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.
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.
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 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.
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”.
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.
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....
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
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 remote. 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