links has been recognised as one of THE classic links courses, and has hosted The Irish Seniors Open.

While The Glashedy Links heads into Ballyliffin (Old) Golf Course - Photo by reviewer larger dunes, the Old Links is content to meander though lower lying dunesland, heading off in all directions. It is a classic links course with the significant rumple through the fairways. A good drive down the middle of a hole can bounce around like a pinball, and is most unlikely to leave you with a level stance for your approach.

This traditional approach differs from The Glashedy Links where the fairways have a comparatively subdued and gently rolling terrain.

The Old Links really is a throwback to the traditional links courses from yesteryear – but maintained like a modern course.

Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.

September 25, 2019
6 / 10
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Dan Hare

We played the Old Course this morning in sunshine and a 3-4 club wind to kick off our first tour to North West Ireland.

Ballyliffin is a nice if basic village with a fantastic location, and staying at the very nice Ballyliffin Lodge provides a good value way to stay and play.

Ahead of the Irish Open the clubhouse is very well appointed and friendly.

It has an excellent layout too –the locker room/pro shop/putting green/1st tee journey is about 100 yards in a straight line, others please note !

As elsewhere in the British Isles, it’s been a very long and very wet Winter here hence preferred lies still in play although one never really felt they were necessary, we never had a speck of mud on the ball, even on the lower lying holes.

We really enjoyed the Old Course; it’s a good mixture of holes including some downwind 300 yard drive opportunities as well as failing to reach an upwind 150 yard par 3 with well struck long irons.

The stretch 13-17 played straight into the wind, so our views were sadly rather more of marram than the Caribbean blue of the sea alongside, but the rough never felt too punitive unless one hit a truly bad shot.

Other than the 3’s, if one had positioned the ball correctly nearly every hole was accessible to a ground shot, essential on a day like this.

We really enjoyed the course and can’t wait to try the Glashedy – after being beaten up today, the locals said “well, the Glashedy’s not as easy as that of course”.

April 16, 2018
8 / 10
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Gustav

I have now been to Northwest Ireland to play golf three years in a row. Having played most links courses ranked top 100 in Britain and Ireland and many ranked just below, I think no other place offers a better combination of course quality and accessibility. (Not even factoring in the drop dead gorgeous scenery)

I mean, where else can you look out the window and decide on the day – as a non-member - when on the day you want to play two top links courses.......and reasonably expect to play two rounds at your own pace, whether that is a fast 3-hour two-ball match or a game at a more leisurely pace?

With the Glashedy course chosen for the 2018 Irish Open, I think there is a risk that more people will favour that course at the expense of the Old Links. They could not be more mistaken.

To me, it is the combination of the Old Links and the Glashedy and the fact that they are very different design-wise, yet equally matched, that is the Ballyliffin experience. Drive up to the clubhouse in the morning, have a chat in the pro shop to make sure you know where any other groups tee off and then decide which course to play first. If the weather turns ugly (happens), just wait in the clubhouse until it blows over, then start/resume your round. Play 9, 18, 27 or 36 holes, whatever takes your fancy.

Heaven.

So, what could possibly be better? Well, you cannot walk from your hotel room to the first tee. At Rosapenna, two hours away, but at equal distance from Dublin, you can. That would perhaps be the one reason to go elsewhere....

Review of the Month December 2017

December 27, 2017
10 / 10
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Maarten

One immediately feels the difference between The Glashedy and the Old Course. The Old has a more classic feel to it. The bumpy fairways have not been leveled so level lie will be found rarely. Especially on The first 11 holes, I all found them good golfholes but in my opinion they lack a bit of diversity. Alsho having played the Glashedy, it seemed that there were a lot of short-mid range par 4’s with a slight dogleg right that played roughly the same and therefore weren’t too special. There are a few standout holes like the brutal par 3 5th. It played downwind with 5 Bft. To a highly raised, shallow green between dunes and a front pin position. Anything short would be 40 yards back down the fairway. Luckily my 5 iron punch worked like a charm and now forms a fond memory. The back nine is where it really gets good, with some holes right next to the sea with sloping fairways, deep swales and some long finishing holes. No surprise that Sir Nick appreciates this course. I’d love to go back but I do feel after having played Sandy Hills (for a fraction of the price) and the Glashedy, that 120 euro’s might not be the best deal in Donegal. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my round on this classic links and Ballyliffin is a great destination that shouldn’t be missed. MO

September 12, 2017
6 / 10
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Brian Ward

The Old Links at Ballyliffin may be viewed by many as being inferior to the Glashedy, the younger and more dramatic sibling, but in reality there is not much to choose between them.

As you drive down from the village and look over the magnificent piece of land on which the two courses sit, there appears to be enough ideal ground to build at least two more. What a destination that would make, however Ballyliffin (Old) Golf Course - Photo by reviewerremote. The Old Links had to undergo architectural changes to make room for the Glashedy but you would never know it playing there today. Further refinements were made by Faldo in 2006 with some major bunker improvements adding to the charm and interest of this most traditional of links courses. Holes spill in all directions, pitching and tumbling to leave many uneven stances and although not long from the daily tees there is no shortage of challenge even in a rare light breeze. The back nine occupies the land nearest to the sea and this was marginally the better half in my opinion with holes 14 to 18 providing an excellent finish. On my first visit here there was only enough time to play the Glashedy but I made sure not to make the same mistake this time around. Don't miss Ballyliffin and when you arrive remember to say hello to the Gareth, one of the friendliest and most welcoming head pros you could wish to meet. Brian W

September 11, 2016
7 / 10
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Javier Pintos
If you are willing to play a true natural course, this Old Course is one of the best choices you have in the world, where no earth was moved. The layout just was Ballyliffin (Old) Golf Course - Photo by reviewermowed and bunkers place, with of course some shaping work in the greens but really very little. Opened in 1949, in the 90s Faldo did a complete refurbishing of the bunkers of a place that he stated more than once that he loved. The course is pretty much plain, with no big level changes but it has very nice views of the Ocean and the Glashedy Rock, which gives the name to the other course in the property. I played on a twosome with the Club Captain Paddy and it was nice as I was able to learn a lot about the history of the course and of the Club, how the new Glashedy was built, how Faldo helped and the day Rory as a young kid smashed the Glashedy course with a 66. The front 9 are maybe easier than the back with some great holes like Ballyliffin (Old) Golf Course - Photo by revieweruphill par 3 5th, a very tough green to hold the ball and if you miss, God help you! Course gets nice, tough and demanding as you arrive to long par 3 number 12, where a long iron is needed to reach that tough green. 14 to 18 make it a very nice final, specially long and tough 18th where if you miss the tee shot, the third one will be a very long one. A very well kept course, natural and true, with great views and challenge. Do not avoid any of them, maybe the best idea is to play 36 the same day and experience in real time the very big difference between Old and Glashedy.
December 18, 2014
8 / 10
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